A mile or so away through the wood, Arthur Dent was too busily engrossed with what he was doing to hear Ford Prefect approach.
What he was doing was rather curious, and this is what it was: on a wide flat piece of rock he had scratched out the shape of a large square, subdivided into one hundred and sixty-nine smaller squares, thirteen to a side.
Furthermore he had collected together a pile of smallish flattish stones and scratched the shape of a letter on to each. Sitting morosely round the rock were a couple of the surviving local native men whom Arthur Dent was trying to introduce the curious concept embodied in these stones.
So far they had not done well. They had attempted to eat some of them, bury others and throw the rest of them away. Arthur had finally encouraged one of them to lay a couple of stones on the board he had scratched out, which was not even as far as he'd managed to get the day before. Along with the rapid deterioration in the morale of these creatures, there seemed to be a corresponding deterioration in their actual intelligence.
In an attempt to egg them along, Arthur set out a number of letters on the board himself, and then tried to encourage the natives to add some more themselves.
It was not going well.
Ford watched quietly from beside a nearby tree.
"No," said Arthur to one of the natives who had just shuffled some of the letters round in a fit of abysmal dejection, "Q scores ten you see, and it's on a triple word score, so ... look, I've explained the rules to you ... no no, look please, put down that jawbone ... alright, we'll start again. And try to concentrate this time."
Ford leaned his elbow against the tree and his hand against his head.
"What are you doing, Arthur?" he asked quietly.
Arthur looked up with a start. He suddenly had a feeling that all this might look slightly foolish. All he knew was that it had worked like a dream on him when he was a chid. But things were different then, or rather would be.
"I'm trying to teach the cavemen to play Scrabble," he said.
"They're not cavemen," said Ford.
"They look like cavemen."
Ford let it pass.
"I see," he said.
"It's uphill work," said Arthur wearily, "the only word they know is grunt and they can't spell it."
He sighed and sat back.
"What's that supposed to achieve?" asked Ford.
"We've got to encourage them to evolve! To develop!" Arthur burst out angrily. He hoped that the weary sigh and then the anger might do something to counteract the overriding feeling of foolishness from which he was currently suffering. It didn't. He jumped to his feet.
"Can you imagine what a world would be like descended from those ... cretins we arrived with?" he said.
"Imagine?" said Ford, rising his eyebrows. "We don't have to imagine. We've seen it."
"But ..." Arthur waved his arms about hopelessly.
"We've seen it," said Ford, "there's no escape."
Arthur kicked at a stone.
"Did you tell them what we've discovered?" he asked.
"Hmmmm?" said Ford, not really concentrating.
"Norway," said Arthur, "Slartibartfast's signature in the glacier. Did you tell them?"
"What's the point?" said Ford, "What would it mean to them?"
"Mean?" said Arthur, "Mean? You know perfectly well what it means. It means that this planet is the Earth! It's my home! It's where I was born!"
"Was?" said Ford.
"Alright, will be."
"Yes, in two million years' time. Why don't you tell them that? Go and say to them, `Excuse me, I'd just like to point out that in two million years' time I will be born just a few miles from here.' See what they say. They'll chase you up a tree and set fire to it."
Arthur absorbed this unhappily.
"Face it," said Ford, "those zeebs over there are your ancestors, not these poor creatures here."
He went over to where the apemen creatures were rummaging listlessly with the stone letters. He shook his head.
"Put the Scrabble away, Arthur," he said, "it won't save the human race, because this lot aren't going to be the human race. The human race is currently sitting round a rock on the other side of this hill making documentaries about themselves."
"There must be something we can do," he said. A terrible sense of desolation thrilled through his body that he should be here, on the Earth, the Earth which had lost its future in a horrifying arbitrary catastrophe and which now seemed set to lose its past as well.
"No," said Ford, "there's nothing we can do. This doesn't change the history of the Earth, you see, this is the history of the Earth. Like it or leave it, the Golgafrinchans are the people you are descended from. in two million years they get destroyed by the Vogons. History is never altered you see, it just fits together like a jigsaw. Funny old thing, life, isn't it?"
He picked up the letter Q and hurled it into a distant pivet bush where it hit a young rabbit. The rabbit hurtled off in terror and didn't stop till it was set upon and eaten by a fox which choked on one of its bones and died on the bank of a stream which subsequently washed it away.
During the following weeks Ford Prefect swallowed his pride and struck up a relationship with a girl who had been a personnel officer on Golgafrincham, and he was terribly upset when she suddenly passed away as a result of drinking water from a pool that had been polluted by the body of a dead fox. The only moral it is possible to draw from this story is that one should never throw the letter Q into a pivet bush, but unfortunately there are times when it is unavoidable.
Like most of the really crucial things in life, this chain of events was completely invisible to Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent. They were looking sadly at one of the natives morosely pushing the other letters around.
"Poor bloody caveman," said Arthur.
"They're not ..."
"Oh never mind."
The wretched creature let out a pathetic howling noise and banged on the rock.
"It's all been a bit of waste of time for them, hasn't it?" said Arthur.
"Uh uh urghhhhh," muttered the native and banged on the rock again.
"They've been outevolved by telephone sanitizers."
"Urgh, gr gr, gruh!" insisted the native, continuing to bang on the rock.
"Why does he keep banging on the rock?" said Arthur.
"I think he probably wants you to Scrabble with him again," said Ford, "he's pointing at the letters."
"Probably spelt crzjgrdwldiwdc again, poor bastard. I keep on telling him there's only one g in crzjgrdwldiwdc."
The native banged on the rock again.
They looked over his shoulder.
Their eyes popped.
There amongst the jumble of letters were eight that had been laid out in a clear straight line.
They spelt two words.
The words were these:
"Grrrurgh guh guh," explained the native. He swept the letters angrily away and went and mooched under a nearby tree with his colleague.
Ford and Arthur stared at him. Then they stared at each other.
"Did that say what I thought it said?" they both said to each other.
"Yes," they both said.
"Forty-two," said Arthur.
"Forty-two," said Ford.
Arthur ran over to the two natives.
"What are you trying to tell us?" he shouted. "What's it supposed to mean?"
One of them rolled over on the ground, kicked his legs up in the air, rolled over again and went to sleep.
The other bounded up the tree and threw horse chestnuts at Ford Prefect. Whatever it was they had to say, they had already said it.
"You know what this means," said Ford.
"Forty-two is the number Deep Thought gave as being the Ultimate Answer."
And the Earth is the computer Deep Thought designed and built to calculate the Question to the Ultimate Answer."
"So we are led to believe."
"And organic life was part of the computer matrix."
"If you say so."
"I do say so. That means that these natives, these apemen are an integral part of the computer program, and that we and the Golgafrinchans are not."
"But the cavemen are dying out and the Golgafrinchans are obviously set to replace them."
"Exactly. So do you see what this means?"
"Cock up," said Ford Prefect.
Arthur looked around him.
"This planet is having a pretty bloody time of it," he said.
Ford puzzled for a moment.
"Still, something must have come out of it," he said at last, "because Marvin said he could see the Question printed in your brain wave patterns."
"Probably the wrong one, or a distortion of the right one. It might give us a clue though if we could find it. I don't see how we can though."
They moped about for a bit. Arthur sat on the ground and started pulling up bits of grass, but found that it wasn't an occupation he could get deeply engrossed in. It wasn't grass he could believe in, the trees seemed pointless, the rolling hills seemed to be rolling to nowhere and the future seemed just a tunnel to be crawled through.
Ford fiddled with his Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic. It was silent. He sighed and put it away.
Arthur picked up one of the letter stones from his home-made Scrabble set. It was a T. He sighed and out it down again. The letter he put down next to it was an I. That spelt IT. He tossed another couple of letters next to them They were an S and an H as it happened. By a curious coincidence the resulting word perfectly expressed the way Arthur was feeling about things just then. He stared at it for a moment. He hadn't done it deliberately, it was just a random chance. His brain got slowly into first gear.
"Ford," he said suddenly, "look, if that Question is printed in my brain wave patterns but I'm not consciously aware of it it must be somewhere in my unconscious."
"Yes, I suppose so."
"There might be a way of bringing that unconscious pattern forward."
"Yes, by introducing some random element that can be shaped by that pattern."
"Like by pulling Scrabble letters out of a bag blindfolded."
Ford leapt to his feet.
"Brilliant!" he said. He tugged his towel out of his satchel and with a few deft knots transformed it into a bag.
"Totally mad," he said, "utter nonsense. But we'll do it because it's brilliant nonsense. Come on, come on."
The sun passed respectfully behind a cloud. A few small sad raindrops fell.
They piled together all the remaining letters and dropped them into the bag. They shook them up.
"Right," said Ford, "close your eyes. Pull them out. Come on come on, come on."
Arthur closed his eyes and plunged his hand into the towelful of stones. He jiggled them about, pulled out four and handed them to Ford. Ford laid them along the ground in the order he got them.
"W," said Ford, "H, A, T ... What!"
"I think it's working!" he said.
Arthur pushed three more at him.
"D, O, Y ... Doy. Oh perhaps it isn't working," said Ford.
"Here's the next three."
"O, U, G ... Doyoug ... It's not making sense I'm afraid."
Arthur pulled another two from the bag. Ford put them in place.
"E, T, doyouget ... Do you get!" shouted Ford, "it is working! This is amazing, it really is working!"
"More here." Arthur was throwing them out feverishly as fast as he could go.
"I, F," said Ford, "Y, O, U, ... M, U, L, T, I, P, L, Y, ... What do you get if you multiply, ... S, I, X, ... six, B, Y, by, six by ... what do you get if you multiply six by ... N, I, N, E, ... six by nine ..." He paused. "Come on, where's the next one?"
"Er, that's the lot," said Arthur, "that's all there were."
He sat back, nonplussed.
He rooted around again in the knotted up towel but there were no more letters.
"You mean that's it?" said Ford.
"Six by nine. Forty-two."
"That's it. That's all there is."