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The Captain of the Polestar and Other Tales

The Man From Archangel
On the fourth day of March, in the year 1867, being at that time in my five-and-twentieth
year, I wrote down the following words in my note-book--the result of much mental
perturbation and conflict:--
"The solar system, amidst a countless number of other systems as large as itself, rolls
ever silently through space in the direction of the constellation of Hercules. The great
spheres of which it is composed spin and spin through the eternal void ceaselessly and
noiselessly. Of these one of the smallest and most insignificant is that conglomeration of
solid and of liquid particles which we have named the earth. It whirls onwards now as it
has done before my birth, and will do after my death--a revolving mystery, coming none
know whence, and going none know whither. Upon the outer crust of this moving mass
crawl many mites, of whom I, John M`Vittie, am one, helpless, impotent, being dragged
aimlessly through space. Yet such is the state of things amongst us that the little energy
and glimmering of reason which I possess is entirely taken up with the labours which are
necessary in order to procure certain metallic disks, wherewith I may purchase the
chemical elements necessary to build up my ever-wasting tissues, and keep a roof over
me to shelter me from the inclemency of the weather. I thus have no thought to expend
upon the vital questions which surround me on every side. Yet, miserable entity as I am, I
can still at times feel some degree of happiness, and am even--save the mark!--puffed up
occasionally with a sense of my own importance."
These words, as I have said, I wrote down in my note-book, and they reflected accurately
the thoughts which I found rooted far down in my soul, ever present and unaffected by
the passing emotions of the hour. At last, however, came a time when my uncle, M`Vittie
of Glencairn, died--the same who was at one time chairman of committees of the House
of Commons. He divided his great wealth among his many nephews, and I found myself
with sufficient to provide amply for my wants during the remainder of my life, and
became at the same time owner of a bleak tract of land upon the coast of Caithness,
which I think the old man must have bestowed upon me in derision, for it was sandy and
valueless, and he had ever a grim sense of humour. Up to this time I had been an attorney
in a midland town in England. Now I saw that I could put my thoughts into effect, and,
leaving all petty and sordid aims, could elevate my mind by the study of the secrets of
nature. My departure from my English home was somewhat accelerated by the fact that I
had nearly slain a man in a quarrel, for my temper was fiery, and I was apt to forget my
own strength when enraged. There was no legal action taken in the matter, but the papers
yelped at me, and folk looked askance when I met them. It ended by my cursing them and
their vile, smoke-polluted town, and hurrying to my northern possession, where I might at
last find peace and an opportunity for solitary study and contemplation. I borrowed from
my capital before I went, and so was able to take with me a choice collection of the most
modern philosophical instruments and books, together with chemicals and such other
things as I might need in my retirement.
 
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