As we crossed the hall the telephone-bell rang, and we were the involuntar_uditors of Professor Challenger's end of the ensuing dialogue. I say "we,"
but no one within a hundred yards could have failed to hear the booming o_hat monstrous voice, which reverberated through the house. His answer_ingered in my mind.
"Yes, yes, of course, it is I… . Yes, certainly, the Professor Challenger, th_amous Professor, who else?… Of course, every word of it, otherwise I shoul_ot have written it… . I shouldn't be surprised… . There is every indicatio_f it… . Within a day or so at the furthest… . Well, I can't help that, ca_?… Very unpleasant, no doubt, but I rather fancy it will affect mor_mportant people than you. There is no use whining about it… . No, I couldn'_ossibly. You must take your chance… . That's enough, sir. Nonsense! I hav_omething more important to do than to listen to such twaddle."
He shut off with a crash and led us upstairs into a large airy apartment whic_ormed his study. On the great mahogany desk seven or eight unopened telegram_ere lying.
"Really," he said as he gathered them up, "I begin to think that it would sav_y correspondents' money if I were to adopt a telegraphic address. Possibly
'Noah, Rotherfield,' would be the most appropriate."
As usual when he made an obscure joke, he leaned against the desk and bellowe_n a paroxysm of laughter, his hands shaking so that he could hardly open th_nvelopes.
"Noah! Noah!" he gasped, with a face of beetroot, while Lord John and I smile_n sympathy and Summerlee, like a dyspeptic goat, wagged his head in sardoni_isagreement. Finally Challenger, still rumbling and exploding, began to ope_is telegrams. The three of us stood in the bow window and occupied ourselve_n admiring the magnificent view.
It was certainly worth looking at. The road in its gentle curves had reall_rought us to a considerable elevation—seven hundred feet, as we afterward_iscovered. Challenger's house was on the very edge of the hill, and from it_outhern face, in which was the study window, one looked across the vas_tretch of the weald to where the gentle curves of the South Downs formed a_ndulating horizon. In a cleft of the hills a haze of smoke marked th_osition of Lewes. Immediately at our feet there lay a rolling plain o_eather, with the long, vivid green stretches of the Crowborough golf course, all dotted with the players. A little to the south, through an opening in th_oods, we could see a section of the main line from London to Brighton. In th_mmediate foreground, under our very noses, was a small enclosed yard, i_hich stood the car which had brought us from the station.
An ejaculation from Challenger caused us to turn. He had read his telegram_nd had arranged them in a little methodical pile upon his desk. His broad, rugged face, or as much of it as was visible over the matted beard, was stil_eeply flushed, and he seemed to be under the influence of some stron_xcitement.
"Well, gentlemen," he said, in a voice as if he was addressing a publi_eeting, "this is indeed an interesting reunion, and it takes place unde_xtraordinary—I may say unprecedented—circumstances. May I ask if you hav_bserved anything upon your journey from town?"
"The only thing which I observed," said Summerlee with a sour smile, "was tha_ur young friend here has not improved in his manners during the years tha_ave passed. I am sorry to state that I have had to seriously complain of hi_onduct in the train, and I should be wanting in frankness if I did not sa_hat it has left a most unpleasant impression in my mind."
"Well, well, we all get a bit prosy sometimes," said Lord John. "The youn_ellah meant no real harm. After all, he's an International, so if he take_alf an hour to describe a game of football he has more right to do it tha_ost folk."
"Half an hour to describe a game!" I cried indignantly. "Why, it was you tha_ook half an hour with some long-winded story about a buffalo. Professo_ummerlee will be my witness."
"I can hardly judge which of you was the most utterly wearisome," sai_ummerlee. "I declare to you, Challenger, that I never wish to hear o_ootball or of buffaloes so long as I live."
"I have never said one word to-day about football," I protested.
Lord John gave a shrill whistle, and Summerlee shook his head sadly.
"So early in the day too," said he. "It is indeed deplorable. As I sat ther_n sad but thoughtful silence—"
"In silence!" cried Lord John. "Why, you were doin' a music-hall turn o_mitations all the way—more like a runaway gramophone than a man."
Summerlee drew himself up in bitter protest.
"You are pleased to be facetious, Lord John," said he with a face of vinegar.
"Why, dash it all, this is clear madness," cried Lord John. "Each of us seem_o know what the others did and none of us knows what he did himself. Let'_ut it all together from the first. We got into a first-class smoker, that'_lear, ain't it? Then we began to quarrel over friend Challenger's letter i_he Times."
"Oh, you did, did you?" rumbled our host, his eyelids beginning to droop.
"You said, Summerlee, that there was no possible truth in his contention."
"Dear me!" said Challenger, puffing out his chest and stroking his beard. "N_ossible truth! I seem to have heard the words before. And may I ask with wha_rguments the great and famous Professor Summerlee proceeded to demolish th_umble individual who had ventured to express an opinion upon a matter o_cientific possibility? Perhaps before he exterminates that unfortunat_onentity he will condescend to give some reasons for the adverse views whic_e has formed."
He bowed and shrugged and spread open his hands as he spoke with his elaborat_nd elephantine sarcasm.
"The reason was simple enough," said the dogged Summerlee. "I contended tha_f the ether surrounding the earth was so toxic in one quarter that i_roduced dangerous symptoms, it was hardly likely that we three in the railwa_arriage should be entirely unaffected."
The explanation only brought uproarious merriment from Challenger. He laughe_ntil everything in the room seemed to rattle and quiver.
"Our worthy Summerlee is, not for the first time, somewhat out of touch wit_he facts of the situation," said he at last, mopping his heated brow. "Now, gentlemen, I cannot make my point better than by detailing to you what I hav_yself done this morning. You will the more easily condone any menta_bberation upon your own part when you realize that even I have had moment_hen my balance has been disturbed. We have had for some years in thi_ousehold a housekeeper—one Sarah, with whose second name I have neve_ttempted to burden my memory. She is a woman of a severe and forbiddin_spect, prim and demure in her bearing, very impassive in her nature, an_ever known within our experience to show signs of any emotion. As I sat alon_t my breakfast—Mrs. Challenger is in the habit of keeping her room of _orning—it suddenly entered my head that it would be entertaining an_nstructive to see whether I could find any limits to this woman'_nperturbability. I devised a simple but effective experiment. Having upset _mall vase of flowers which stood in the centre of the cloth, I rang the bel_nd slipped under the table. She entered and, seeing the room empty, imagine_hat I had withdrawn to the study. As I had expected, she approached an_eaned over the table to replace the vase. I had a vision of a cotton stockin_nd an elastic-sided boot. Protruding my head, I sank my teeth into the cal_f her leg. The experiment was successful beyond belief. For some moments sh_tood paralyzed, staring down at my head. Then with a shriek she tore hersel_ree and rushed from the room. I pursued her with some thoughts of a_xplanation, but she flew down the drive, and some minutes afterwards I wa_ble to pick her out with my field-glasses traveling very rapidly in a south- westerly direction. I tell you the anecdote for what it is worth. I drop i_nto your brains and await its germination. Is it illuminative? Has i_onveyed anything to your minds? What do you think of it, Lord John?"
Lord John shook his head gravely.
"You'll be gettin' into serious trouble some of these days if you don't put _rake on," said he.
"Perhaps you have some observation to make, Summerlee?"
"You should drop all work instantly, Challenger, and take three months in _erman watering-place," said he.
"Profound! Profound!" cried Challenger. "Now, my young friend, is it possibl_hat wisdom may come from you where your seniors have so signally failed?"
And it did. I say it with all modesty, but it did. Of course, it all seem_bvious enough to you who know what occurred, but it was not so very clea_hen everything was new. But it came on me suddenly with the full force o_bsolute conviction.
"Poison!" I cried.
Then, even as I said the word, my mind flashed back over the whole morning'_xperiences, past Lord John with his buffalo, past my own hysterical tears, past the outrageous conduct of Professor Summerlee, to the queer happenings i_ondon, the row in the park, the driving of the chauffeur, the quarrel at th_xygen warehouse. Everything fitted suddenly into its place.
"Of course," I cried again. "It is poison. We are all poisoned."
"Exactly," said Challenger, rubbing his hands, "we are all poisoned. Ou_lanet has swum into the poison belt of ether, and is now flying deeper int_t at the rate of some millions of miles a minute. Our young friend ha_xpressed the cause of all our troubles and perplexities in a single word,
We looked at each other in amazed silence. No comment seemed to meet th_ituation.
"There is a mental inhibition by which such symptoms can be checked an_ontrolled," said Challenger. "I cannot expect to find it developed in all o_ou to the same point which it has reached in me, for I suppose that th_trength of our different mental processes bears some proportion to eac_ther. But no doubt it is appreciable even in our young friend here. After th_ittle outburst of high spirits which so alarmed my domestic I sat down an_easoned with myself. I put it to myself that I had never before felt impelle_o bite any of my household. The impulse had then been an abnormal one. In a_nstant I perceived the truth. My pulse upon examination was ten beats abov_he usual, and my reflexes were increased. I called upon my higher and sane_elf, the real G. E. C., seated serene and impregnable behind all mer_olecular disturbance. I summoned him, I say, to watch the foolish menta_ricks which the poison would play. I found that I was indeed the master. _ould recognize and control a disordered mind. It was a remarkable exhibitio_f the victory of mind over matter, for it was a victory over that particula_orm of matter which is most intimately connected with mind. I might almos_ay that mind was at fault and that personality controlled it. Thus, when m_ife came downstairs and I was impelled to slip behind the door and alarm he_y some wild cry as she entered, I was able to stifle the impulse and to gree_er with dignity and restraint. An overpowering desire to quack like a duc_as met and mastered in the same fashion.
Later, when I descended to order the car and found Austin bending over i_bsorbed in repairs, I controlled my open hand even after I had lifted it an_efrained from giving him an experience which would possibly have caused hi_o follow in the steps of the housekeeper. On the contrary, I touched him o_he shoulder and ordered the car to be at the door in time to meet your train.
At the present instant I am most forcibly tempted to take Professor Summerle_y that silly old beard of his and to shake his head violently backwards an_orwards. And yet, as you see, I am perfectly restrained. Let me commend m_xample to you."
"I'll look out for that buffalo," said Lord John.
"And I for the football match."
"It may be that you are right, Challenger," said Summerlee in a chastene_oice. "I am willing to admit that my turn of mind is critical rather tha_onstructive and that I am not a ready convert to any new theory, especiall_hen it happens to be so unusual and fantastic as this one. However, as I cas_y mind back over the events of the morning, and as I reconsider the fatuou_onduct of my companions, I find it easy to believe that some poison of a_xciting kind was responsible for their symptoms."
Challenger slapped his colleague good-humouredly upon the shoulder. "W_rogress," said he. "Decidedly we progress."
"And pray, sir," asked Summerlee humbly, "what is your opinion as to th_resent outlook?"
"With your permission I will say a few words upon that subject." He seate_imself upon his desk, his short, stumpy legs swinging in front of him. "W_re assisting at a tremendous and awful function. It is, in my opinion, th_nd of the world."
The end of the world! Our eyes turned to the great bow-window and we looke_ut at the summer beauty of the country-side, the long slopes of heather, th_reat country-houses, the cozy farms, the pleasure-seekers upon the links.
The end of the world! One had often heard the words, but the idea that the_ould ever have an immediate practical significance, that it should not be a_ome vague date, but now, to-day, that was a tremendous, a staggering thought.
We were all struck solemn and waited in silence for Challenger to continue.
His overpowering presence and appearance lent such force to the solemnity o_is words that for a moment all the crudities and absurdities of the ma_anished, and he loomed before us as something majestic and beyond the rang_f ordinary humanity. Then to me, at least, there came back the cheerin_ecollection of how twice since we had entered the room he had roared wit_aughter. Surely, I thought, there are limits to mental detachment. The crisi_annot be so great or so pressing after all.
'You will conceive a bunch of grapes," said he, "which are covered by som_nfinitesimal but noxious bacillus. The gardener passes it through _isinfecting medium. It may be that he desires his grapes to be cleaner. I_ay be that he needs space to breed some fresh bacillus less noxious than th_ast. He dips it into the poison and they are gone. Our Gardener is, in m_pinion, about to dip the solar system, and the human bacillus, the littl_ortal vibrio which twisted and wriggled upon the outer rind of the earth, will in an instant be sterilized out of existence."
Again there was silence. It was broken by the high trill of the telephone- bell.
"There is one of our bacilli squeaking for help," said he with a grim smile.
"They are beginning to realize that their continued existence is not reall_ne of the necessities of the universe."
He was gone from the room for a minute or two. I remember that none of u_poke in his absence. The situation seemed beyond all words or comments.
"The medical officer of health for Brighton," said he when he returned. "Th_ymptoms are for some reason developing more rapidly upon the sea level. Ou_even hundred feet of elevation give us an advantage. Folk seem to hav_earned that I am the first authority upon the question. No doubt it come_rom my letter in the Times. That was the mayor of a provincial town with who_ talked when we first arrived. You may have heard me upon the telephone. H_eemed to put an entirely inflated value upon his own life. I helped him t_eadjust his ideas."
Summerlee had risen and was standing by the window. His thin, bony hands wer_rembling with his emotion.
"Challenger," said he earnestly, "this thing is too serious for mere futil_rgument. Do not suppose that I desire to irritate you by any question I ma_sk. But I put it to you whether there may not be some fallacy in you_nformation or in your reasoning. There is the sun shining as brightly as eve_n the blue sky. There are the heather and the flowers and the birds. Ther_re the folk enjoying themselves upon the golf-links and the laborers yonde_utting the corn. You tell us that they and we may be upon the very brink o_estruction—that this sunlit day may be that day of doom which the human rac_as so long awaited. So far as we know, you found this tremendous judgmen_pon what? Upon some abnormal lines in a spectrum—upon rumours fro_umatra—upon some curious personal excitement which we have discerned in eac_ther. This latter symptom is not so marked but that you and we could, by _eliberate effort, control it. You need not stand on ceremony with us, Challenger. We have all faced death together before now. Speak out, and let u_now exactly where we stand, and what, in your opinion, are our prospects fo_ur future."
It was a brave, good speech, a speech from that stanch and strong spirit whic_ay behind all the acidities and angularities of the old zoologist. Lord Joh_ose and shook him by the hand.
"My sentiment to a tick," said he. "Now, Challenger, it's up to you to tell u_here we are. We ain't nervous folk, as you know well; but when it comes t_akin' a week-end visit and finding you've run full butt into the Day o_udgment, it wants a bit of explainin'. What's the danger, and how much of i_s there, and what are we goin' to do to meet it?"
He stood, tall and strong, in the sunshine at the window, with his brown han_pon the shoulder of Summerlee. I was lying back in an armchair, a_xtinguished cigarette between my lips, in that sort of half-dazed state i_hich impressions become exceedingly distinct. It may have been a new phase o_he poisoning, but the delirious promptings had all passed away and wer_ucceeded by an exceedingly languid and, at the same time, perceptive state o_ind. I was a spectator. It did not seem to be any personal concern of mine.
But here were three strong men at a great crisis, and it was fascinating t_bserve them. Challenger bent his heavy brows and stroked his beard before h_nswered. One could see that he was very carefully weighing his words.
"What was the last news when you left London?" he asked.
"I was at the Gazette office about ten," said I. "There was a Reuter just com_n from Singapore to the effect that the sickness seemed to be universal i_umatra and that the lighthouses had not been lit in consequence."
"Events have been moving somewhat rapidly since then," said Challenger, picking up his pile of telegrams. "I am in close touch both with th_uthorities and with the press, so that news is converging upon me from al_arts. There is, in fact, a general and very insistent demand that I shoul_ome to London; but I see no good end to be served. From the accounts th_oisonous effect begins with mental excitement; the rioting in Paris thi_orning is said to have been very violent, and the Welsh colliers are in _tate of uproar. So far as the evidence to hand can be trusted, thi_timulative stage, which varies much in races and in individuals, is succeede_y a certain exaltation and mental lucidity—I seem to discern some signs of i_n our young friend here—which, after an appreciable interval, turns to coma, deepening rapidly into death. I fancy, so far as my toxicology carries me, that there are some vegetable nerve poisons—"
"Datura," suggested Summerlee.
"Excellent!" cried Challenger. "It would make for scientific precision if w_amed our toxic agent. Let it be daturon. To you, my dear Summerlee, belong_he honour—posthumous, alas, but none the less unique—of having given a nam_o the universal destroyer, the Great Gardener's disinfectant. The symptoms o_aturon, then, may be taken to be such as I indicate. That it will involve th_hole world and that no life can possibly remain behind seems to me to b_ertain, since ether is a universal medium. Up to now it has been capriciou_n the places which it has attacked, but the difference is only a matter of _ew hours, and it is like an advancing tide which covers one strip of sand an_hen another, running hither and thither in irregular streams, until at las_t has submerged it all. There are laws at work in connection with the actio_nd distribution of daturon which would have been of deep interest had th_ime at our disposal permitted us to study them. So far as I can trac_hem"—here he glanced over his telegrams—"the less developed races have bee_he first to respond to its influence. There are deplorable accounts fro_frica, and the Australian aborigines appear to have been alread_xterminated. The Northern races have as yet shown greater resisting powe_han the Southern. This, you see, is dated from Marseilles at nine-forty-fiv_his morning. I give it to you verbatim:—
"'All night delirious excitement throughout Provence. Tumult of vine grower_t Nimes. Socialistic upheaval at Toulon. Sudden illness attended by com_ttacked population this morning. PESTE FOUDROYANTE. Great numbers of dead i_he streets. Paralysis of business and universal chaos.'
"An hour later came the following, from the same source:—
"'We are threatened with utter extermination. Cathedrals and churches full t_verflowing. The dead outnumber the living. It is inconceivable and horrible.
Decease seems to be painless, but swift and inevitable.' "There is a simila_elegram from Paris, where the development is not yet as acute. India an_ersia appear to be utterly wiped out. The Slavonic population of Austria i_own, while the Teutonic has hardly been affected. Speaking generally, th_wellers upon the plains and upon the seashore seem, so far as my limite_nformation goes, to have felt the effects more rapidly than those inland o_n the heights. Even a little elevation makes a considerable difference, an_erhaps if there be a survivor of the human race, he will again be found upo_he summit of some Ararat. Even our own little hill may presently prove to b_ temporary island amid a sea of disaster. But at the present rate of advanc_ few short hours will submerge us all."
Lord John Roxton wiped his brow.
"What beats me," said he, "is how you could sit there laughin' with that stac_f telegrams under your hand. I've seen death as often as most folk, bu_niversal death—it's awful!"
"As to the laughter," said Challenger, "you will bear in mind that, lik_ourselves, I have not been exempt from the stimulating cerebral effects o_he etheric poison. But as to the horror with which universal death appears t_nspire you, I would put it to you that it is somewhat exaggerated. If yo_ere sent to sea alone in an open boat to some unknown destination, your hear_ight well sink within you. The isolation, the uncertainty, would oppress you.
But if your voyage were made in a goodly ship, which bore within it all you_elations and your friends, you would feel that, however uncertain you_estination might still remain, you would at least have one common an_imultaneous experience which would hold you to the end in the same clos_ommunion. A lonely death may be terrible, but a universal one, as painless a_his would appear to be, is not, in my judgment, a matter for apprehension.
Indeed, I could sympathize with the person who took the view that the horro_ay in the idea of surviving when all that is learned, famous, and exalted ha_assed away."
"What, then, do you propose to do?" asked Summerlee, who had for once nodde_is assent to the reasoning of his brother scientist.
"To take our lunch," said Challenger as the boom of a gong sounded through th_ouse. "We have a cook whose omelettes are only excelled by her cutlets. W_an but trust that no cosmic disturbance has dulled her excellent abilities.
My Scharzberger of '96 must also be rescued, so far as our earnest and unite_fforts can do it, from what would be a deplorable waste of a great vintage."
He levered his great bulk off the desk, upon which he had sat while h_nnounced the doom of the planet. "Come," said he. "If there is little tim_eft, there is the more need that we should spend it in sober and reasonabl_njoyment."
And, indeed, it proved to be a very merry meal. It is true that we could no_orget our awful situation. The full solemnity of the event loomed ever at th_ack of our minds and tempered our thoughts. But surely it is the soul whic_as never faced death which shies strongly from it at the end. To each of u_en it had, for one great epoch in our lives, been a familiar presence. As t_he lady, she leaned upon the strong guidance of her mighty husband and wa_ell content to go whither his path might lead. The future was our fate. Th_resent was our own. We passed it in goodly comradeship and gentle merriment.
Our minds were, as I have said, singularly lucid. Even I struck sparks a_imes. As to Challenger, he was wonderful! Never have I so realized th_lemental greatness of the man, the sweep and power of his understanding.
Summerlee drew him on with his chorus of subacid criticism, while Lord Joh_nd I laughed at the contest and the lady, her hand upon his sleeve, controlled the bellowings of the philosopher. Life, death, fate, the destin_f man—these were the stupendous subjects of that memorable hour, made vita_y the fact that as the meal progressed strange, sudden exaltations in my min_nd tinglings in my limbs proclaimed that the invisible tide of death wa_lowly and gently rising around us. Once I saw Lord John put his hand suddenl_o his eyes, and once Summerlee dropped back for an instant in his chair. Eac_reath we breathed was charged with strange forces. And yet our minds wer_appy and at ease. Presently Austin laid the cigarettes upon the table and wa_bout to withdraw.
"Austin!" said his master.
"I thank you for your faithful service." A smile stole over the servant'_narled face.
"I've done my duty, sir."
"I'm expecting the end of the world to-day, Austin."
"Yes, sir. What time, sir?"
"I can't say, Austin. Before evening."
"Very good, sir."
The taciturn Austin saluted and withdrew. Challenger lit a cigarette, and, drawing his chair closer to his wife's, he took her hand in his.
"You know how matters stand, dear," said he. "I have explained it also to ou_riends here. You're not afraid are you?"
"It won't be painful, George?"
"No more than laughing-gas at the dentist's. Every time you have had it yo_ave practically died."
"But that is a pleasant sensation."
"So may death be. The worn-out bodily machine can't record its impression, bu_e know the mental pleasure which lies in a dream or a trance. Nature ma_uild a beautiful door and hang it with many a gauzy and shimmering curtain t_ake an entrance to the new life for our wondering souls. In all my probing_f the actual, I have always found wisdom and kindness at the core; and i_ver the frightened mortal needs tenderness, it is surely as he makes th_assage perilous from life to life. No, Summerlee, I will have none of you_aterialism, for I, at least, am too great a thing to end in mere physica_onstituents, a packet of salts and three bucketfuls of water. Here—here"—an_e beat his great head with his huge, hairy fist—"there is something whic_ses matter, but is not of it—something which might destroy death, but whic_eath can never destroy."
"Talkin' of death," said Lord John. "I'm a Christian of sorts, but it seems t_e there was somethin' mighty natural in those ancestors of ours who wer_uried with their axes and bows and arrows and the like, same as if they wer_ivin' on just the same as they used to. I don't know," he added, lookin_ound the table in a shamefaced way, "that I wouldn't feel more homely mysel_f I was put away with my old .450 Express and the fowlin'-piece, the shorte_ne with the rubbered stock, and a clip or two of cartridges—just a fool'_ancy, of course, but there it is. How does it strike you, Herr Professor?"
"Well," said Summerlee, "since you ask my opinion, it strikes me as a_ndefensible throwback to the Stone Age or before it. I'm of the twentiet_entury myself, and would wish to die like a reasonable civilized man. I don'_now that I am more afraid of death than the rest of you, for I am an oldis_an, and, come what may, I can't have very much longer to live; but it is al_gainst my nature to sit waiting without a struggle like a sheep for th_utcher. Is it quite certain, Challenger, that there is nothing we can do?"
"To save us—nothing," said Challenger. "To prolong our lives a few hours an_hus to see the evolution of this mighty tragedy before we are actuall_nvolved in it—that may prove to be within my powers. I have taken certai_teps—"
"Exactly. The oxygen."
"But what can oxygen effect in the face of a poisoning of the ether? There i_ot a greater difference in quality between a brick-bat and a gas than ther_s between oxygen and ether. They are different planes of matter. They canno_mpinge upon one another. Come, Challenger, you could not defend such _roposition."
"My good Summerlee, this etheric poison is most certainly influenced b_aterial agents. We see it in the methods and distribution of the outbreak. W_hould not a priori have expected it, but it is undoubtedly a fact. Hence I a_trongly of opinion that a gas like oxygen, which increases the vitality an_he resisting power of the body, would be extremely likely to delay the actio_f what you have so happily named the daturon. It may be that I am mistaken, but I have every confidence in the correctness of my reasoning."
"Well," said Lord John, "if we've got to sit suckin' at those tubes like s_any babies with their bottles, I'm not takin' any."
"There will be no need for that," Challenger answered. "We have mad_rrangements—it is to my wife that you chiefly owe it—that her boudoir shal_e made as airtight as is practicable. With matting and varnished paper."
"Good heavens, Challenger, you don't suppose you can keep out ether wit_arnished paper?"
"Really, my worthy friend, you are a trifle perverse in missing the point. I_s not to keep out the ether that we have gone to such trouble. It is to kee_n the oxygen. I trust that if we can ensure an atmosphere hyper-oxygenated t_ certain point, we may be able to retain our senses. I had two tubes of th_as and you have brought me three more. It is not much, but it is something."
"How long will they last?"
"I have not an idea. We will not turn them on until our symptoms becom_nbearable. Then we shall dole the gas out as it is urgently needed. It ma_ive us some hours, possibly even some days, on which we may look out upon _lasted world. Our own fate is delayed to that extent, and we will have th_ery singular experience, we five, of being, in all probability, the absolut_ear guard of the human race upon its march into the unknown. Perhaps you wil_e kind enough now to give me a hand with the cylinders. It seems to me tha_he atmosphere already grows somewhat more oppressive."