Next day Dan went to look up Laurance and have a consultation, as he was considerably puzzled over the new problem and did not know exactly how to act. But Fate was against him, so far as having a second opinion was concerned, for Laurance proved to be absent. An anarchistic plot, of which “The Moment” desired to know the details, had taken him to Vienna, and it was probable that he would not return for at least a week. Halliday might have expected something of the sort, as in the prosecution of his business Freddy was here, there, and everywhere, never knowing his next destination, which depended entirely on the latest sensation. But hitherto few startling events had summoned Laurance out of England, and Dan had been accustomed to finding him always on the spot for a consultation. He left the office of “The Moment” in a rather disconsolate frame of mind.
There was no doubt that Halliday badly needed someone to talk to about the matters which occupied his thoughts. But, failing Freddy, who was working alongside him, he did not know any one worth consulting — any one, that is, whose advice would be worth taking.
Certainly there were the two inspectors of police — one at Hampstead and one at Blackheath — who were deeply interested in the respective deaths of Moon and Durwin. They would have been delighted to discuss the entire business threadbare in the hope of solving the mystery of the two crimes. But Dan did not wish to bring the police into the matter until he had more evidence to go upon. After all, what he knew concerning Mrs. Jarsell and Penn was both vague and uncertain, while the clue of the perfume being so slight might be scouted as ridiculous by these cut-and-dried officials. What Halliday wished to do was to establish a connection between the doings at Sheepeak, Blackheath, and Hampstead on evidence that could not be questioned, so that he might submit a complete case to the police. He could not do this until he acquired positive proof, and he desired to acquire the same by his own endeavours supplemented by those of Laurance. Therefore, as Freddy was away on business, and Dan did not care about placing his unfinished case before the inspectors, he went about his ordinary affairs, waiting for his friend’s return. This was all that he could do, and he did it reluctantly.
A hint from Lord Curberry had evidently made Sir John more vigilant as regarded his niece. Dan called at the house and was denied an interview; he wrote a letter and received no answer; and although he haunted Bond Street and Regent Street, the park and the theatres, he could catch no glimpse of Lillian. After three days of unavailing endeavour he went to Bedford and attended to the transfer of his aeroplane to Blackheath, bringing it up in the train personally. Then he put it together again, and took short flights in the vicinity of London, after repairing the damage done to the rudder. All the same, his heart was not in the business of aviation at the moment, as the detective fever had seized him, and he felt that he could not rest until he had solved the mystery of the two crimes. But at the moment, he saw no way by which he could advance towards a consummation of his wishes, and simply fiddled away his time until the return of Laurance. Then, after a threshing out of details, he hoped to make some sort of move in the darkness.
But Fate decreed that he should act alone and without advice, and the intimation of Fate’s intention came in the form of a short letter from Marcus Penn, asking for an interview. “I am confident,” wrote the secretary, “that from what you threatened in the aeroplane you suspect me of knowing something relative to Sir Charles Moon’s murder. As I am entirely innocent, I resent these suspicions, and I wish you to meet me in order that they should be cleared away. If you will meet me at the booking-office of the Bakerloo Tube, I can take you to the person who gave me the perfume. He will be able to tell you that I have no connection with any one criminal.” Then the letter went on to state day and hour of the appointment, and ended with the feeble signature of the writer. Dan always thought that Penn’s signature revealed only too plainly the weakness of his character.
Of course he intended to go, even though he remembered that Penn had declared the identity of the person who had given him the perfume. His cousin in Sumatra had sent the same to him, the secretary had said, yet he now proposed to introduce Dan to another person, who was the donor of the scent. Unless, indeed — and this was possible — the Sumatra cousin had come to England with the intention of exonerating Penn. Certainly, Penn might mean mischief, and might be dexterously luring him into a trap. But Halliday felt that he was quite equal to dealing with a timid personality such as the secretary possessed. Also, when going to keep the appointment, he slipped a revolver into his hip-pocket, to be used if necessary. It might be-and Dan’s adventurous blood reached fever heat at the mere idea — that Penn intended to introduce him to his brother scoundrels, who constituted this mysterious gang. If so, there was a very good chance that at last he might learn something tangible concerning the organisation. Undoubtedly there was a great risk of his losing liberty, if not life, and it was impossible to say what precautions this society of cut-throats might take to preserve its secrets. But Halliday was not of a nervous nature, and, moreover, was willing to risk everything on one cast of the die, instead of lingering in suspense. He therefore got himself ready without saying a word to anyone, and kept the appointment. And, indeed, now that Laurance was absent, there was no one to whom he could speak.
It chanced to be a somewhat foggy night when Dan descended to the underground in Trafalgar Square, but out of the darkness and in the light he had no difficulty in recognising Penn. The secretary was well wrapped up in a heavy great-coat, and welcomed the young man with a nervous smile, blinking his pale eyes furiously, as was his custom when much moved. However, he spoke amiably enough, and appeared to bear no malice against his companion, notwithstanding the threat in the aeroplane.
“I am glad you have come, Mr. Halliday,” said Penn, in a would-be dignified tone, “as I wish to clear my character from the grave doubts you cast upon it when we last met.”
“Your admissions favoured the grave doubts,” retorted Dan lightly.
“I spoke foolishly, Mr. Halliday, as I was quite upset by your threats.”
“H’m! I wonder to see you trust yourself again with such a bloodthirsty being as I am, Mr. Penn.”
“Oh, I knew you were only bluffing in the aeroplane,” said the secretary, in a meek voice and with a shrug.
“The means you took to escape further questioning showed me that!”
The dry tone of Dan stirred the man’s chilly blood to greater heat. “You have no right to interfere with my private affairs,” he said, furiously.
“But when those affairs have to do with a crime —”
“They have not. I know nothing about the matter,” Penn’s breath was short, and he tried to keep his voice from quavering. “When you see my cousin he will prove that he gave me the scent.”
“Oh! then your Sumatra cousin is now in England?”
“Yes! Otherwise, I should not have asked you to come.”
“Are we to meet him here?” questioned Dan, glancing round curiously.
“No. We can go to him in a taxi. I thought of the Tube first, but we can get to our destination quicker in a motor. Come!” and Penn, leading the way, ascended the stairs down which Halliday had lately come.
“Where are we going to?” asked Dan, but the secretary, being some distance ahead, either did not hear the question, or did not desire to reply to the same. “I suppose,” added Halliday, as the two stood once more in the foggy upper-world, “that your cousin wishes to see Mrs. Jarsell?”
“My cousin doesn’t know Mrs. Jarsell, neither do I,” retorted Penn, sharply.
“Curious that she should possess the perfume,” murmured Dan, sceptically, “and one which you say is unique.”
“In England that is,” said the secretary, as they stepped into a taxi-cab which evidently was waiting for them, near the Trafalgar Square lions, “but this lady whose name you mention may know someone in Sumatra also, and in that way the perfume may have come into her possession.”
“Ah!” Dan made himself comfortable, while Penn pulled up the windows of the taxi, so as to keep out the damp air, “the long arm of coincidence?”
“The improbably usually occurs in real life and not in novels, Mr. Halliday.”
Dan laughed and watched the street lights flash past the blurred windows as the taxi turned up the Haymarket. He wondered where they were going, and as he believed that Penn would not give him any information he carefully watched to see the route. His companion adjusted his silk muffler well over his mouth, with a murmured explanation about his weak lungs, and then held out a silver cigarette case to Dan, clicking it open as he did so.
“Will you smoke, Mr. Halliday?”
“No, thank you,” replied the other, cautiously, “for the present, I don’t care about it,” and Penn shrugged his shoulders, evidently understanding that Dan did not trust him or his gifts. After a time he took out a cigarette and lighted a match.
“These cigarettes are of a particular kind,” he remarked, and blew a cloud of smoke directly under Halliday’s nose, after which he readjusted the muffler, not only over his mouth, but over his nose.
Dan started, for the whiff of smoke filled the close confinement of the taxi with the well-known flavour of the Sumatra scent. He was about to make a remark when the scent grew stronger as the cigarette burned steadily with a red, smouldering tip, and he felt suddenly faint. “Pull down the window,” he gasped, and leaned forward to do so himself.
For answer, Penn suddenly pulled the young man back into his seat, and enveloped him in a cloud of drowsy smoke, keeping his own mouth and nose well covered meanwhile with the silk muffler. Halliday made a faint struggle to retain his senses and the control of his muscles, but the known world receded rapidly from him, and he seemed to be withdrawn into gulfs of utter gloom. The last coherent thought which came into his mind was that the pretended cigarette produced by Penn was a drugged pastile. Then an effort to grasp the undoubted fact that he had been lured into a skilful trap which had shut down on him, used up his remaining will-power, and he remembered no more. Whither he went into darkness, or what he did, Dan never knew, as there seemed to be no break in the time that elapsed from his becoming unconscious in the taxi and waking with the acrid smell of some reviving salts in his nostrils. He might have been on earth or in sky and sea; he did not know, for he opened his eyes languidly in a dense gloom.
“Where am I?” he asked, but there was no reply. His senses came back to him with a rush, owing perhaps to the power of the stimulant applied to bring him round. He sat up alertly in his chair, and felt immediately that his arms were bound tightly to his sides, so that he could not use his revolver, or even strike a match. He certainly would have done this latter had he been able to, for he greatly desired to be informed as to the quality of his surroundings. He presumed that he was in a large room of some kind, and he became convinced by his sixth sense that the room was crowded with people. When fully himself Dan could hear the soft breathing of many unseen beings, but whether they were men or women, or a mixture of the sexes, he could not say. Even when his eyes became accustomed to the gloom he could discern nothing, for the darkness was that of Egypt. And the silence, save for the steady breathing, was most uncanny.
Dan felt it incumbent upon him to make some attempt towards acquiring knowledge. “What is the meaning of this outrage?” he demanded loudly and in a resolute tone, “I insist upon knowing!”
From the near distance came a whispering voice, which made him shiver. “No one insists here,” said the unknown speaker, “all obey.”
“Who is it that all obey?” demanded the prisoner undauntedly.
“Queen Beelzebub!” murmured the voice, soft and sibilant.
There flashed into Dan’s mind some teaching, secular or sacred — he could not tell which at the moment — relative to a deity who had to do with flies. A Phoenician deity he fancied, but surely if his memory served him, a male godling. Beelzebub, the god of Flies! He remembered now, and remembered also the trade-mark of the mysterious society formed for the purpose of murdering various people, for various reasons, known and unknown.
“So you have got me at last,” he said aloud; “I might have guessed that Penn would trap me.”
“No names,” said the unseen speaker coldly, “it will be the worse for you if you mention names.”
“Am I addressing Beelzebub?” asked Dan, and for the life of him he could not keep the irony out of his tones, for the whole thing was so theatrical.
“I see; you have given the god of Flies a consort. May I ask why I have been brought here?”
“We intend to make you an offer.”
“Who we? What we?”
“The members of the Society of Flies, of which I am the head.”
“H’m, I understand. Don’t you think you had better loose my hands and turn up the lights?”
“Be silent!” ordered the voice imperiously, and, as Dan fancied, with some hint of temper at the flippant way in which he talked, “be silent and listen!”
“I can’t help myself,” said Halliday coolly, “go on, please.”
There was a soft rustle, as if the unseen company admired his courage for behaving calmly in what was, undoubtedly, a weird and trying situation. Then some distance away a disc of red light, like a winter sun, appeared with nerve-shaking swiftness. It revealed none of the company, for all were still in the gloom, but concentrated its angry rays on a large and solemn visage, unhuman in its stillness and awful calm. It was an Egyptian face, such as belongs to the statues of the gods of Kem, and the head-dress, stiff and formal, was also suggestive of the Nile. Of more than usual size, Dan could only see its vast features, but fancied that a red robe fell in folds from the neck downward. There was something grand about this severe face, and in the darkness, with the scarlet light gleaming fiercely on its immobility, it was assuredly effective, if somewhat theatrical. The lips did not move when Queen Beelzebub began to speak, but the eyes were alive; the eyes of the person concealed behind the mask. Dan noticed that when the face became visible in the angry red light, that the speaker ceased to whisper, and the voice became deep, voluminous, and resonant as that of a gong. The tone was that of a man, but it might have been a woman speaking through an artificial mouthpiece. The final thing which Dan noticed was that the whole atmosphere of the room reeked with the rich fragrance of the Sumatra scent.
“You are very daring and meddlesome,” said the voice, issuing in chilly tones from behind the stately mask, “for you have intruded yourself into affairs which have nothing to do with you.”
“They have everything to do with me,” retorted Halliday decisively, and feeling reckless, “if you and your society are omniscient, you should know.”
“Omniscient is a good word. We know that you love Lillian Moon and wish to marry her; we know that her uncle is willing this should be so, if you discover the truth about his brother’s death. You have been searching for the assassin, and you are still searching. That search must stop.”
“I think not.”
“If you refuse to obey,” said Queen Beelzebub, coldly, “we can put you out of the way, as we have put others out of the way.”
“The Law —”
A faint murmur of laughter was heard, suggestive of scorn. “We care nothing for the law,” said the speaker, contemptuously.
“Oh, I think you do, or you would not have taken all this trouble to have brought me here.”
“You are here to receive an offer.”
“Indeed. I shall be glad to hear the offer.”
“We wish you to join the Society of Flies, and swear to obey me, the queen.”
“Thank you, but an association of cut-throats does not appeal to me.”
“Think twice before you refuse,” the voice became threatening.
“I think once, and that is sufficient,” returned Dan, drily.
“You are at our mercy. We can kill you as we have killed others.”
“There are worse things than death. Dishonour.”
“You talk like a fool,” scoffed Queen Beelzebub. “What is dishonour? Merely a word. It means nothing.”
“I can well believe that it means nothing to you and your friends, said Dan, who was weary of this fencing: “may I ask what advantage I gain by becoming a member of your bloodthirsty gang?”
“We are an association,” boomed the great voice, “banded against the injustice of the world. We resent few people having wealth and the majority going without the necessaries of life. Being limited in number, the Law is too strong for us, and we cannot gain our objects openly; therefore we have to strike in the dark.”
“And your objects?”
“To equalise wealth, to give our members wealth, position, comfort, and power.”
“Oh. It’s a kind of Socialistic community. You work for the poor.”
“We work for ourselves.”
“Rather selfish, isn’t it?”
“People will only work for self, and to those who labour for us we give all that they wish for. Become a member, and you will realise your heart’s desire.”
“Perhaps,” said Halliday, in a caustic tone, “I may realise that without your aid.”
“We think not. To marry Lillian Moon you must find who murdered her father, and that person will never be found.”
“Then why stop me from searching?”
“It is a pity you should waste your time,” said Queen Beelzebub sarcastically; “besides, you are one who would do honour to our society.”
“Perhaps. But would the society do honour to me?”
“We can give you what you desire, on certain conditions.”
“What are they?”
“You must take the oath and sign the book; swear to obey me, who am the head of this association, without question; promise to be secret, and give all your talents to forwarding the aims of the Society of Flies.”
“H’m,” said Dan, coolly, “a very comprehensive oath indeed. And the aims?”
“Wealth and power. We are banded together to get what we want, independent of the law, and we think that the end justifies the means. We accept money from those people who desire to get rid of their enemies, or of those who stand between them and their desires. We supply plans of English forts to foreign powers on condition that large sums are paid to us. We trade on the secrets of people, which we learn in various ways. If we are asked by any member to get him something, all the resources of the society are at his disposal. Rivals can be removed if he wants to marry; relatives can be put out of the way if he wishes for their money. There is no height to which an ambitious man cannot climb with our aid. Join us, and you shall marry Lillian Moon within the year, and also shall enjoy her large fortune.”
Desirous to learn more of the villainies with which this precious band of scoundrels was concerned, Dan temporised. “And if I refuse?”
“You will be put to death!”
“Now? At this very moment?” Dan’s blood ran cold, for, after all, he was yet young, and life was sweet to him.
“No. You will be allowed to go, and death shall fall upon you when you least expect it. Thus your agony will be great, for death may find you tomorrow, or in a week, a month, or a year. We are not afraid you will tell the police, for if you do it will only hasten your end. Besides, you do not know where you are, and shall be taken away as secretly as you have been brought here. The Law cannot touch us, because we work underground like moles, and even if you told the police, your story of what has happened would only be laughed at. The police,” here the voice sneered, “think everything is known, and refuse to believe that we exist.”
“Well,” said Dan, as if making up his mind, “can I ever leave the society if I once join it?”
“Yes,” said Queen Beelzebub, unexpectedly; “when you take the oath you must swear to be sober, chaste, and secret, since these qualities are needed to keep a member in good working trim. A certain amount of work you must do in connection with our aims, so that you dare not speak without being implicated in our doings. But, after a time, you can leave with money, position, or power — whatever you desire, and then can lead your own life, however profligate it may be. But while a member you must be a saint.”
“A black saint,” murmured Dan, wondering at the solid ground upon which this association was founded, and thinking how dangerous it could be with its misdirected aims, “well, I don’t say ‘No’ and I don’t say ‘Yes’. I must have time to think what my answer will be.”
“You shall have one month to consider, and then you shall be brought here secretly again,” said Queen Beelzebub, authoritatively, “but you will be wise if you join us. We wish you to do so because you have brains, and we want brains. Our society will rule the world if we get clever men to join, as the training of our members in sobriety, chastity, self-control, and secrecy is that of the so-called saints.”
“I see,” said Dan cheerfully, “the Lord’s Prayer said backward, so to speak, your Majesty. Well, the whole business is clever, and extremely well managed as I can see. I shall take my month’s respite, and then —”
“And then if you say ‘Yes’, you will have all that the world can give you; if you say ‘No’, prepare for death.”
A murmur, vague and indistinct, went round the dark room. “Prepare for death.”
“And if I speak to the police in the meantime?” asked Dan, yawning.
“You have been warned that if you do, death will follow immediately,” declared Queen Beelzebub, “no human law can protect you from us. Enough has been said, and you have thirty days to decide what to do.” As she spoke, the red light vanished as abruptly as it had come. Dan could only hear the steady breathing of many people in the gloom, and wondered how many members of this devilish society were present.
At that moment, and while the thought was yet in his mind, he felt that a pastille was being held under his nose. The drowsy scent stole into his brain, although he tried to avert his head, and almost immediately he became again unconscious. Again he fell into gulfs of gloom, and remembered nothing. When he recovered his senses, he was seated in a four-wheeler, driving in an unknown direction, and he was alone. His head ached, but he struck a match and looked at his watch. It was eleven o’clock.
“Where did you find me?” he asked the cabman, putting his head out of the window, and noticing that he was in a well-lighted street.
“A friend of yours brought you to my cab,” said the man, “saying you was drunk — dead drunk. He gave me your address, and I’m taking you home.”
“Clever,” said Dan to himself, accepting the explanation without comment.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09