And now see how an initial hypothesis may pursue and overtake its maker. Our thumb-marks have been taken, they have travelled by pneumatic tube to the central office of the municipality hard by Lucerne, and have gone on thence to the headquarters of the index at Paris. There, after a rough preliminary classification, I imagine them photographed on glass, and flung by means of a lantern in colossal images upon a screen, all finely squared, and the careful experts marking and measuring their several convolutions. And then off goes a brisk clerk to the long galleries of the index building.
I have told them they will find no sign of us, but you see him going from gallery to gallery, from bay to bay, from drawer to drawer, and from card to card. “Here he is!” he mutters to himself, and he whips out a card and reads. “But that is impossible!” he says… .
You figure us returning after a day or so of such Utopian experiences as I must presently describe, to the central office in Lucerne, even as we have been told to do.
I make my way to the desk of the man who has dealt with us before. “Well?” I say, cheerfully, “have you heard?”
His expression dashes me a little. “We've heard,” he says, and adds, “it's very peculiar.”
“I told you you wouldn't find out about us,” I say, triumphantly.
“But we have,” he says; “but that makes your freak none the less remarkable.”
“You've heard! You know who we are! Well—tell us! We had an idea, but we're beginning to doubt.”
“You,” says the official, addressing the botanist, “are―!”
And he breathes his name. Then he turns to me and gives me mine.
For a moment I am dumbfounded. Then I think of the entries we made at the inn in the Urserenthal, and then in a flash I have the truth. I rap the desk smartly with my finger-tips and shake my index-finger in my friend's face.
“By Jove!” I say in English. “They've got our doubles!”
The botanist snaps his fingers. “Of course! I didn't think of that.”
“Do you mind,” I say to this official, “telling us some more about ourselves?”
“I can't think why you keep it up,” he remarks, and then almost wearily tells me the facts about my Utopian self. They are a little difficult to understand. He says I am one of the samurai, which sounds Japanese, “but you will be degraded,” he says, with a gesture almost of despair. He describes my position in this world in phrases that convey very little.
“The queer thing,” he remarks, “is that you were in Norway only three days ago.”
“I am there still. At least―. I'm sorry to be so much trouble to you, but do you mind following up that last clue and inquiring if the person to whom the thumb-mark really belongs isn't in Norway still?”
The idea needs explanation. He says something incomprehensible about a pilgrimage. “Sooner or later,” I say, “you will have to believe there are two of us with the same thumb-mark. I won't trouble you with any apparent nonsense about other planets and so forth again. Here I am. If I was in Norway a few days ago, you ought to be able to trace my journey hither. And my friend?”
“He was in India.” The official is beginning to look perplexed.
“It seems to me,” I say, “that the difficulties in this case are only just beginning. How did I get from Norway hither? Does my friend look like hopping from India to the Saint Gotthard at one hop? The situation is a little more difficult than that―”
“But here!” says the official, and waves what are no doubt photographic copies of the index cards.
“But we are not those individuals!”
“You are those individuals.”
“You will see,” I say.
He dabs his finger argumentatively upon the thumb-marks. “I see now,” he says.
“There is a mistake,” I maintain, “an unprecedented mistake. There's the difficulty. If you inquire you will find it begin to unravel. What reason is there for us to remain casual workmen here, when you allege we are men of position in the world, if there isn't something wrong? We shall stick to this wood-carving work you have found us here, and meanwhile I think you ought to inquire again. That's how the thing shapes to me.”
“Your case will certainly have to be considered further,” he says, with the faintest of threatening notes in his tone. “But at the same time”—hand out to those copies from the index again—“there you are, you know!”