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THE next thing that I remember is finding myself following Bentham out of a hansom on the edge of the Forbidden Radius.
"I'm going across it," he said, plunging boldly on to the grey. And seeing that nothing happened, I followed. Both of us were wearing the protective discs, but, as I have before explained, these were not to be trusted overmuch, and I admired his courage without stint.
We ran across the space of a hundred yards or so that separated us from the laboratory door, and reaching this, Bentham sent it open with a kick, keeping his hands free.
We entered hastily. Everything was just as on the occasion of my last visit, and the machine that I had turned stood in its usual place. At a sign from the lieutenant I threw a chair at it and smashed it— it was well to be on the safe side, and we breathed more freely as its delicate mechanism tumbled on to the dusty floor. Then we hunted round for the entrance to the cellar, in which we had last seen Mirzarbeau.
We found it presently, a swing-door just behind the big telescope. This door was soon off its hinges and we descended cautiously down a long flight of rough stone steps, at the bottom of which a faint violet radiance was discernible.
"There is Dornton yet about," said Bentham as he pulled out his revolver. " If he turns up I shall shoot him on sight. There may be some other entrance, or he may be hiding. . . . Here's the bottom at last,— the switch for the light was hereabouts. Find it and be ready to turn on smart, directly I tell you."
The place looked quite different here from what it had in our glimpse through the subterranean door, and we could distinguish objects fairly clearly in the violet glimmer which came from the weird engine that occupied the centre of the cellar. Hunting about for the light switch, I saw quite a lot of new details, being particularly struck by a row of fantastic little stone images very similar to those which Mirzarbeau had given to Landry. Some of these had dates to them, and were labelled. Just under these I found the knob for turning on the electric light.
"Then stand by," said Bentham when I had told him. He raised his revolver and a bullet smashed into a sheet of red glass that was superimposed on the machine. I think I anticipated a terrible explosion, or something of the sort, but nothing happened except that the radiance became a vivid blue— a ghastly light that was very eerie.
Another bullet crashed into the machine; the light quietly faded and went out. I pressed the knob, the electric light flooded the place; and by the aid of this I bombarded the machine with any missile that came handy, while Bentham reloaded his pistol.
There was nothing more to do, but curiosity made us look about a little before we left. Beyond the stone images by the staircase there was little to see, except the sliding door, which interested my companion.
"I'd give a deal," said he, "to know how and why he made it. I tried every mortal thing I could think of to get through that grey, cement-like stuff, and without making a scratch on it."
The door, we found, was only a rough and ready affair, very hastily made, by the look of it. We had been unable to slide it up, because it was secured by a bolt; it was the inaccurate fitting of this bolt which had enabled us to move the door at all. We found no clue, however, as to how Mirzarbeau had done the thing. I learnt the secret later; it was little wonder that we failed to discover it then.
We turned to go. And as we did I noticed one of the little stone images lying on the floor in front of the wrecked machine. It occurred to me that I would take it to Landry; it would serve as an excuse to call upon her; so I stooped and picked it up out of the dust.
"Pity the doll's broken," said Bentham "its hands . . ."
He stopped suddenly; we stood staring at it together : the same idea had struck us both.
"My God!" he exclaimed. Then he let it fall, and we hurried out of the place in silence, never looking back.
For the doll was a little stone image, an exact similitude of Mirzarbeau, saving that the hands were missing. These, two tiny specks, lay in the dust beneath.
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