Back to Methuselah eBook

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THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  Let me tell you that we shortlivers, as you call us, have lengthened our lives very considerably.

ZOO.  How?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  By saving time.  By enabling men to cross the ocean in an afternoon, and to see and speak to one another when they are thousands of miles apart.  We hope shortly to organize their labor, and press natural forces into their service, so scientifically that the burden of labor will cease to be perceptible, leaving common men more leisure than they will know what to do with.

ZOO.  Daddy:  the man whose life is lengthened in this way may be busier than a savage; but the difference between such men living seventy years and those living three hundred would be all the greater; for to a shortliver increase of years is only increase of sorrow; but to a long-liver every extra year is a prospect which forces him to stretch his faculties to the utmost to face it.  Therefore I say that we who live three hundred years can be of no use to you who live less than a hundred, and that our true destiny is not to advise and govern you, but to supplant and supersede you.  In that faith I now declare myself a Colonizer and an Exterminator.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  Oh, steady! steady!  Pray! pray!  Reflect, I implore you.  It is possible to colonize without exterminating the natives.  Would you treat us less mercifully than our barbarous forefathers treated the Redskin and the Negro?  Are we not, as Britons, entitled at least to some reservations?

ZOO.  What is the use of prolonging the agony?  You would perish slowly in our presence, no matter what we did to preserve you.  You were almost dead when I took charge of you today, merely because you had talked for a few minutes to a secondary.  Besides, we have our own experience to go upon.  Have you never heard that our children occasionally revert to the ancestral type, and are born shortlived?

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [eagerly] Never.  I hope you will not be offended if I say that it would be a great comfort to me if I could be placed in charge of one of those normal individuals.

ZOO.  Abnormal, you mean.  What you ask is impossible:  we weed them all out.

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN.  When you say that you weed them out, you send a cold shiver down my spine.  I hope you don’t mean that you—­that you—­that you assist Nature in any way?

ZOO.  Why not?  Have you not heard the saying of the Chinese sage Dee Ning, that a good garden needs weeding?  But it is not necessary for us to interfere.  We are naturally rather particular as to the conditions on which we consent to live.  One does not mind the accidental loss of an arm or a leg or an eye:  after all, no one with two legs is unhappy because he has not three; so why should a man with one be unhappy because he has not two?  But infirmities of mind and temper are quite another matter.  If one of us has no self-control, or is too weak to bear the strain of our truthful life without wincing, or is tormented by depraved appetites and superstitions, or is unable to keep free from pain and depression, he naturally becomes discouraged, and refuses to live.

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