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IT was, perhaps, only natural that, in casting over in my mind for lunatics whose ways might serve to amuse La belle Americaine, I should think of Dornton. There was a certain zest in causing him to appear ridiculous in her eyes; and the task was not likely to prove difficult. Dornton seemed to believe in the professor more or less; while a few of his own ideas were tolerably eccentric. I intended to find out something concerning a mysterious society to which he was credited with belonging, an affair called the Finis Mundi, of which I knew nothing then, though I shrewdly guessed it would turn out to be some speculative variant upon common or garden anarchy.
There was a good deal of Anarchism in those days—from the point of view of the proletariat I dare say there was room for it. England, as the centre of the world's money market, was outwardly much the same as ever, but on the Continent and in The States things had rapidly reached an extraordinary pass. Especially was this so on the Continent, where the operations of the millionaire Ring had placed all practical rule in the hands of a few financiers, a fact to which the world suddenly awoke the day after the outbreak of that long - expected bogie, a general European war.
Practically there was no war. Armies marched, fleets were mobilized; but never a serious blow was struck, Financial panics reigned in every belligerent capital, no loans were forthcoming; and with their purse-strings tied, the nations could do little. What warfare there was was mostly civil discord, which lasted just so long as the Ring saw fit. Then millions were spent upon restoring law and order, and Europe accepted peace.
From that day onward national disarmament became an accomplished thing. No fresh troops were raised, no new ironclads took the water. Rapid as the change was, its course was graduated too imperceptibly to follow; but by degrees the Governments recognized that war was not possible, and that to maintain armed forces, save as police, was a useless expense.
The economy brought enormous prosperity at first. New markets were opened up everywhere, the principal, perhaps, being the Euphrates Valley and Syria, the value of which had long been recognized. Many of the millionaires were Jews; to them the new market appealed irresistibly, and a new city in the ancient plain of Esdraelon soon became a second Johannesburg, with a Stock Exchange rivalling that of London in importance.
England was, indeed, drifting a little behind the times. Under one pretext and another the British Navy, for all that no fresh ships were built, did not decline at the regulation rate; and what there was of it, was kept as efficient as circumstances would allow. The precise reasons that led to this state of affairs do not much matter; old time prejudices probably accounted for a great deal; the fact that England was still the centre of many financial operations and the home of wealth, may also have well been present in the minds of the controlling forces which allowed the fleet to go on existing. Given a cataclysm, England, as an island guarded by a fleet, might well be a useful refuge.
In these prosperous days men spoke a deal of the golden age; many held that the millennium was now an accomplished thing, into which the world had drifted unawares. Yet the times were not altogether dull or devoid of excitement. The very day that, pursuant to my accepted quest, I went to see Dornton, the great struggle between the rival bourses of London and Esdraelon was nearing a climax. Innumerable millions trembled in the balance; many a great oil or silver king had his whole fortunes pitted on the struggle. I know nothing of financial operations myself, they require more brains than Nature ever vouchsafed to me, and to attempt an explanation would land me in difficulties. But, so far as I could gather, the storm all raged around the question of as to whether there should be a single gold currency or a silver standard also; gold suited London, Syria was for silver.
I had not met Dornton for some time; the last that I had heard of him being that telegram in which he likened the professor to a finger. He reminded me of the matter now. I had forgotten till then the letter in which the professor had said that war should end. It had ended.
"It really looks as though the old man had some grounds for his statements," said Dornton.
"What?" I laughed. "D'you mean you seriously believe that podgy little unit has been able to hypnotize the nations?"
"I didn't say that. But I do say that it is quite possible we are the molecules which form the planet's nerves or brain, and that in some mysterious way Mirzarbeau has found a way to read it; to go back to my old analogy, he is a finger that is sentient. All that is possible, and it is not improbable."
"Rubbish," I laughed again. "You build a mountain out of a coincidence." Then it occurred to me how amusing this view, coupled with the professor's, would be to Miss Baker, and I mentioned that I was accompanying her to the laboratory soon; perhaps he would come also?
I was disappointed at the total absence of anything like jealousy in his answer. I had hoped to see something of the sort; whereas, he agreed to come in the most casual fashion. Bent on striking the iron while it was hot, I suggested going there and then—and in a few moments we set out for Lady Yarcombe's to find La belle Americaine.
Miss Baker chanced to be at home, and, learning of the proposed expedition, ran off to get ready at once.
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