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I NOTED at the time that no actual proof had been demanded of Mirzarbeau. He had dogmatized largely, and the Society, after some scoffing and natural incredulity, had come to accept his statements when reiteration had robbed them of their novelty. This, perhaps, was human nature all the world over, so that there was nothing surprising in its demonstration in such an hysterical gathering as the Finis Mundi.
"Let the comet come!" they echoed again and again. "Let the comet come!"
I wondered if they realized what they demanded. They surely could not.
Mirzarbeau and I left the room together, he strutting with a new importance, I immensely amused at the whole business. Dornton in a tattered and dishevelled condition was awaiting us outside; Bentham was not to be seen.
"Things are developing," said Dornton. "Mirzarbeau, you are a genius!"
"I am," said the professor with an air of profound conviction. "Sacré, I am the greatest in the world. Let us go to my laboratory and discuss it."
To the laboratory we went.
"Do you know Greek? " asked Dornton, when we had settled. "Because, here is an interesting calculation, a sort of addenda to to-night's affair, that has just occurred to me."
He took a piece of paper and wrote down " Mirzarbeau," placing opposite each character its Greek numerical equivalent.
"And what of that? " asked the, professor.
"Nothing particular. Only, 666 is the number of the Beast as given in the Book of Revelation. True, Napoleon, Gladstone, and half-a-dozen other names gives the same result, which detracts from the value of the discovery. Still, I make a present of it to you."
"It is well," said Mirzarbeau. "Sacré, I see myself with a future. I will be that Beast!"
I looked at the fat untidy little man before me, and nearly fell off my chair with laughing; but Dornton applauded his decision.
"Good," said he. "I thought your ambitions would rise to it."
"Yes," returned the professor, strutting up and down the dusty laboratory, looking absurdly like a frog as he did so. "Yes, yes, yes. To be omnipotent is grand; to be depended upon to destroy the world is grand; but ah, it is still more grand to be other things that I will be."
It occurred to me that Dornton was joking with him; I thought that I would help to carry on the joke.
"I bow to you, Beast," said I. " With your wonderful machine you will render the world obedient in a day."
"It is true; I will," he answered. "Ah— is it that you have no faith in the machine? There — here— with my finger on that rod I did destroy the railway-station."
"Yes— yes," said Dornton soothingly.
"Work it. You, Monsieur Lester, work it," went on the professor. "My disciples shall not have to exercise faith like those of the world's religions. Mille tonnerès! no."
"Humour him," whispered Dornton to me.
I rose and went over to the machine, laying hold of the long glass rod to which the professor had drawn my attention.
"One moment," said Dornton, "let us do it all in order . . . . This is the right indicator, is it not, professor? "
Then as Mirzarbeau signified assent, he began to toy with a needle which, projecting from the glass rod, moved about upon a globe below it I paid no particular attention to what he was doing, as I stood impatiently drumming my fingers upon the rod; I was anxious to be done with this foolery.
"How calm he keeps," said the professor admiringly. "I did feel excitement . . . . Ah, all is right. Twist you that rod, Monsieur Lester, one leetle trifle; so. . . . Mon Dieu! Stop; you are too murderous! "
I gave up twisting, and waited for the next item in the programme. As I did so my eye fell upon a small scaled bar that fitted across the top of the rod. A needle that worked along it was violently agitated, but as I watched, it slowed down, finally stopping at a nick marked 140 kilometres.
"Parbleu!" said the professor. "You have done it on the grand scale. A circle of 140 kilometres is great. That much space of Earth have you annihilated Ah! you will feel proud when you read of it in the newspapers to-morrow."
For one brief instant I thought of Waterloo, and the unexplained disaster which had befallen it. A chill of unutterable horror seized me at the thought that an idle turn of my hand might have repeated the same annihilation elsewhere. Then I saw a smile in Dornton's eyes as he watched me, and the thought passed away. It was of course ridiculous.
None the less I opened my newspaper the next morning with strange feelings; and hastily scanned its columns with a vague expectation of I knew not what, giving a half sigh of relief as I laid the paper down.
Absolutely nothing had happened.
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