|Previous chapter||Contents||Next chapter|
"YOU might care to see it once more" asked the professor.
"If it's not too much trouble, certainly," I returned.
"It is no trouble at all. It is one great pleasure."
He climbed up the steps again, and leant forward over the great glass tube that I had been watching. For a moment he busied himself with some mechanism at the top, then drew back slightly and tapped a lever.
A blazing violet globule floated down the tube. As I watched it, first one, then another, then yet other minute white-hot globules shot out from it, spun violently around it in circles of light, and died away into infinitesimal black specks that still revolved slowly round the central globule as they fell. One by one they shot back into it, causing little blazings as they did so, and thus the violet globule floated downward to the bottom, gradually losing all its light and colour.
"Wonderful!" I ejaculated. "Wonderful! The nebular hypothesis in a nutshell. Proof as..."
"No proof at all," interrupted the professor. " A mere demonstration of that fatuous idea. Watch again; and see the secret of the Universe."
And now, though it came so swiftly that I could not see how, the violet globule rose in the tube, spinning seemingly alone, rising and falling continually. Now and again little flecks of flame would dart from nothingness to collide with it, and in the light of one of these miniature catastrophes I noted that the other tiny globes were there too, and these the big one gradually attracted to itself as before. But it was all over too quickly for me to be able to see any particular difference between this experiment and the last, beyond that in one case the globule fell, and that in the other it rose.
"That's the last demonstration," said the professor. "This sun was greedy, he could not think, so he ate. Ouf!. . . . Yes," he went on, noting my gaze of astonishment, "that is the root idea in unscientific language. The comets, those little fiery specks which you saw, were not enough for him; he ate his own children. Voilà."
"You talk," said I, "as though it were a living thing—an insect or a fly."
"It is a living thing. The whole solar system is a living thing; this Earth of ours is a living thing, different only from one of the smaller globes that you saw in this tube because it can think. Do you perceive?"
I could not, or would not. I think I smiled at the lunacy of the idea now thus plainly put; it was so preposterous, and it had lost its grandeur in repetition. Still, as I did not wish to hurt his feelings, I suppressed my smile, and began instead to express admiration at the working of the marvel which he had shown me, asking by what miracle it had been effected.
"By none," he answered. "That tube is merely full of very attenuated hydrogen, the violet globe was hydrogen also. Space, the sun, the earth, you, I, everything,—all are nothing but the same thing—molecules of hydrogen arranged in different ways. Nature produced what you saw, because, given these conditions, she can produce nothing else. She gives birth to these systems just as a human woman gives birth to a human child, and not to a house or a tree. It is so simple . . . And the violet flame—did you particularly notice anything about the violet flame?"
"No," said I, "unless its colour. I've always had a hazy idea that the sun was blue."
"Blue? It is blue. Ah Monsieur Lester, there is some proverb about wisdom from the mouths of babes and sucklings; sacré, you have proved it. You have given to me the key that have sought many years, you have made me so, ask myself the one simple question that never lured to me before. You—why there is no limit to the immense potentiality of the road that is now open I see it all now—the secret of creation and sentient life. I see how to lift the veil, how to read the inner workings of immensity, how to learn the secret of what this planet thinks!"
Thus he babbled on, I barely heeding. He had got beyond science—practical science; he was a vain speculator plunging into the unknowable, inventing laws for what no man could realize. What wonder if I treated him as mad? It sounded all so different hearing it the second time.
He ran up and down the laboratory like a wild thing. With nervous, trembling fingers he swung loose the great telescope that filled its further end; quivering with excitement he dragged some smaller machine across the object-glass.
"Look," he almost shrieked, "look."
I obeyed him. To this day I do not know what were the things I gazed at. They were not like stars, though I suppose they must have been. In a field of black immensity scintillated little dabs of colour, glowing and radiant. Across this field the professor threw the light of an electric lamp, over which he held sheets of red glass of varying shades. One, two, three, a dozen or more he tried. Still he continued his task with unabated energy, and still I gazed with weary-growing eyes.
Then all of a sudden, whether because my eyes grew dim, or because it was even as I saw, all the colours seemed to blaze out in a violet glitter. It was only for a moment; the next he had flung the glass aside.
"It is done," said he. "I have conquered. You have seen how world speaks to world, you see before you a man, a pigmy human man who holds in his hand the destiny of the Universe. Not only shall I read what the planets think, but I shall mould their thoughts as I will. I—even I—shall do this. I and I alone shall be omnipotent over Space!"
I left him then. It was a curious case of mental aberration, and I was sorry for him. And yet, as I walked home in the growing dawn, I found my thoughts wandering back to him. Suppose it were true that the Universe lived; suppose that we human beings were merely so many molecules, of no more importance than the molecules of our own bodies? That was possible—probable enough even. And, supposing this man had solved the secret,— though I did not see how this could be,—supposing this man had—what then? What?
The next day I met a crony of mine at the club—Bentham his name was, a naval man, more devoid of imagination than myself, and brutally practical in addition.
"Bally old lunatic," was his verdict, as he laughed. "What the deuce concern is it of his or ours? We've certain duties to get through in the world, and there's the end of it; and no dreams can alter it."
Another man had overheard us—Dornton. And he now had his say.
"No dreams can alter it," he repeated . . . . "true. But when I tap my face with my fingers the fingers do the tapping, and for all I know they think they do it of their own volition. You see the line of thought induced?"
"I'll be hanged if I do," said I, as I ordered a whisky-and-soda. Dornton, I considered, was an insufferable bore, and I let him see that I thought so.
And when I got home again and found a note from the professor, I nearly roared myself hoarse with laughing as I read it-
"The great mother earth thinks that she will have done with war. I suggested it to her. War is henceforward a thing of the past."
"Blasted lunatic," was my comment, as I threw the note aside. Then an inspiration seized me; I slipped the letter into an envelope and sent it to Dornton.
His reply came quickly enough in the form of a telegram—two words only.
"Blasted lunatic number two," I murmured.
|Previous chapter||Contents||Next chapter|