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IT is not easy to give a picture of London during the days immediately following the disappearance of Waterloo. Outwardly, there were not so many signs of panic as might have been expected; men went about their daily work as usual, the railway authorities made strenuous efforts to carry on the traffic; a stranger might not, perhaps, have noticed anything. But inwardly, people were full of a chill terror as to what would be the next point of attack; the mystery, the silence, the instantaneousness was the thing that appalled. An explosion, no matter how terrible, gave some signs, something tangible to fear, something horrible to guard against; but what could be done in the face of this new terror, in which a place existed full of life at one moment, and the next passed away so suddenly that none might even see the passing?
I abandoned my idea of going into the country. Many people fled from London; but with no clue as to who had struck the blow, or where the next would fall, where could a man seek safety? So I remained in town till the panic should abate, which it did eventually, when nothing more happened; and then the Waterloo mystery became a nine days' wonder and nothing more. Mirzarbeau's theory, if not generally accepted, was at least admitted as plausible, and the newspapers talked very learnedly of "voids" and such like things. By and by grafts were made on to the original proposition, and in many quarters the affair was accepted as a sign of the world's approaching end— if anything could be taken as having a supernatural origin surely this thing might.
It goes without saying that Miss Baker should have been interested in the mystery; and since I had been more or less a witness, I was not very astonished at receiving a peremptory request to come and tell her all about it.
She was, as usual, mightily curious; and particularly was she interested in the professor's supposed share in the matter.
"I guessed it right away," she laughed. "You bet he claims that machine of his as having done it."
"Nonsense," said I. "Even he couldn't expect people to be so credulous as that." And then I hinted that Dornton might know as much as any one about it. "He's a member of that Finis Mundi society, you know," I explained. "You'd better question him."
"No," she returned. "I don't like him; he's too sarcastic, I guess. But you— you promised to find out all about it— why don't you?"
The outcome of this was that I asked Dornton to take me to the next meeting, a request to which he assented without demur.
"I'm taking Bentham"— I think I have already mentioned my naval friend Bentham — "I'm taking Bentham," said he, "and you may as well come along too. But you'll be disappointed if you expect anything sensational — they're only gas-bags with a high-sounding title."
"None the less," said I, "I'm anxious to hear them. I have heard it whispered," I added, "that they are connected with the disappearance of Waterloo station."
He smiled. "I've heard the same," said he. "No; Mirzarbeau, not the Finis Mundi, was at the bottom of that."
"That machine of his?" I laughed sarcastically.
"I shouldn't wonder."
"Of course not! "
"I shouldn't wonder," he repeated. " So far as I can gather he is working on a theory that there is only one element— hydrogen; that all the other so-called elements are merely atoms of hydrogen arranged in different ways. Now, given that he is correct— and he is by no means the only man who believes in that theory— given that is correct in his idea, and that his machine is actually able to alter the positions of atoms, why shouldn't he have resolved Waterloo station, then consisting of hydrogen atoms arranged in various ways, into hydrogen atoms arranged in another— into the gas as we know it, in fine? It is simple enough."
"Given the wings, pigs might fly," I rejoined scornfully. "Besides, if he could do that, why should he select Waterloo station for destruction? — why not the whole world? It would be just as easy."
"Every whit as easy also to annihilate the entire Universe, for that matter," said Dornton. "Only he has his limitations. My finger on a revolver trigger could annihilate me; but as I don't chose it to do so, it doesn't. The Earth chooses what Mirzarbeau shall do in just the same way. . . . I often wonder whether the planets make war on each other, and what happens when they do?"
I made no answer. I was wondering rather what would happen should Dornton's relatives request two medical men to examine into his mental condition.
"'Tis a great come-down for the human race," he went on dreamily. "For the lords of creation to be, after all, only so many molecules, of neither more nor less importance than the infinitesimally small molecules of which they themselves are made up, is iconoclasm with a vengeance. No longer are we sentient creatures having wills and desires; we are mere pawns upon the chessboard of destiny, able to do neither good nor evil. All our love and our agony, our hopes and ambitions, our troubles and fears, are not ours at all— it is only a dream that they are."
This is but a part of what he said. The monologue bored me insufferably, and I went to sleep in the middle of it. To a man of perfervid imagination such speculations might have been interesting, but to me they were no less dull than ridiculous. I do not know how long he spoke thus. When I woke again he was just finishing; it must have been the cessation of his voice that aroused me.
"Given, therefore," he ended up, "given this single sentient molecule of hydrogen, there is no secret of the universe that cannot be solved."
"Very," said I, feeling it incumbent on me to say something, and having no idea what else to say. "Very. . . . But you have altogether too many postulates; nor in all your interesting discourse have I detected a single point that actually implicates that amiable lunatic Mirzarbeau,"
"Possibly not. But I can give you one. Why did he destroy the little stone model of a policeman which a moment before he had called a memento that he wished to preserve?"
"Why did he do a thousand things? Why did he come? Why did he get out of the cab? Why did he beat the ground with a stick?"
"Yes," said Dornton quickly. "Why did he do that last?"
"For just the same reason that he did the rest— because he's not responsible for his actions — that's why. . . . One might as well ask why you hurriedly left the station just in the nick of time?" I was rather proud of this home thrust.
"Certainly: also, why you did?" he retaliated with a glance which told me that he was fully aware of my suspicions. "However," he went on, "'tis idle to pursue the matter. If Mirzarbeau had a hand in it, his was not the guiding brain. At the most he is but an instrument; let us, for our own sakes, hope that he is not even that. If he should be, then God help the world. . . Seen Miss Baker lately?"
I accepted the sudden change of subject, and replied casually that I had seen her once or twice. There was no need, that I could see, to acquaint him with such hopes and fears as I might have in that direction.
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