Neville took Jones up to the observatory, first, to try to satisfy some points of curiosity. One of the mummy’s enthusiasms—which if properly cataloged would, admittedly, drive a librarian to drink—was the notion of life on other planets. As in love with twentieth century Earth as he might be, his imagination ranged to far stars. He was especially interested in the planet Mars, which he was certain had to be populated by races of beings even more ancient than his Egyptian forebears.
“This is Schiaparelli’s map of the place,” he said, leading Jones over to a framed print hanging under the cupola. “I don’t suppose it looks familiar? Here, you see the canals? The dried-up sea beds?”
“It looks a smashing place,” Jones said. “I’m afraid it rings no bells, alas.”
The brain parasite failed to recognize any of the other planets of the solar system, and Neville concluded he must come from another star altogether. They went through the Messier Catalogue, including Flamarrion’s additions of 1921, much in the same way a police detective might take a witness through a book of mug shots. Jones, however, seemed incapable of recognizing his home star in the photographic plates.
“What was it like, then? Your world?” Neville asked, when they’d given up.
“A bit hard on the old nerve centers,” Jones said. “A stuffy, over-heated hole of a place. A Heaven-forsaken, festering Gehenna, what?” Which was, in point of fact, how one of Wodehouse’s characters had described New York City and was probably not an accurate depiction of Jones’ world, but it painted quite a picture in Neville’s mind.
He saw cities crammed with miserable beings, all of them with squirming green hair and blue eyes. Workers toiling for their parasite masters in pits of fetid, stifling air. In his mind’s eye he saw great monuments raised to noteworthy parasites, built by teams of workers straining in concert, pushing massive blocks of stone up earthen ramps, under a massive white sun that burned their skin and dried their sweat as fast as they could produce it.
A fanciful image, of course, based on no evidence at all. And one which, come to think of it, described the construction of the Egyptian pyramids rather well. Of course, it’s a truism of science fiction that when we attempt to imagine alien worlds we only end up picturing our own in its extremes.
“I can see why you wanted to leave,” Neville said. “Well, I suppose I should show you the real reason I brought you up here.”
He took Jones back down the ladder and to the far end of the upstairs hall. Where stood a perfectly ordinary-looking door that was dreaded and feared by everyone who lived in Grimbly Hall, so much that Neville had taken great precautions that it should never be stumbled through. Namely, he’d had a little sign put on the door that read DO NOT ENTER.
“Just be careful here,” he told his guest. “It can be a little disorienting.” Then he put one arm across his eyes and used the other to throw the door open.
He knew what Jones would see on the far side, and knew that he didn’t want to look for himself. Limitless space, a black abyss where stars burst into life like firecrackers and died just as quickly, where whole galaxies flickered like evanescent sparks, while the voices of the cosmos whispered of dark secrets and one could just make out the ticking of vast clocks that ran on a kind of time that had nothing to do with Earthly hours or minutes.
Mr. Jones stood transfixed by the sight. No one could look on that vista and not feel as if to step through the door would be to throw one’s self across infinite gulfs of space—yet no one could gaze into that maelstrom without taking an involuntary step forward.
Before Jones could take the leap, Neville slammed the door shut once more.
“A bit thick, what?” Jones said.
“Quite. Yet I’m afraid,” Neville told him, “this is what I have to offer. We believe that you can pass through that door and make your way to any point in space or time. That it can lead literally anywhere. However we have no idea, sadly, how to navigate in there. If you were to jump in you could land on a moon orbiting a planet of Deneb or Arcturus or, for all we know, some beastly place like Montana.”
“Most likely not Montana,” Neville promised. “The point is, you would end up someplace else. Someplace your bride-to-be would be unable to follow you.”
Jones said nothing Wodehousian nor encylopedesque. He merely hung his mannequin head as if he were quite desolated.
“It’s rather a drastic solution to your dilemma. Yet I think it beats having a stone paperweight being brought down sharply on one’s head.”
Jones nodded. He put one hand against the wall as if he expected he might faint.
“This is all so dashed kind of you,” he said, at last. “You really are a topping fellow, Mr. Imsety. Dripping with the milk of human kindness.”
“I attempt to give satisfaction,” Neville replied. Then he remembered himself and stood up straight. If they kept talking like this there was no telling when they would stop. Besides, he was forgetting his duties as host. “Perhaps you’ll stay and take lunch with us before you set out. Not the kind of journey one should take on an empty stomach.”
“A corking suggestion,” Jones replied.