|Previous chapter||Contents||Next chapter|
WHEN I found that no disaster was reported in consequence of my having turned the glass rod in Mirzarbeau's laboratory, my feelings underwent a change. Hitherto, laugh as I might at the professor, I had had an undercurrent of belief in him; now I regarded him as a charlatan of the charlatans.
When next I called at Lady Yarcombe's I said as much to Miss Landry Baker. She had extracted a good deal of amusement out of my previous dilemma; to her Mirzarbeau was always a lunatic pure and simple. I told her all about the Finis Mundi Society, of the professor's extraordinary promise about the comet, of my talk with Dornton, and of how Mirzarbeau had now capped everything by deciding to pose as the Beast of the Book of Revelation.
I had to enlighten her somewhat upon this subject, explaining that students of prophecy were divided as to whether the Beast represented an actual ruler, or was merely a figurative expression for the power of evil. "In any case, however," I concluded, "I don't see that it can much signify. Poor old Mirzarbeau's figure will be his worst enemy."
"And the Mark of the Beast will be want of soap-and-water," she added flippantly.
"Yes," I laughed. "Ridicule will kill what, be he sane or not, is certainly a magnificent conception. Had it been Dornton now, he with his steel-blue eyes and thin lips, success would have been quite possible in the present age. The religious newspapers at any rate would have taken him seriously, but even the most enthusiastic of them will kick at Mirzarbeau."
The drawing-room door opened; we heard some callers coming up the stairs. I noted that the servant was pinching himself and biting his lips. Then his training came to the rescue, and he announced in tones with which no fault could be found—
"HIS HIGHNESS THE BEAST."
"Oh lor!" exclaimed Landry; " I can't help it." She sat back in her chair laughing her loudest. I laughed too; I could not help myself either.
Mirzarbeau entered the room, and at the sight of him we laughed the more. Presumably aware of the physical difficulties that interfered with his intended ambition, he had sought to remedy matters as well as he could in the way of costume. He was dressed in a new suit, several inches too small in the waist, and more than one button had been unable to stand the strain. The suit itself was a very loud check, suggestive of the spectroscope in its colouring; he wore a flaming red necktie, and at least half-a-dozen big diamond rings glistened upon his fingers. The most successful low comedian, acting the vulgar newly-fledged millionaire in an extravagant farce, could nest have cut a more ridiculous figure than did Mirzarbeau at this moment. And as though to heighten the contrast, just behind him came Dornton, sprucely attired in conventional afternoon dress.
"Oh lor! oh lor!" cried Landry Baker, giving way to a fresh burst of laughter. "Snakes and caterpillars, professor, where did you get those habiliments?"
Mirzarbeau regarded her seriously through his glasses.
"It is not well to laugh, mademoiselle," said he. "It is not at all well to laugh. Parbleu, there is nothing in me for mirth. I am the Beast."
"You look it, I guess! Oh lor!— Oh lor I. . . Professor, stop staring at me, or I'll die of laughing— I will indeed!"
"Mademoiselle, you are foolish. But n'importe; you will learn. Monsieur Dornton, I pray you to speak and save our dignity to la belle Americaine."
"What?" she asked; "are you, too, a Beast, Mr. Dornton?"
"I am not so ambitious," he returned. "I'm a mere onlooker. But I think— and when you have done laughing you will think the same— I think that our friend Mirzarbeau—"
"His Highness the Beast, I pray you," corrected the professor.
—"that His Highness the Beast," substituted Dornton, "is certainly acting on the right lines."
"Quite so," said I, trying to be serious. The professor had been a good-natured old fellow in the past, his present condition was pitiable for all that it was so ridiculous; it was cruel to laugh, when one reflected. Yet I should never have credited Dornton, whose lead I was following, with so much kind-heartedness; I would as soon have looked for it in Landry Baker.
She had stopped laughing now; sheer exhaustion had compelled that; but the look in her eyes told that she was only resting.
"Continue," said Mirzarbeau to Dornton; "it is not well that I should explain except by deputy."
"Certainly not. . . . Well, Miss Baker, you may have heard of a book— a novel— called The Sorrows of Satan."
"Got a notion I recollect it," she returned. "Something about a lady novelist, ain't it? "
"In that book," continued Dornton, "one of the characters is a certain gentleman who is usually associated with disagreeable events in a future state; and . . ."
"Yes : the devil. I call that to mind. Hurry up."
"It is the opinion of Mirz — of His Highness the Beast — that this gentleman already named was not a success— that the sublime in him frequently toppled over into the ridiculous."
"Shouldn't wonder. But what are you driving at? I know that the Prince Thingummy de Thingummytight of the novel didn't attire himself in check habiliments, if that's it."
"The idea of His Highness is briefly to reverse this process; to absorb, as it were, all the ridiculous to begin with; and then to treat with the sublime."
"Cute notion," she laughed. "And he's begun remarkably well. But what's he going for, anyway? Old Nick, or what?"
"I am the Beast," said the professor, breaking in suddenly. "There is a prophecy about him ruling all the world. It is that that I shall do, like a wise man availing myself of the popular superstition. So go quickly to finish your laughing, mademoiselle."
She chuckled. "And where does the machine come in? And what does the old planet think about it?"
"You are under some misconception about the planet's thought, Miss Baker," said Dornton. " I won't bore you with a scientific explanation, since that might be unnecessarily tedious; but put into simple language the thing comes to this. Time, as we understand it, is a purely relative affair, a convenient method of noting the sequence of events that are really co-existent. For instance, the creation of the world, the battle of Waterloo, and our present conversation, are all taking place together— in an infinity which has no beginning and no end, from what landmark can one reckon? . . . . So far you follow me?"
"One of your first standard board school children could do that, I guess," she drawled. " You put it so almighty plain and simple. But peg along."
He did not seem to mind her speech, for he continued without any sign of annoyance—
"This point being understood, the equivalent to what with us is instantaneous thought, may well take the earth a million of our years. We human beings are merely so many molecules of the planet's brain; our lives and deaths are merely so many phases of a passing thought— every cataclysm of history is but some stage of that thought. The whole history of the human race, from its first beginning to the future time when man shall cease to exist, may represent merely one solitary thought. Every time you or I think, we murder countless molecules in our brains."
"I've no call to reproach myself on that score, anyway," she laughed. "I never think if I can help it."
"Peste," exclaimed Mirzarbeau, "the lady is a fool! No more shall be explained. Au revoir, mademoiselle."
"Au revoir, your Highness the Beast," she returned, laughing still. " I've had all I can swallow for to-day."
The professor gave her a bow, or rather began to do so, for he stopped and turned abruptly in the middle of it and left the room, Dornton following.
"You were quite right, Dornton," I heard him say as he went. "It was not wise to have a coat made on the measurements of seven years since. Diable, but one button remains."
|Previous chapter||Contents||Next chapter|