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WHETHER because of his tactics as implied by the Premier, or because in time people can use themselves to anything, London began to get reconciled to the rule of Mirzarbeau. The green discs may have helped to restore confidence, though not, perhaps, so much as might have been expected, since there might be other terrors, as yet unknown, against which the Mark was no protection. As for myself, if Dornton had told the truth, my new disc was worse than useless; but, as I seized an early opportunity to exchange it for one of those which were given out at the distributions near the laboratory, I felt no especial worry on that score. The loss of Landry was my bitterest trouble, and I hated Mirzarbeau more and more every day as I reflected on my impotence for revenge. I saw her sometimes, but she always passed me with a vacuous stare that dashed cold water upon any hopes of reconciliation.
I had met her thus one afternoon, a month or more after our fall-out, and gone home to my rooms in high dudgeon, sick of everything and everybody. It was bad enough to have lost her, without the ignominy of knowing that my successful rival was such a man as Mirzarbeau.
Reaching home I found a man waiting to see me. He turned as I entered, and I found myself face to face with Dornton,
"Still parted from Beauty?" he asked, brutally attacking my sorest point.
I cursed, and told him to have done with it.
"Really," said he, " I'm innocent of intention. I judged from your inaction that la belle Americaine was a thing of the past, and Mirzarbeau no longer the triumphant villain."
"Did you?" I snarled.
"Certainly. However, since it seems otherwise, I shall once more prove the friend in need. A wholesome fear of His Highness the Beast has doubtless deterred the carrying out of your really brilliant scheme of a mine under the laboratory. I have just looked in to say that one obstacle is non-existent just at present— in other words, Mirzarbeau has used up all his power!"
"A likely story," I growled. "You're trying to lay some infernal trap for me."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Your caution," he said casually, "is really admirable. I can only assure you that I am speaking the truth. What possible object could I have in speaking otherwise?"
"There might be a scheme of enticing me up to be annihilated. There . . ."
"You slightly exaggerate your importance. Nineteen men out of twenty would kill you at the slightest hint that the Beast desired it. They'd kill their own mothers equally cheerfully, rather than risk annihilation."
"You forget the discs given out by Mirzarbeau," said I. "Guarded by these, what annihilation have they to fear? Besides, you say the power no longer exists."
"Not very logically put. But no matter. I don't fancy people trust the discs— corn-plasters I should, perhaps, call them in deference to the picturesque verbiage of Miss Landry S. Baker. As to the power, you will recollect that it suddenly stopped at what might have been an awkward moment in the Albert Hall?"
I remembered that.
"It stopped," he went on, "because it was all used up. Everything . . "
"You forget," I broke in, "the Forbidden Radius was made since. Men have died in that."
"I don't forget. It was a last puny effort, and it took all Mirzarbeau's wits to do it. There is some substance in the air necessary for his operations— without it he is unable to transmute the atoms. I don't pretend to know what the substance is; I only know that every trace of it is gone. All the rule of the Beast has been from first to last a piece of stupendous bluff!"
"My God!" I cried. "That is, if possible, worse than the other!"
He lit a cigarette, and blew coils of smoke up into the air, cutting at them with his hand as they curled.
"So easily," he said softly, "could Mirzarbeau be destroyed."
"Then why in the name of thunder don't you murder him yourself?" I demanded.
"I? . . . You will, perhaps, hardly believe me; but I am afraid to."
I certainly did not believe him; but I could substitute no other reason, rack my brains as I would. He stood the while watching.
"Well," he said presently, "the fact remains that the Terror of the country is quite defenceless— open to capture by the first bold man. And only one person has had the wit and observation to see through the sham."
"And who is that genius?" I asked.
"The lady who dropped her glove in the Forbidden Radius."
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