The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Read online
"And if you want to pop off for a quick one yourself later on," said Ford, "we can always cover up for you in return."
"Thank you very much," said Mr. Prosser who no longer knew how to play this at all, "thank you very much, yes, that's very kind . . ." He frowned, then smiled, then tried to do both at once, failed, grasped hold of his fur hat and rolled it fitfully round the top of his head. He could only assume that he had just won.
"So," continued Ford Prefect, "if you would just like to come over here and lie down . . ."
"What?" said Mr. Prosser.
"Ah, I'm sorry," said Ford, "perhaps I hadn't made myself fully clear. Somebody's got to lie in front of the bulldozers, haven't they? Or there won't be anything to stop them driving into Mr. Dent's house, will there?"
"What?" said Mr. Prosser again.
"It's very simple," said Ford, "my client, Mr. Dent, says that he will stop lying here in the mud on the sole condition that you come and take over from him."
"What are you talking about?" said Arthur, but Ford nudged him with his shoe to be quiet.
"You want me," said Mr. Prosser, spelling out this new thought to himself, "to come and lie there . . ."
"In front of the bulldozer?"
"Instead of Mr. Dent."
"In the mud."
"In, as you say it, the mud."
As soon as Mr. Prosser realized that he was substantially the loser after all, it was as if a weight lifted itself off his shoulders: this was more like the world as he knew it. He sighed.
"In return for which you will take Mr. Dent with you down to the pub?"
"That's it," said Ford. "That's it exactly."
Mr. Prosser took a few nervous steps forward and stopped.
"Promise," said Ford. He turned to Arthur.
"Come on," he said to him, "get up and let the man lie down."
Arthur stood up, feeling as if he was in a dream.
Ford beckoned to Prosser who sadly, awkwardly, sat down in the mud. He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it. The mud folded itself round his bottom and his arms and oozed into his shoes.
Ford looked at him severely.
"And no sneaky knocking down Mr. Dent's house whilst he's away, alright?" he said.
"The mere thought," growled Mr. Prosser, "hadn't even begun to speculate," he continued, settling himself back, "about the merest possibility of crossing my mind."
He saw the bulldozer driver's union representative approaching and let his head sink back and closed his eyes. He was trying to marshal his arguments for proving that he did not now constitute a mental health hazard himself. He was far from certain about this--his mind seemed to be full of noise, horses, smoke, and the stench of blood. This always happened when he felt miserable and put upon, and he had never been able to explain it to himself. In a high dimension of which we know nothing the mighty Khan bellowed with rage, but Mr. Prosser only trembled slightly and whimpered. He began to fell little pricks of water behind the eyelids. Bureaucratic cock-ups, angry men lying in the mud, indecipherable strangers handing out inexplicable humiliations and an unidentified army of horsemen laughing at him in his head--what a day.
What a day. Ford Prefect knew that it didn't matter a pair of dingo's kidneys whether Arthur's house got knocked down or not now.
Arthur remained very worried.
"But can we trust him?" he said.
"Myself I'd trust him to the end of the Earth," said Ford.
"Oh yes," said Arthur, "and how far's that?"
"About twelve minutes away," said Ford, "come on, I need a drink."
Here's what the Encyclopedia Galactica has to say about alcohol. It says that alcohol is a colourless volatile liquid formed by the fermentation of sugars and also notes its intoxicating effect on certain carbon-based life forms.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.
It says that the effect of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.
The Guide also tells you on which planets the best Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters are mixed, how much you can expect to pay for one and what voluntary organizations exist to help you rehabilitate afterwards.
The Guide even tells you how you can mix one yourself.
Take the juice from one bottle of that Ol' Janx Spirit, it says.
Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V--Oh that Santraginean sea water, it says. Oh those Santraginean fish!!!
Allow three cubes of Arcturan Mega-gin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzine is lost).
Allow four litres of Fallian marsh gas to bubble through it, in memory of all those happy Hikers who have died of pleasure in the Marshes of Fallia.
Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qualactin Hypermint extract, redolent of all the heady odours of the dark Qualactin Zones, subtle sweet and mystic.
Drop in the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger. Watch it dissolve, spreading the fires of the Algolian Suns deep into the heart of the drink.
Add an olive.
Drink . . . but . . . very carefully . . .
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy sells rather better than the Encyclopedia Galactica.
"Six pints of bitter," said Ford Prefect to the barman of the Horse and Groom. "And quickly please, the world's about to end."
The barman of the Horse and Groom didn't deserve this sort of treatment, he was a dignified old man. He pushed his glasses up his nose and blinked at Ford Prefect. Ford ignored him and stared out of the window, so the barman looked instead at Arthur who shrugged helplessly and said nothing.
So the barman said, "Oh yes, sir? Nice weather for it," and started pulling pints.
He tried again.
"Going to watch the match this afternoon then?"
Ford glanced round at him.
"No, no point," he said, and looked back out of the window.
"What's that, foregone conclusion then you reckon, sir?" said the barman. "Arsenal without a chance?"
"No, no," said Ford, "it's just that the world's about to end."
"Oh yes, sir, so you said," said the barman, looking over his glasses this time at Arthur. "Lucky escape for Arsenal if it did."
Ford looked back at him, genuinely surprised.
"No, not really," he said. He frowned.
The barman breathed in heavily. "There you are, sir, six pints," he said.
Arthur smiled at him wanly and shrugged again. He turned and smiled wanly at the rest of the pub just in case any of them had heard what was going on.
None of them had, and none of them could understand what he was smiling at them for.
A man sitting next to Ford at the bar looked at the two men, looked at the six pints, did a swift burst of mental arithmetic, arrived at an answer he liked and grinned a stupid hopeful grin at them.
"Get off," said Ford, "They're ours," giving him a look that would have an Algolian Suntiger get on with what it was doing.
Ford slapped a five-pound note on the bar. He said, "Keep the change."
"What, from a fiver? Thank you, sir."
"You've got ten minutes left to spend it."
The barman simply decided to walk away for a bit.
"Ford," said Arthur, "would you please tell me what the hell is going on?"
"Drink up," said Ford, "you've got three pints to get through."
"Three pints?" said Arthur. "At lunchtime?"
The man next to Ford grinned and nodded happily. Ford ignored him. He said, "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so."
"Very deep," said Arthur, "you should send that in to the Reader's Digest. They've got