The Man in the Moon
THE children came willingly. With one of them on each side of me, I approached the corner occupied by `Mein Herr'. `You don't object to children, I hope?' I began.
`Crabbed age and youth cannot live together!' the old man cheerfully replied, with a most genial smile. `Now take a good look at me, my children! You would guess me to be an old man, wouldn't you?'
At first sight, though his face had reminded me so mysteriously of `the Professor', he had seemed to be decidedly a younger man: but, when I came to look into the wonderful depth of those large dreamy eyes, I felt, with a strange sense of awe, that he was incalculably older: he seemed to gaze at us out of some by-gone age, centuries away.
`I don't know if oo're an old man,' Bruno answered, as the children, won over by the gentle voice, crept a little closer to him. `I thinks oo're eighty-three.'
`He is very exact!' said Mein Herr.
`Is he anything like right?' I said.
`There are reasons,' Mein Herr gently replied, `reasons which I am not at liberty to explain, for not mentioning definitely any Persons, Places, or Dates. One remark only I will permit myself to make--that the period of life, between the ages of a hundred-and-sixty-five and a hundred-and-seventy-five, is a specially safe one.'
`How do you make that out?' I said.
`Thus. You would consider swimming to be a very safe amusement, if you scarcely ever heard of any one dying of it. Am I not right in thinking that you never heard of any one dying between those two ages?'
`I see what you mean,' I said: `but I'm afraid you ca'n't prove swimming to be safe, on the same principle. It is no uncommon thing to hear of some one being drowned.'
`In my country,' said Mein Herr, `no one is ever drowned.'
`Is there no water deep enough?'
`Plenty! But we ca'n't sink. We are all lighter than water. Let me explain,' he added, seeing my look of surprise. `Suppose you desire a race of pigeons of a particular shape or colour, do you not select, from year to year, those that are nearest to the shape or colour you want, and keep those, and part with the others?'
`We do,' I replied. `We call it "Artificial Selection."'
`Exactly so,' said Mein Herr. `Well, we have practised that for some centuries -- constantly selecting the lightest people: so that, now, everybody is lighter than water.'
`Then you never can be drowned at sea?'
`Never! It is only on the land -- for instance, when attending a play in a theatre -- that we are in such a danger.'
`How can that happen at a theatre?'
`Our theatres are all underground. Large tanks of water are placed above. If a fire breaks out, the taps are turned, and in one minute the theatre is flooded, up to the very roof! Thus the fire is extinguished.'
`And the audience, I presume?'
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