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The tale of a scientist who sees a beautiful woman in the atoms of his mother’s wedding ring (and his adventures when he shrinks himself down to join her microscopic world), The Girl in the Golden Atom is a classic of science fiction.
“Then you mean to say there is no such thing as the smallest particle of matter?” asked the Doctor.
“You can put it that way if you like,” the Chemist replied. “In other words, what I believe is that things can be infinitely small just as well as they can be infinitely large. Astronomers tell us of the immensity of space. I have tried to imagine space as finite. It is impossible. How can you conceive the edge of space? Something must be beyond–something or nothing, and even that would be more space, wouldn’t it?”
“Gosh,” said the Very Young Man, and lighted another cigarette.
The Chemist resumed, smiling a little. “Now, if it seems probable that there is no limit to the immensity of space, why should we make its smallness finite? How can you say that the atom cannot be divided? As a matter of fact, it already has been. The most powerful microscope will show you realms of smallness to which you can penetrate no other way. Multiply that power a thousand times, or ten thousand times, and who shall say what you will see?”
The Chemist paused, and looked at the intent little group around him.
He was a youngish man, with large features and horn-rimmed glasses, his rough English-cut clothes hanging loosely over his broad, spare frame. The Banker drained his glass and rang for the waiter.
“Very interesting,” he remarked.
“Don’t be an ass, George,” said the Big Business Man. “Just because you don’t understand, doesn’t mean there is no sense to it.”
“What I don’t get clearly”–began the Doctor.
“None of it’s clear to me,” said the Very Young Man.
The Doctor crossed under the light and took an easier chair. “You intimated you had discovered something unusual in these realms of the infinitely small,” he suggested, sinking back luxuriously. “Will you tell us about it?”
“Yes, if you like,” said the Chemist, turning from one to the other. A nod of assent followed his glance, as each settled himself more comfortably.
“Well, gentlemen, when you say I have discovered something unusual in another world–in the world of the infinitely small–you are right in a way. I have seen something and lost it. You won’t believe me probably,” he glanced at the Banker an instant, “but that is not important. I am going to tell you the facts, just as they happened.”
The Big Business Man filled up the glasses all around, and the Chemist resumed:
“It was in 1910, this problem first came to interest me. I had never gone in for microscopic work very much, but now I let it absorb all my attention. I secured larger, more powerful instruments–I spent most of my money,” he smiled ruefully, “but never could I come to the end of the space into which I was looking. Something was always hidden beyond–something I could almost, but not quite, distinguish.
“Then I realized that I was on the wrong track. My instrument was not merely of insufficient power, it was not one-thousandth the power I needed.
“So I began to study the laws of optics and lenses. In 1913 I went abroad, and with one of the most famous lens-makers of Europe I produced a lens of an entirely different quality, a lens that I hoped would give me what I wanted. So I returned here and fitted up my microscope that I knew would prove vastly more powerful than any yet constructed.
“It was finally completed and set up in my laboratory, and one night I went in alone to look through it for the first time. It was in the fall of 1914, I remember, just after the first declaration of war.
“I can recall now my feelings at that moment. I was about to see into another world, to behold what no man had ever looked on before. What would I see? What new realms was I, first of all our human race, to enter? With furiously beating heart, I sat down before the huge instrument and adjusted the eyepiece.
“Then I glanced around for some object to examine. On my finger I had a ring, my mother’s wedding-ring, and I decided to use that. I have it here.” He took a plain gold band from his little finger and laid it on the table.
“You will see a slight mark on the outside. That is the place into which I looked.”
His friends crowded around the table and examined a scratch on one side of the band.
“What did you see?” asked the Very Young Man eagerly.