The Professor's Lecture
`IN Science--in fact, in most things--it is usually best to begin at the beginning. In some things, of course, it's better to begin at the other end. For instance, if you wanted to paint a dog green, it might be best to begin with the tail, as it doesn't bite at that end. And so--'
`May I help oo?' Bruno interrupted.
`Help me to do what?' said the puzzled Professor, looking up for a moment, but keeping his finger on the book he was reading from, so as not to lose his place.
`To paint a dog green!' cried Bruno. `Oo can begin wiz its mouf, and I'll--'
`No, no!' said the Professor. `We haven't got to the Experiments yet. And so,' returning to his note-book, `I'll give you the Axioms of Science. After that I shall exhibit some Specimens. Then I shall explain a Process or two. And I shall conclude with a few Experiments. An Axiom, you know, is a thing that you accept without contradiction. For instance, if I were to say "Here we are!", that would be accepted without any contradiction, and it's a nice sort of remark to begin a conversation with. So it would be an Axiom. Or again, supposing I were to say, "Here we are not!", that would be--'
`--a fib!' cried Bruno.
`Oh, Bruno!' said Sylvie in a warning whisper. `Of course it would be an Axiom, if the Professor said it!'
`--that would be accepted, if people were civil,' continued the Professor; `so it would be another Axiom.'
`It might be an Axledum,' Bruno said: `but it wouldn't be true!'
`Ignorance of Axioms,' the Lecturer continued, `is a great drawback in life. It wastes so much time to have to say them over and over again. For instance, take the Axiom, "Nothing is greater than itself"; that is, "Nothing can contain itself". How often you hear people say "He was so excited, he was quite unable to contain himself." Why, of course he was unable! The excitement had nothing to do with it!'
`I say, look here, you know!' said the Emperor, who was getting a little restless. `How many Axioms are you going to give us? At this rate, we sha'n't get to the Experiments till to-morrow-week!'
`Oh, sooner than that, I assure you!' the Professor replied, looking up in alarm. `There are only,' (he referred to his notes again) `only two more, that are really necessary.'
`Read 'em out, and get on to the Specimens,' grumbled the Emperor.
`The First Axiom,' the Professor read out in a great hurry, `consists of these words, "Whatever is, is." And the Second consists of these words, "Whatever isn't, isn't." We will now go on to the Specimens. The first tray contains Crystals and other Things.' He drew it towards him, and again referred to his notebook. `Some of the labels--owing to insufficient adhesion --' Here he stopped again, and carefully examined the page with his eye-glass. `I ca'n't read the rest of the sentence,' he said at last, `but it means that the labels have come loose, and the Things have got mixed--'
`Let me stick 'em on again!' cried Bruno eagerly, and began licking them, like postage-stamps, and dabbing them down upon the Crystals and the other Things. But the Professor hastily moved the tray out of his reach. `They might get fixed to the wrong Specimens, you know!' he said.
`Oo shouldn't have any wrong peppermints in the tray!' Bruno boldly replied. `Should he, Sylvie?'
But Sylvie only shook her head.
The Professor heard him not. He had taken up one of the bottles, and was carefully reading the label through his eye-glass. `Our first Specimen--' he announced, as he placed the bottle in front of the other
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