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The brown and charred rags that hung from the sides of it, I
presently recognized as the decaying vestiges of books. They had
long since dropped to pieces, and every semblance of print had left
them. But here and there were warped boards and cracked metallic
clasps that told the tale well enough. Had I been a literary man I
might, perhaps, have moralized upon the futility of all ambition.
But as it was, the thing that struck me with keenest force was the
enormous waste of labour to which this sombre wilderness of
rotting paper testified. At the time I will confess that I thought
chiefly of the Philosophical Transactions and my own seventeen
papers upon physical optics.

‘Then, going up a broad staircase, we came to what may once have
been a gallery of technical chemistry. And here I had not a little
hope of useful discoveries.

Except at one end where the roof had collapsed, this gallery was
well preserved. I went eagerly to every unbroken case. And at last,
in one of the really air-tight cases, I found a box of matches. Very
eagerly I tried them. They were perfectly good. They were not even
damp. I turned to Weena. “Dance,” I cried to her in her own
tongue. For now I had a weapon indeed against the horrible
creatures we feared. And so, in that derelict museum, upon the
thick soft carpeting of dust, to Weena’s huge delight, I solemnly
performed a kind of composite dance, whistling The Land of the
Leal as cheerfully as I could. In part it was a modest cancan, in part
a step-dance, in part a skirt-dance (so far as my tail-coat
permitted), and in part original. For I am naturally inventive, as
you know.

‘Now, I still think that for this box of matches to have escaped the
wear of time for immemorial years was a most strange, as for me it
was a most fortunate thing. Yet, oddly enough, I found a far
unlikelier substance, and that was camphor. I found it in a sealed
jar, that by chance, I suppose, had been really hermetically sealed. I
fancied at first that it was paraffin wax, and smashed the glass
accordingly. But the odour of camphor was unmistakable. In the
universal decay this volatile substance had chanced to survive,
perhaps through many thousands of centuries. It reminded me of a
sepia painting I had once seen done from the ink of a fossil
Belemnite that must have perished and become fossilized millions
of years ago. I was about to throw it away, but I remembered that it
was inflammable and burned with a good bright flame-was, in
fact, an excellent candle and I put it in my pocket. I found no
explosives, however, nor any means of breaking down the bronze
doors. As yet my iron crowbar was the most helpful thing I had
chanced upon. Nevertheless I left that gallery greatly elated.
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