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AT last a curious thumping noise aroused me, and I looked up. I was still in the Albert Hall. Not far off Landry gazed vacantly about her; while Mirzarbeau, down near one of the entrances, was vigorously beating the floor. It was this noise that had aroused me.
I sat watching him idly. The place was absolutely bare— roof, seats, organ, people, all had disappeared; the floor was a flat monotonous grey, just like the site of Waterloo station. It looked for all the world as though cement had been poured over it. I wondered lazily what the professor was thumping so diligently— but it was only a vague wonder, my brain was much too numbed for lucid thought.
I staggered over to Landry.
"Well?" I said, lamely.
"Pretty slick, isn't it?" she said with a grating laugh.
Her laugh made Mirzarbeau look up. He waddled over to us, fat and smiling as ever.
"Voila: we have had a demonstration, is it not so? Have you no thanks now, mademoiselle, for the green disc? Do you still see that in me to make you laugh?"
She did not answer. She shrank back from him— afraid. He was a man to be afraid of now.
"Do not fear," said he in a kindly tone. " You are safe, my beautiful mademoiselle. That little green disc saves you from the power — that which annihilates cannot hurt you."
"Is that so— really so?" she asked wildly.
"Certainement. See. Voilà!"
He pointed to a doorway. Through it, we saw in the sunlight a body of police coming on at the double. They came up to the door; they entered. Then they vanished,— annihilated
Yet we felt nothing.
"To arrest me will not be easy," smiled Mirzarbeau. "But we must remain here for awhile. . . . Ah, I did have a little gift that I meant to make to you, mademoiselle— see, it is here in my pocket; I will give it now lest I forget again."
He handed her as he spoke an exquisitely modelled little grey stone statuette, a woman holding up a baby and smiling at it. I wondered, I remember, why he had carried it about wrapped in a handkerchief in his pocket.
"Now," he continued, "I must beg you to pardon me one moment."
He left us and began thumping on the floor again, close to the entrance where the policeman had disappeared.
"I take back all I said about the corn-plasters," said Landry. "Guess they've proved mighty useful. I feel kind of easier now; since he can't hurt me anyway, there's no more need to be scared."
"But what we have seen— what we have seen— My God!" I stammered, aghast at the remembrance.
"We must get used to it as best we can, and— Hello, what's on?"
Mirzarbeau was returning, laughing as he came. He pointed to the doors. At all of them soldiers were drawn up, and I noted that they had rifles.
"You inside there," called out an officer. "Surrender, or you'll be shot down. Do you hear?"
"It is as Highness that I am to be addressed," said Mirzarbeau with a frown. "Go away quickly; else will I wave my hand and annihilate you."
The captain drew back, giving an order as he did so, "Volley firing from the right by sections. At the fat man."
"Number one section, ready," cried a sergeant.
The men at the door facing us brought up their rifles with a click. I threw myself in front of Landry, waving my handkerchief as a token of submission, while I looked around hopelessly for cover.
"Don't be a fool, surrender," cried the captain again. He looked rather white about the gills as he met Mirzarbeau's eye, but he stuck to his post.
"Monsieur," began the professor, "I have but to wave my hand to . . . "
"Present! Fire!" bellowed the sergeant.
I flung myself on the floor, dragging Landry with me as the rifles rang out in a volley. Mirzarbeau still stood with his arm up when it was over.
"Try again, monsieur le soldat," he laughed. " Bah; I could kill you so easy, but qu'importe. If it amuse you to fire, why, fire again."
He walked deliberately over to one of the doors and stood not ten yards from the rifle-muzzles.
"It might be here an easier aim," he smiled.
They fired again from another door— a long quavering volley. It did no harm. Then it occurred to me that they must be firing blank; I remembered that I had heard no ping of bullets. This reassured me somewhat, and I sat up a little, though keeping ready to duck at the next volley, so as to be on the safe side.
The soldiers seemed to be uneasy, they were bulging round the entrances. A rifle or two went off without any orders. Twice commands were given for another volley, but it was never fired. Mirzarbeau was still advancing, he reached within a few yards of the muzzles. The men slunk back as he came; all except one— a grizzled old sergeant— who, taking slow and deliberate aim, emptied his magazine upon the professor.
Nothing happened. Then with a wild screaming yell the troops broke and stampeded, shrieking, "'Tis the devil," as they ran. One or two of the officers stood their ground for a moment, but for a moment only : then, they too broke, and fled with the rest.
"Good," said Mirzarbeau. "There were one hundred soldiers, and the whole army does not number more than six times that, thanks to these times of peace. They will soon tire."
"Yes," said I bitterly, for I was getting horribly nervous, "but what if they fire ball?"
"Ball?" said he. "It is that which they have fired all along. They may fire a great cannon if they like: it can do no hurt here. But it shall be well if I send a message to Monsieur Dornton, who superintends the machine that covers us. It is a grand thing my machine — now confess, mademoiselle, is it not so?"
"Yes," said Landry. " I'll admit it. And this is grand. . .. But— how shall we get out of it?"
"Aha, that we will settle in good time when we tire of the fun. You have but to command, mademoiselle, and I obey. . . . Diable, male tonnêres, but I had forgotten! The telephone is no more; I did forget to place a disc upon it. If Dornton should tire or think that we leave, it might be very terrible. Ah! I tremble to think what they would do if they caught me. Monsieur Lester, we must make a surrender, lest this be my Sedan!"
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