You will recall how a moor or heath resembles the hairy side of a giant animal. A certain analogy runs through all nature. You will then consider the secular rise and fall of land, which indicates the slow respiration of the creature. Finally, you will note the fidgetings and scratchings which appear to our Lilliputian perceptions as earthquakes and convulsions.'
'What about volcanoes?' I asked.
'Tut, tut! They correspond to the heat spots upon our own bodies.'
My brain whirled as I tried to find some answer to these monstrous contentions.
'The temperature!' I cried. 'Is it not a fact that it rises rapidly as one descends, and that the centre of the earth is liquid heat?'
He waved my assertion aside.
'You are probably aware, sir, since Council schools are now compulsory, that the earth is flattened at the poles. This means that the pole is nearer to the centre than any other point and would therefore be most affected by this heat of which you spoke. It is notorious, of course, that the conditions of the poles are tropical, is it not?'
'The whole idea is utterly new to me.'
'Of course it is. It is the privilege of the original thinker to put forward ideas which are new and usually unwelcome to the common clay. Now, sir, what is this?' He held up a small object which he had picked from the table.
'I should say it is a sea-urchin.'
'Exactly!' he cried, with an air of exaggerated surprise, as when an infant has done something clever. 'It is a sea-urchin--a common echinus. Nature repeats itself in many forms regardless of the size. This echinus is a model, a prototype, of the world. You perceive that it is roughly circular, but flattened at the poles. Let us then regard the world as a huge echinus. What are your objections?'
My chief objection was that the thing was too absurd for argument, but I did not dare to say so. I fished around for some less sweeping assertion.
'A living creature needs food,' I said. 'Where could the world sustain its huge bulk?'
'An excellent point--excellent!' said the Professor, with a huge air of patronage. 'You have a quick eye for the obvious, though you are slow in realizing the more subtle implications. How does the world get nourishment? Again we turn to our little friend the echinus. The water which surrounds it flows through the tubes of this small creature and provides its nutrition.'
'Then you think that the water--'
'No, sir. The ether. The earth browses upon a circular path in the fields of space, and as it moves the ether is continually pouring through it and providing its vitality. Quite a flock of other little world-echini are doing the same thing, Venus, Mars, and the rest, each with its own field for grazing.'
The man was clearly mad, but there was no arguing with him. He accepted my silence as agreement and smiled at me in most beneficent fashion.
'We are coming on, I perceive,' said he. 'Light is beginning to break in. A little dazzling at first, no doubt, but we will soon get used to it. Pray give me your attention while I found one or two more observations upon this little creature in my hand.
'We will suppose that on this outer hard rind there were certain infinitely small insects which crawled upon the surface. Would the echinus ever be aware of their existence?'
'I should say not.'
'You can well imagine then, that the earth has not the least idea of the way in which it is utilized by the human race. It is quite unaware of this fungus growth of vegetation and evolution of tiny animalcules which has collected upon it during its travels round the sun as barnacles gather upon the ancient vessel. That is the present state of affairs, and that is what I propose to alter.'
I stared in amazement. 'You propose to alter it?'
'I propose to let the earth know that there is at least one person, George Edward Challenger, who calls for attention--who, indeed, insists upon attention. It is certainly the first intimation it has ever had of the sort.'
'And how, sir, will you do this?'
'Ah, there we get down to business.