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The Diamond Lens -
by Fitz-James O'Brien

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When I was ten years old, one of my older cousins gave me a microscope. The first time I looked through its magic lens, the clouds that surrounded my daily life rolled away. I saw a universe of tine living creatures in a drop of water. Day after day, night after nigh, I studied life under my microscope.

The fungus that spoiled my mother’s jam was, for me, a land of magic gardens. I would put one of those spots of green mold under my microscope and see beautiful forests, where strange silver and golden fruit hung from the branches of tiny trees. I felt as if I had discovered another Garden of Eden.

Although I didn’t tell anyone about my secret world, I decided to spend my life studying the microscope.
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My parents had other plans for me. When I was nearly twenty years old, they insisted that I learn a profession even though we were a rich family, and I really didn’t have to work at all. I decided to study medicine in New York.

This city was far away from my family, so I could spend my time as I pleased. As long as I paid my medical school fees every year, my family would never know I wasn’t attending any classes. In New York, I would be able to buy excellent microscopes and meet scientists from all over the world. I would have plenty of money and plenty of time to spend on my dream. I left home with high hopes.

Two days after I arrived in New York, I found a place to live. It was large enough for me to use one of the rooms as my laboratory. I filled this room with expensive scientific equipment that I did not know how to use. But by the end of my first year in the city, I had become an expert with the microscope. I also had become more and more unhappy.

The lens in my expensive microscope was still not strong enough to answer my questions about life. I imagined there were still secrets in Nature that the limited power of my equipment prevented me from knowing.

I lay awake nights, wishing to find the perfect lens – an instrument of great magnifying power. Such a lens would permit me to see life in the smallest parts of its development. I was sure that a powerful lens like that could be built. And I spent my second year in New York trying to create it.

I experimented with every kind of material. I tried simple glass, crystal and even precious stones. But I always found myself back where I started.

My parents were angry at the lack of progress in my medical studies. I had not gone to one class since arriving in New York. Also, I had spent a lot of money on my experiments.

One day, while I was working in my laboratory, Jules Simon knocked at my door. He lived in the apartment just above mine. I knew he loved jewelry, expensive clothing and good living. There was something mysterious about him, too. He always had something to sell: a painting, a rare stature, an expensive pair of lamps.

I never understood why Simon did this. He didn’t seem to need the money. He had many friends among the best families of New York.

Simon was very excited as he came into my laboratory. “O my deer fellow!” he gasped. “I have just seen the most amazing thing in the world!”

He told me he had gone to visit a woman who had strange, magical powers. She could speak to the dead and read the minds of the living. To test her, Simon had written some questions about himself on a piece of paper. The woman, Madame Vulpes, had answered all of the questions correctly.

Hearing about the woman gave me an idea. Perhaps she would be able to help me discover the secret of the perfect lens. Two days later, I went to her house.

Madame Vulpes was an ugly woman with sharp, cruel eyes. She didn’t say a word to me when she opened the door, but took me right into her living room. We sat down at a large round table, and she spoke. “What do you want from me?”

“I want to speak to a person who died many years before I was born.”

“Put your hands on the table.”

We sat there for several minutes. The room grew darker and darker. But Madame Vulpes did not turn on any lights. I began to feel a little silly. Then I felt a series of violent knocks. They shook the table, the back of my chair, the floor under my feet and even the windows.

Madam Vulpes smiled. “They are very strong tonight. You are lucky. They want you to write down the name of the spirit you wish to talk to.”

I tore a piece of paper out of my notebook and wrote down a name. I didn’t show it to Madame Vulpes.

After a moment, Madame Vulpes’ hand began to shake so hard the table move. She said the spirit was now holding her hand and would write me a message.

I gave her paper and a pencil. She wrote something and gave the paper to me. The message read: “I am her. Question me.” I was signed “Leeuwenhoek.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The name was the same one I had written on my piece of paper. I was sure that an ignorant woman like Madame Vulpes would not know who Leeuwenhoek was. Why would she know the name of the man who invented the microscope?

Quickly, I wrote a question on another piece of paper. “How can I create the perfect lens?” Leeuwenhoek wrote back: “Find a diamond of one hundred and forty carats. Give it a strong electrical charge. The electricity will change the diamond’s atoms. From that stone you can form the perfect lens.”

I left Madame Vulpes’ house in a state of painful excitement. Where would I find a diamond that large? All my family’s money could not buy a diamond like that. And even if I had enough money, I knew that such diamonds are very difficult to find.

When I came home, I saw a light in Simon’s window. I climbed the stairs to his apartment and went in without knocking. Simon’s back was toward me as he bent over a lamp. He looked as if he were carefully studying a small object in his hands. As soon as he heard me enter, he put the object in his pocket. His face became red, and he seemed very nervous.

“What are you looking at?” I asked. Simon didn’t answer me. Instead, he laughed nervously and told me to sit down. I couldn’t wait to tell him my news.

“Simon, I have just come from Madame Vulpes. She gave me some important information that will help me find the perfect lens. If only I could find a diamond that weighs one hundred forty carats!”

My words seemed to change Simon into a wild animal. He rushed to a small table and grabbed a long, thin knife. “No!” he shouted. “You won’t get my treasure! I’ll die before I give it to you!”

“My dear Simon,” I said, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I went to Madame Vulpes to ask her for help with a scientific problem. She told me I needed an enormous diamond. You could not possible own a diamond that large. If you did, you would be very rich. And you wouldn’t be living here.”

He stared at me for a second. Then he laughed and apologized.

“Simon,” I suggested, “let us drink some wine and forget all this. I have two bottles downstairs in my apartment. What do you think?”

“I like your idea,” he said.

I brought the wine to his apartment, and we began to drink. By the time we had finished the first bottle, Simon was very sleepy and very drunk. I felt as calm as ever…for I believed that I knew Simon’s secret.

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