WALL found it an easier task than he had expected to gain Farmer a hearing, there was a vague sense of uneasiness and expectation spread abroad. Some vast excavations undertaken by the government in regions where no one had hitherto thought of looking for coal or ore had given rise to a sense of mystery and secrecy.
He himself said nothing of the threatened calamity, but chose auditors of whose judgment, discretion and silence he was well assured, to hear Farmer's message.
Most unexpected of all his successes was the ease with which he gained a hearing for Farmer from the head of the Orbian church. The incidents of the scene are worth recording, as they show the difficulties which attended the promulgation of Farmer's theory, and the arguments by which he endeavoured to overcome them.
The Supreme Pontiff of Unæa, the head of the oldest religion in the State, in which the impulse towards efficient organization and the detachment from the ordinary life of men on the part of the clergy had gone hand in hand through century after century, sat in his audience hall.
Around him were priests who had made each branch of human effort or learning their life-long task, each one tempered to the maxim of absolute obedience, so that when the fiat had gone forth from the frail man, the vice-gerent of God, no doubt or hesitation crossed their minds, but that became accepted fact which before they discussed with the utmost freedom and subtlety.
Before him stood Farmer, seeing in him the embodiment of all he hated, the supremacy of something else than reason, the haughty claim to judge otherwise than by the proximate—the prime cause of all error, thereason why the misdirected efforts of men hung bitter and bereft, cajoled and chidden from the true path to the apprehension of the world.
Standing proudly before the frail man—who, sunk in the great throne and robes of state, received him with preternatural silence and abstraction—Farmer began to tell of the astronomical situation and the approaching destruction of the earth.
The pontiff's eye flashed for the first time. "You may assume that as known," he said. "The time for the harvest is brief, and the labourers few. I pray you use all brevity."
This calm acceptance of the situation at the centre, whence not so much as a ruffle had spread over the surface the church showed the world, impressed Farmer. They knew all and showed no signs of trouble! How different to his own agitation, the attitude of these men, who but saw in the end of all a more pressing call to their work!
"Holy father he said, using the mode of address of the faith, "I will be as brief as is consistent with the difference of our ways of thought. I come to you because you control the effort of half the world, and if you consent to direct it in a certain way, you can avert this calamity."
"Speak on, my son."
"The beginning of my thought was that everything is in space.
"Every person with whom we come into contact we know as a being in space; every act of our practical lives, every thought we have is derived from things and persons in space; even the revelation in which you believe has the same origin, it comes from a man who was seen and touched.
"And if everything real that we know is in space then that which is not in space is not real. An immaterial existence is nothing. Hence it seemed to me that the only way to know more—to really know it, not imagine it—was to acquire more and more knowledge of things in space.
"I would admit that was much in the universe, beings, persons such as you claim in the traditions of the church; but the only way to know them is to know them as space beings.
"And with this view, the supposition that space had more than two dimensions seemed to me important. Possibly your miraculous accounts might be distorted, and fantastic views of real things and beings we might rationally know in this higher space.
"Possibly, also, much that is unexplained in science might be found to be obscure because of this same fact of space being three dimensional.
"But I was in this position.
"Imagine a man in a society where justice reigns, if he has no sense of justice how will he recognise the part it plays in the institutions of society? It would be no use his saying that everything that is inexplicable is caused by justice. For there is, no doubt, much that he does not understand of every kind.
"The only way for him to learn about society is for him to form the sense of justice in himself, and when it is formed in him he can recognise the workings of justice about him.
"And, in my case, I had no sense of the shapes and movements that could exist in three dimensional space. The only way possible to tell whether there really were three dimensions was to form the sense of three dimensions in myself.
"Accordingly, though only a two-man myself, I made an account of the simplest things a three-man would have before him. I made objects which represented what a two-man would know by sight and touch of a three-man's objects.
"And I found a sense of three dimensional forms and motions wake in me. They came to seem quite natural to me. It was as if I were really a three-man, and only confined by the condition of my bodily experience to a two-man's thoughts.
"Starting from this assumption, giving the necessary labour to develop my sense of three dimensions, I have come to recognise clearly that I am really a higher being in face of a higher reality, and can discern something of the undreamed of range of power and opportunity that lies before us.
"What is the relation of the three-man to our bodily frame? We know that we do not perceive outward things directly. Tracing what happens when we see or gain any knowledge through our senses we find that certain changes take place in us. It is these changes that affect our consciousness, not outward objects directly. The incidence of the world of things in that which properly perceives takes place in processes of extreme minuteness."
One of the professors of the sacred college interrupted Farmer at this point by saying:
"You come then upon the mystery of thought. Thought, personality, the self is immaterial and cannot be explained by any of the principles of physics."
"No," replied Farmer, "all I do is to say that before you come to the mystery of self and personality, there is an intermediate domain to explore. Without touching on the mystery of thought you can examine the processes in this domain.
"When you come to the minute operations of nature you come to actions in threefold space, and that which really animates and directs our corporeal frame has this very same kind of activity.
"The three-man is small compared with our bodies, but mere size is no bar to any complexity of structure. We are three-men directing the activity of corporeal frames limited to twofold movements.
"But then the question comes: If there are three dimensions to space why do we only perceive a two-dimensional world?
"There can only be one answer. Because we are limited. In these bodies our freedom of motion is hindered, we can only move in our corporeal frames in two dimensions because something prevents us, prevents all things, these planets, worlds and suns from moving freely.
"That which prevents us I call the alongside being. In whatever direction we point and look we do but choose a direction along its boundary, never a direction into it or away from it. And, with the recognition of this alongside being, at once a new field of possibilities opens.
If we were free in space there would be no way to influence the course of our planet.
"But, being always in contact with this alongside being, if we were able to drive a spike into it we should retard our motion. Also, if you study three dimensions, you would intuitively understand that there is the possibility of pressing an edge into it, so that by properly placing the edge against the alongside being the motion of one's body could be deflected."
At this point Farmer paused, expecting an objection, for this possibility which we can express so easily by the word "skating" was one which offered great difficulties to the Unæan comprehension. We see that a body sliding on a smooth surface can easily be deflected. For instance an ice boat, on the surface of a frozen lake, can have its course altered by altering the inclination of the edge of a blade which bears on the ice. But to the Unæans such a process was entirely inconceivable.
"It can be admitted," said the professor of the sacred college, "that in a space of the kind you imagine there would be possibilities of varied kinds, and the one you suggest may be one of them."
Farmer continued: "I can assure you that this possibility exists, and I connect it with the persistent accounts which have been handed down of people's rising in the air, of a power of rising above the influence of the earth's attraction.
"The origin of all these accounts is, I believe, an obscure sense of the existence of an alongside being and a hidden feeling of a possibility of directing ourselves otherwise than by contact with anything we can see with our eyes or touch with our hands.
"Such a power of directing the movements of our bodies up or down is trivial and unimportant. But it has a bearing of vast importance and consequence. We are on the earth, our bodies are parts of its mass, and any direction we could give to the motion of our bodies, by uniting together the efforts of all men, we could impart to the earth.
"It is plain that if we could direct the course of our planet we could avert the dangers which our too great proximity with Ardaea will bring.
"We have no outward means of acting on this along-side being. We two-men have no such power. But the three-men, who are our real selves, these three-men have the power.
"By thinking of rising, of soaring through the air, the three-man, who is my real self, calls into play activities of his own.
"He acts on the alongside being, he puts an edge into it, so that the motion my body has in common with the whole earth is deflected and I have an upward tendency. I have put this to the proof. I have found that my weight becomes less when I think such thoughts as I have described.
"Now, if all men were to join together in worship, thinking of themselves as rising, as soaring like angels through the air, they would produce a force which would be enough to cause a certain deviation of our planet's course, a very minute one it is true, but all that is needed is a very minute one. Thus we could pass Ardaea in safety."
Farmer's theory was two-fold, first, that by a grouping and re-arranging of the molecular structure of the brain, such material changes could be effected as would cause a body slipping over the surface on which all Astrian things moved to be deflected in its course; and, secondly, that by thinking certain thoughts such molecular changes were produced in the brain matter of the thinkers. He postulated an accord between the conscious thought of rising and soaring, and those minute changes which by a process quite unknown to the thinker would bring about the realisation of this thought of rising and soaring.
To convey this idea was a task which presented almost insuperable difficulties. He had exhausted the known resources of the Unæan language, and had said all that could be said to men who had not followed his path of thought. Therefore, addressing the supreme pontiff, he concluded with the following words:
"I come to you, for you have the direction of the religious effort of half the human race. If you would decree a form of worship in which certain thoughts should be followed at certain times, and all the fervour of your congregations united, you would set those processes at work by which the three-men, our essential selves could save the world from its approaching catastrophe. . . ."
"Holy father, have you any question to ask me
"No, my son, receive the blessing of an old man who, like yourself, has striven to be faithful to the task allotted him."
And so the conference ended.
As was their wont, the supreme head sitting silent in an inactivity almost death-like, the priests discussed the topics of the interview freely.
"It seems to me," said one, "that there is a certain merit in his proposal. It is hardly likely that the people will remain in ignorance of the approaching catastrophe for long, and if they could be persuaded to believe this view they would be led to give their thoughts to worship, there would be perpetual service in our great cathedrals."
"The process of his reasoning is connected, but too involved to produce any effect on the popular mind," said a priest who had given his life to the prosecution of science. "I do not say that he is mentally unbalanced, but he has not lived with his fellows; he does not know what is going on, and he has taken one step after another in solitude till he has come to live in an unreal world. I do not accuse him of conscious deception, but he is one of those whom we may regard infinitesimally little."
"It is curious, this passion for the concrete," said a philosophical professor of the sacred college, "we must always teach in images, men are incapable of believing with fervour and vigour, unless they can think of the object of their belief as palpable and real—you see this in the present case. Mr. Farmer strayed from the teachings of the church, and from every form of revealed religion, and he has made up for himself a subtle justification for believing in something real, higher than himself."
"Nothing is new," said a young scholar, "we see old thoughts periodically crop up again, old heresies reassert themselves. Before now gross and materialistic minds have held the notion of a minute material soul. This exploded fancy reappears as the three-man. The whole theory of a threefold space is but a figment in which an old heresy artfully conceals itself."
"There is one important question," said a burly prelate, the treasurer of the sacred purse, "since Mr. Farmer knows of the approaching end, others, too, will soon know also; and, as a question of policy, I think it would be best to discontinue our sale of lands. People would think that we had made an interested use of our prior information."
"You think, Cardinal Fairface," said the aged pontiff, with the shadow of a smile round his lips, "that one is more likely to be able to take money than lands to the next world?"
Cardinal Fairface's colour deepened, but he answered humbly, "The effect of the diffusion of the knowledge will certainly have the effect of lowering values, your Eminence, it was in view of that that I asked your instructions."
"Continue to sell," said the pontiff, "it is of importance that all avocations shall go on as long as possible, and we must be in a position to supplement the faint-hearted."
"What is your Eminence's will with regard to the attitude of the faithful to this man's teaching?" asked a director of consciences.
"His influence is negligible," replied the pontiff, "and any private curiosity need not be checked. After all, it is better to think the soul is little, than to think little of the soul."