“That’s me,” he said; “but Lord, how you’ve changed. Only a fortnight ago, and now you’re stone-bald!”
I stared, marvelling at his gift of perception.
“What have you been living on?” I asked.
“Oh,” he said, “immature potatoes and Burgundy” (I give the catalogue so precisely because it has nothing to do with the story), “uncooked steak and limp lettuces, precocious carrots and Bartlett pears, and thirteen varieties of fluid beef, which I cannot name except at the usual advertisement rates.”
“But can you sleep after it?” said I.
“Blimy! yes,” he replied; “I’m fairly—what is it?—eupeptic.”
“It’s all over with mankind,” I muttered.
“It is all over,” he replied. “The Wenuses ’ave only lost one Crinoline, just one, and they keep on coming; they’re falling somewhere every night. Nothing’s to be done. We’re beat!”
I made no answer. I sat staring, pulverised by the colossal intellectuality of this untutored private. He had attended only three of my lectures, and had never taken any notes.
“This isn’t a war,” he resumed; “it never was a war. These ’ere Wenuses they wants to be Mas, that’s the long and the short of it. Only——”
“Yes?” I said, more than ever impressed by the man’s pyramidal intuition.
“They can’t stand the climate. They’re too—what is it?—exotic.”
We sat staring at each other.
“And what will they do?” I humbly asked, grovelling unscientifically at his feet.
“That’s what I’ve been thinking,” said the gunner. “I ain’t an ornamental soldier, but I’ve a good deal of cosmic kinetic optimism, and it’s the cosmic kinetic optimist what comes through. Now these Wenuses don’t want to wipe us all out. It’s the women they want to exterminate. They want to collar the men, and you’ll see that after a bit they’ll begin catching us, picking the best, and feeding us up in cages and men-coops.”
“Good heavens!” I exclaimed; “but you are a man of genius indeed,” and I flung my arms around his neck.
“Steady on!” he said; “don’t be so—what is it?—ebullient.”
“And what then?” I asked, when my emotion had somewhat subsided.
“Then,” said he, “the others must be wary. You and I are mean little cusses: we shall get off. They won’t want us. And what do we do? Take to the drains!” He looked at me triumphantly.
Quailing before his glory of intellect, I fainted.
“Are you sure?” I managed to gasp, on recovering consciousness.
“Yes,” he said, “sewer. The drains are the places for you and me. Then we shall play cricket—a narrow drain makes a wonderful pitch—and read the good books—not poetry swipes, and stuff like that, but good books. That’s where men like you come in. Your books are the sort: The Time Machine, and Round the World in Eighty Days, The Wonderful Wisit, and From the Earth to the Moon, and——”