The news of our visitors seemed to have spread by some subtle magic, for in every direction I could see nothing but running men, some with women pulling at their sleeves and coat-tails to detain them, advancing by great strides towards us. Even a policeman was among them, rubbing his eyes. My wife broke through the crowd and grasped me firmly by the arm.
“Pozzy,” she said, “this is my opportunity and I mean to use it. I was kept doing nothing between pages 68 and 296 of the other book, and this time I mean to work. Look at these fools rushing to their doom. In another moment they will be mashed, mashed to jelly; and you too, unless I prevent it. I know what these Wenuses are. Haven’t I had a scientific training? You will be mashed, I tell you—mashed!”
So saying she banged on the ground with her umbrella, which, I remember now with sorrow, we had bought the week before at Derry and Toms’ for five-and-eleven-three.
Meanwhile a few of the men had to some extent recovered, and headed by the R.S.P.C.A. Secretary had formed a deputation, and were busy talking on their fingers to the Wenuses. But the Wenuses were too much occupied in dropping into each other’s eyes something from a bright flask, which I took to be Beggarstaffs’ Elect Belladonna, to heed them.
I turned in response to a tug at my swallow-tails from my wife, and when I looked again a row of Wenuses with closed lids stood before the Crinoline. Suddenly they opened their eyes and flashed them on the men before them. The effect was instantaneous. The deputation, as the glance touched them, fell like skittles—viscous, protoplasmic masses, victims of the terrible Mash-Glance of the Wenuses.
I attributed my own escape to the prompt action of my wife, who stood before and shielded me, for upon women the Mash-Glance had no effect. The ray must have missed me only by a second, for my elbow which was not wholly covered by my wife’s bulk was scorched, and my hat has never since recovered its pristine gloss. Turning, I saw a bus-driver in Knightsbridge leap up and explode, while his conductor clutched at the rail, missed it and fell overboard; farther still, on the distant horizon, the bricklayers on a gigantic scaffolding went off bang against the lemon-yellow of the sky as the glance reached them, and the Bachelors’ Club at Albert Gate fell with a crash. All this had happened with such swiftness, that I was dumbfounded. Then, after a few moments, my wife slowly and reluctantly stepped aside and allowed me to survey the scene. The Wenuses, having scored their first victory, once more had retired into the recesses of the Crinoline. The ground for some distance was littered with the bodies of the mashed; I alone among men stood erect, my conscious companions being a sprinkling of women, pictures of ungovernable fury.
Yet my feeling was not one of joy at my escape. Strange mind of man!—instead, even with the Wenuses’ victims lying all around me, my heart went out to the Crinoline and its astral occupants. I, too, wished to be mashed. And suddenly I was aware that my wife knew that I was thinking thus. With an effort I turned and began a stumbling run through the Park.