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NEITHER of us spoke till we had left the laboratory some little way behind. Then Landry, looking over her shoulder, told me that she was afraid of Mirzarbeau.
This appearance of excuse was enough for me; I loosed the vials of my jealous wrath upon her, without check or rein. She answered in kind; and, her temper being in full blast, called me more names than even now I care to remember— I had no idea that the American vocabulary was so extensive.
I might have foreseen what would happen; after all I had no right to object, though she might have let me know of her new ambitions a little less brutally.
We parted there on what had once been Kensington Gardens, but was now blasted into a cold grey patch of stone. Beyond, the trees of the rest of the Gardens told a pleasant green in the sunlight, and the gaps of distance between the tree-trunks were soft, blue, and peaceful; but all with us was hard and stony.
"You are a fool," she said, "a perfect fool— and insolent as well. You clear off one way, and I'll go the other. Landry S. Baker is at no man's beck and call, least of all a fool like you. Make tracks!"
It was not a piece of dignified melodrama, but it was equally effective, if not more so; and I slunk off towards Notting Hill Gate, very sore at heart. She was a fascinating woman; and although prone to the dialect that her father had used when he made his "pile" in Chicago, there was that same "pile" to set against it. I cursed myself as an ass, and longed more than ever for a means to annihilate the insufferable Mirzarbeau.
It was, I reflected, a vain enough longing; yet none the less there was some comfort in it. It occurred to me that I might go to his laboratory and knock him over the head, thus serving the ends of justice and obtaining a free field for myself at one and the same time; but even as I thought it I knew that I could never dare— nothing could give me courage against him after what I had witnessed of his power.
As I turned into the Notting Hill Gate station I ran into Dornton. I tried to pass him, but he called out to me— "Hullo, Lester, you look as though you were plotting a murder. Has the Beast stole your Beauty?"
I made no rejoinder beyond a surly greeting; but he was not to be rebuffed. He came up to me, and taking my arm, drew me out of the crowd.
"Your conscience pricks you about Mirzarbeau?" he said. "You feel that such a monster should not be allowed to live?"
"If I did, where would be the use?"
"Ay, where?" he repeated, looking up at the sky as though for inspiration. "You have exchanged your old lamps for new, I observe," he went on.
"What d'you mean?"
"You have a fresh Mark. I should have preferred to retain the old one, had I been you— I would not put confidence in the new one."
"You mean . . .?" I cried aghast, as a terrible dread struck me.
"That your new Mark is a bogey one; from which I gather that Mirzarbeau has no further use for you; so you had better keep clear of him. Oh, you'll be safe in the crowd, he won't annihilate the mass of his subjects for your benefit; you'll be all right if you lie low."
"Is this true?" I almost yelled, catching hold of his arm. "Is it true, or a lie to startle me?"
"If you don't think so you can easily ascertain the truth by personal experiment," he returned with a sardonic grin. "Now I must be moving on, since the omnipotent Beast is waiting for me. . . . The Omnipotent Beast— rather a neat title; though a trifle inaccurate, since a hole bored under his temple and a little dynamite would upset the whole caboodle,' as the charming Miss Baker would phrase it. I must be going— good day; keep clear of the Beast!"
The next moment he was gone. But he had left me something to think about; if he had purposely sought to inflame me against Mirzarbeau or not, he had done so to the fullest, and he had put a weapon in my hand. But why?
Why?— I asked myself that question many a time. If he wished Mirzarbeau out of the way, surely he was fully able to do it without help from me? Were it a trap to get rid of me, surely there were a thousand simpler ways? I gave it up after a while, but as the train rushed along its subterranean course I thought of an experiment that could do no harm. I would give the hint to the Government, and let them try what they could do.
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