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No Death Save In Life







From: The Crack Of Doom

For some days afterwards our voyage was uneventful, and the usual
shipboard amusements were requisitioned to while away the tedious hours.
The French fishing fleet was never mentioned. We got through the Bay
with very little knocking about, and passed the Rock without calling. I
was not disappointed, for there was slight inducement for going ashore,
oppressed as I was with the ever-present incubus of dread. At intervals
this feeling became less acute, but only to return, strengthened by its
short absences. After a time my danger sense became blunted. The nervous
system became torpid under continuous stress, and refused to pass on the
sensations with sufficient intensity to the brain; or the weary brain
was asleep at its post and did not heed the warnings. I could think no
more.

And this reminds me of something which I must tell about young Halley.
For several days after the voyage began, the boy avoided me. I knew his
reason for doing this. I myself did not blame him for his want of
physical courage, but I was glad that he himself was ashamed of it.

Halley came to me one morning and said:

"I wish to speak to you, Marcel. I must speak to you. It is about that
miserable episode on the evening we left England. I acted like a cad.
Therefore I must be a cad. I only want to tell you that I despise myself
as much as you can. And that I envy you. I never thought that I should
envy a man simply because he had no nervous system."

"Who is this man without a nervous system of whom you speak?" I asked
coldly. I was not sorry that I had an opportunity of reading him a
lesson which might be placed opposite the many indignities which had
been put upon me, in the form mainly of shoulder shrugs, brow
elevations, and the like.

"You, of course. I mean no offence--you are magnificent. I am honest in
saying that I admire you. I wish I was like you in height, weight,
muscle--and absence of nervous system."

"You would keep your own brain, I suppose?" I asked.

"Yes, I would keep that."

"And I will keep my own nervous system," I replied. "And the difference
between mine and yours is this: that whereas my own danger sense is, or
was, as keen as your own, I have my reserve of nerve force--or had
it--which might be relied on to tide me over a sudden emergency. This
reserve you have expended on your brain. There are two kinds of cowards;
the selfish coward who cares for no interest save his own; the unselfish
coward who cares nothing for himself, but who cannot face a danger
because he dare not. And there are two kinds of brave men; the nerveless
man you spoke of, who simply faces danger because he does not appreciate
it, and the man who faces danger because, although he fears it he dares
it. I have no difficulty in placing you in this list."

"You place me--"

"A coward because you cannot help it. You are merely out of harmony with
your environment. You ought to bring a supply of 'environment' about
with you, seeing that you cannot manufacture it off-hand like myself. I
wish to be alone. Good-day."

"Before I go, Marcel, I will say this." There were tears in his eyes.
"These people do not really know you, with all their telepathic power.
You are not--not--"

"Not as great a fool as they think. Thank you. I mean to prove that to
them some day."

With that I turned away from him, although I felt that he would have
gladly stayed longer with me.

While the Esmeralda was sweeping over the long swells of the
Mediterranean, I heard Brande lecture for the second time. It was a
fitting interlude between his first and third addresses. I might
classify them thus--the first, critical; the second, constructive; the
third, executive. His third speech was the last he made in the world.

We were assembled in the saloon. It would have been pleasanter on the
upper deck, owing to the heat, but the speaker could not then have been
easily heard in the noise of the wind and waves. I could scarcely
believe that it was Brande who arose to speak, so changed was his
expression. The frank scepticism, which had only recently degenerated
into a cynicism, still tempered with a half kindly air of easy
superiority, was gone. In its place there was a look of concentrated
and relentless purpose which dominated the man himself and all who saw
him. He began in forcible and direct sentences, with only a faintly
reminiscent eloquence which was part of himself, and from which he could
not without a conscious effort have freed his style. But the whole
bearing of the man had little trace in it of the dilettante academician
whom we all remembered.

"When I last addressed this Society," he began, "I laboured under a
difficulty in arriving at ultimate truth which was of my own
manufacture. I presupposed, as you will remember, the indestructibility
of the atom, and, in logical consequence I was bound to admit the
conservation of suffering, the eternity of misery. But on that evening
many of my audience were untaught in the rudiments of ultimate thought,
and some were still sceptical of the bona fides of our purpose, and
our power to achieve its object. To them, in their then ineptitude, what
I shall say now would have been unintelligible. For in the same way that
the waves of light or sound exceeding a certain maximum can not be
transferred to the brain by dull eyes and ears, my thought pulsations
would have escaped those auditors by virtue of their own
irresponsiveness. To-night I am free from the limitation which I then
suffered, because there are none around me now who have not sufficient
knowledge to grasp what I shall present.

"You remember that I traced for you the story of evolution in its
journey from the atom to the star. And I showed you that the hypothesis
of the indestructibility of the atom was simply a creed of cruelty writ
large. I now proceed on the lines of true science to show you how that
hypothesis is false; that as the atom is destructible--as you have
seen by our experiments (the last of which resulted in a climax not
intended by me)--the whole scheme of what is called creation falls to
pieces. As the atom was the first etheric blunder, so the material
Universe is the grand etheric mistake.

"In considering the marvellous and miserable succession of errors
resulting from the meretricious atomic remedy adopted by the ether to
cure its local sores, it must first be said of the ether itself that
there is too much of it. Space is not sufficient for it. Thus, the
particles of ether--those imponderable entities which vibrate through a
block of marble or a disc of hammered steel with only a dulled, not an
annihilated motion, are by their own tumultuous plenty packed closer
together than they wish. I say wish, for if all material consciousness
and sentiency be founded on atomic consciousness, then in its turn
atomic consciousness is founded upon, and dependent on, etheric
consciousness. These particles of ether, therefore, when too closely
impinged upon by their neighbours, resent the impact, and in doing so
initiate etheric whirlwinds, from whose vast perturbances stupendous
drifts set out. In their gigantic power these avalanches crush the
particles which impede them, force the resisting medium out of its
normal stage, destroy the homogeneity of its constituents, and mass them
into individualistic communities whose vibrations play with greater
freedom when they synchronise. The homogeneous etheric tendencies recede
and finally determine.

"Behold a miracle! An atom is born!

"By a similar process--which I may liken to that of putting off an evil
day which some time must be endured--the atoms group themselves into
molecules. In their turn the molecules go forth to war, capturing or
being captured; the vibrations of the slaves always being forced to
synchronise with those of their conquerors. The nucleus of the gas of a
primal metal is now complete, and the foundation of a solar
system--paltry molecule of the Universe as it is--is laid. Thereafter,
the rest is easily followed. It is described in your school books, and
must not occupy me now.

"But one word I will interpolate which may serve to explain a curious
and interesting human belief. You are aware of how, in times past, men
of absolutely no scientific insight held firmly to the idea that an
elixir of life and a philosopher's stone might be discovered, and that
these two objects were nearly always pursued contemporaneously. That is
to my mind an extraordinary example of the force of atomic
consciousness. The idea itself was absolutely correct; but the men who
followed it had slight knowledge of its unity, and none whatever of its
proper pursuit. They would have worked on their special lines to
eternity before advancing a single step toward their object. And this
because they did not know what life was, and death was, and what the
metals ultimately signified which they, blind fools, so unsuccessfully
tried to transmute. But we know more than they. We have climbed no doubt
in the footholds they have carved, and we have gained the summit they
only saw in the mirage of hope. For we know that there is no life, no
death, no metals, no matter, no emotions, no thoughts; but that all
that we call by these names is only the ether in various conditions.
Life! I could live as long as this earth will submit to human existence
if I had studied that paltry problem. Metals! The ship in which you sail
was bought with gold manufactured in my crucibles.

"The unintelligent--or I should say the grossly ignorant--have long held
over the heads of the pioneers of science these two great charges: No
man has ever yet transmuted a metal; no man has ever yet proved the
connecting link between organic and inorganic life. I say life, for I
take it that this company admits that a slab of granite is as much alive
as any man or woman I see before me. But I have manufactured gold, and I
could have manufactured protoplasm if I had devoted my life to that
object. My studies have been almost wholly on the inorganic plane. Hence
the 'philosopher's stone' came in my way, but not the 'elixir of life.'
The molecules of protoplasm are only a little more complex than the
molecules of hydrogen or nitrogen or iron or coal. You may fuse iron,
vaporise water, intermix the gases; but the molecules of all change
little in such metamorphosis. And you may slay twenty thousand men at
Waterloo or Sedan, or ten thousand generations may be numbered with the
dust, and not an ounce of protoplasm lies dead. All molecules are merely
arrangements of atoms made under different degrees of pressure and of
different ages. And all atoms are constructed of identical
constituents--the ether, as I have said. Therefore the ether, which was
from the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, which is the same
yesterday, to-day, and for ever, is the origin of force, of matter, of
life.

"It is alive!

"Its starry children are so many that the sands of the sea-shore may not
be used as a similitude for their multitude; and they extend so far that
distance may not be named in relation to them. They are so high above us
and so deep below us that there is neither height nor depth in them.
There is neither east nor west in them, nor north and south in them. Nor
is there beginning or end to them. Time drops his scythe and stands
appalled before that dreadful host. Number applies not to its eternal
multitudes. Distance is lost in boundless space. And from all the stars
that stud the caverns of the Universe, there swells this awful chorus:
Failure! failure and futility! And the ether is to blame!

"Heterogeneous suffering is more acute than homogeneous, because the
agony is intensified by being localised; because the comfort of the
comfortable is purchasable only by the multiplied misery of the
miserable; because aristocratic leisure requires that the poor should be
always with it. There is, therefore, no gladness without its
overbalancing sorrow. There is no good without intenser evil. There is
no death save in life.

"Back, then, from this ill-balanced and unfair long-suffering, this
insufficient existence. Back to Nirvana--the ether! And I will lead the
way.

"The agent I will employ has cost me all life to discover. It will
release the vast stores of etheric energy locked up in the huge atomic
warehouse of this planet. I shall remedy the grand mistake only to a
degree which it would be preposterous to call even microscopic; but when
I have done what I can, I am blameless for the rest. In due season the
whole blunder will be cured by the same means that I shall use, and all
the hideous experiment will be over, and everlasting rest or
quasi-rest will supersede the magnificent failure of material
existence. This earth, at least, and, I am encouraged to hope, the whole
solar system, will by my instrumentality be restored to the ether from
which it never should have emerged. Once before, in the history of our
system, an effort similar to mine was made, unhappily without success.

"This time we shall not fail!"

A low murmur rose from the audience as the lecturer concluded, and a
hushed whisper asked:

"Where was that other effort made?"

Brande faced round momentarily, and said quietly but distinctly:

"On the planet which was where the Asteroids are now."





Next: Miss Metford's Plan

Previous: Morituri Te Salutant



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