Previous chapterContentsNext chapter



MIRZARBEAU took a coin from his pocket and dropped it on the floor.

"Peste," he cried, "the coin exists. The power is off, else the money had vanished! If the soldiers come back their bullets will not miss now. Go you swiftly, monsieur, and do my bidding. Go out of that door waving a handkerchief as a flag of truce, and say, very boldly, that we will spare them if they send one to speak with me."

Full of lively terror as to what might happen did the soldiers return, I obeyed at once.

There were no people very near outside, but many isolated groups were gathered in the roadway. As, however, these did not await my arrival, but turned tail and bolted so soon as they saw me coming, I stood still, waving the handkerchief in the hopes that some one would come up and parley with me. I began to forget my nervousness, and felt rather proud as I stood there, the terror that I inspired was flattering.

At last, after a very long time as it seemed, a knot of people moved towards me, and from this group emerged one man waving a handkerchief at the end of his walking-stick. Something in his figure struck me as familiar, and as he drew close I recognized Bentham.

"Why, Lester!" he exclaimed, "who the deuce would have taken you for a destroying angel? You" . . .

"'Tisn't me," I broke in. "I'm not a free agent . . . Mirzarbeau is the man. He is one worse than the devil. He has sent me with a message. He will spare the world if it will allow him to be its supreme ruler."

"Generous of him," said Bentham with a shrug of his shoulders. " Well, there wouldn't seem much choice, if all's true. But I should say myself that he's reached the end of his tether and wants to hedge. . . . He'll do it easy enough— he's top-weight now if ever a man was. Every one's so damned panicky."

"You seem to take it easy enough," said I.

"Outward show— habit and custom. I don't mind confessing that inwardly I'm in a devil of a funk. No man will face annihilation if he can help it. However, I'll go back with the amiable Beast's message and see if the Government have got anybody handy to fix things up."

The Prime Minister himself arrived presently. He came uncomfortably enough, and looked very nervous as Mirzarbeau waddled out of the Albert Hall to meet him. None of the onlookers waited to see more, Mirzarbeau's coming was the signal for a general flight. I found out, afterwards, that this was in some measure due to the wild reports of those people who had escaped from the Hall between the first annihilation near the platform, and the second and more complete one. Stupendous and appalling as the annihilation had been, it was beggared by the tales of the survivors.

"Prime Minister of England," called out Mirzarbeau as Sir William came up. "I am the Beast. I am to be addressed as Highness by every one. You are my servant. You shall carry on the Government as formerly, save for such alterations as I may from time to time order. Thus, you shall prorogue Parliament; the deputies were never required, and they talk folly. You shall hang a few of them : also some others to whom I object— not very many, a half-dozen or so whose names I will send you later. To this you agree?"

The Premier stammered, and requested permission to see his colleagues.

"Peste! Why must you politicians always talk? Is it that you would have a Parliamentary Commission? Make your choice now, or I shall destroy all England; I have but to raise my hand."

"I have no choice, Highness, but to agree," returned the Premier hastily. "Yet it is essential to obtain the Royal Assent, and ". . .

"Parbleu, there is none needed. I am ruler now. See, I am about to raise my hand."

"I agree, Highness," cried the trembling Minister. "I can do nothing else."

"So," said Mirzarbeau. "That is wise! You shall send for a notary; the matter shall be written and witnessed. Send quickly."

While a lawyer was being procured, I slipped back to the Hall to look for Landry. She had quite recovered her self-possession by now, indeed the situation seemed to appeal to her. "We will go up and see it through," she said.

When we got into the road again the lawyer had arrived and was writing a draft of the agreement in a cab. We saw Mirzarbeau's hand going up once or twice— we knew what that meant by now.

"Guess he's getting over the law's delays pretty smart," said Landry. "The first time on record, I take it."

It was wonderful how quickly everything was arranged— the whole revolution did not occupy half-an-hour! No one cared to remain within sight of Mirzarbeau an instant longer than could be helped— well might Bentham call him "top-weight," this man who had suddenly and at one bound risen from being the butt of the multitude to a position higher than that of any emperor.

"Morning, Sir William," said Miss Baker as we came up. "Things have altered since the dinner I met you at a night or two ago. Guess that nice little measure you spoke of won't come off for a bit?"

The Premier made no coherent answer : he was afraid to commit himself. I did not feel particularly sorry for him; he had had a hand in several social reforms which had affected my pocket, and there was comfort in thinking that there were not likely to be any more such.

"All is settled," said Mirzarbeau as the witnesses signed their names to the document which made the British Empire over to him without stipulation. "I do not think that any will dispute with me, but if so, Prime Minister, they must be shot down at once. That is an order. Also, no one is to come within a hundred metres of my house, I shall annihilate any who do."

He swung round and walked off. Our ways lay together, and we accompanied him, doing the journey on foot, for not a cab ventured near us, so great a terror had the professor inspired. And yet he was absolutely defenceless had they but known it. I half thought of telling Sir William, but he took himself off too quickly; moreover, on consideration, I was not quite certain that I should not be in trouble with the authorities if once Mirzarbeau were captured. Now I might consider myself as under his protection.

"Pardieu," said he when we had walked some way in silence. "I expand. I am truly great. I have defeated a diplomatist upon his own game of what you English call bluff. And I will say one thing for you English; you alone of any nation will be fools enough to hold to what has been agreed. Voila, it shall be the better for England. There will be some annihilation yet to be done abroad before I rule the world; but it shall not take long. Perhaps there will then be no longer any Greece or Germany or United States— but the rest of the world will be enough for me."

Nothing in the way of molestation of Mirzarbeau was attempted. One or two of the London dailies indulged in some mild criticisms on his policy the next morning, but a terrified mob, fearful of what this criticism might produce, broke into the offices and killed every man that they could find there, none interfering. There was no more criticism of Mirzarbeau after that.

Previous chapterContentsNext chapter