No, no, there was no other explanation; it was one hundred per cent clear to everyone why this was being done. All of us began stretching ourselves, each one wanted to be another centimetre higher, another half-centimetre. I also tried to stretch myself a little but I soon gave up in despair, for I saw that even boys taller than I was, failed to reach the required height – their heads did not touch the plank.
The gas was affecting our eyes more and more the whole time. I felt just as if I had sand under my eyelids; my head, too, was rolling to one side in a queer way. The mass of people all round were still arguing how to save themselves. From time to time a hideous bubbling was heard, as one more person whose strength had gone slipped into the foul liquid. But even more unbearable would be the voice of some woman pulling him out: “Look, he’s alive, he’s smiling! My darling, you’ll soon be on top again!” Oh God, not to see it, not to hear it!