I feel as if I were really beginning to work now," said Martin. "This new quinine stuff may prove pretty good. We'll plug along on it for two or three years, and maybe we'll get something permanent - and probably we'll fail!"
These are Martin's words—the words with which the novel ends. They are important because they point to the fact that Martin's learning process has been long and difficult and one that is not likely to end. Martin and Terry both feel as though, after all they have done, they are just beginning because they have had an "education" not only in science but also in the world. They are at last now free, accompanied by all their accumulated knowledge, to do the kind of research that they wish do, independent of any institutions.
Somehow it does not seem to matter if they fail, for the truth is in the search and the faith that they may one day find something. If Martin does not attain fame or a great scientific discovery, at least he has been true to himself. It is the nature of the trade to fail and fail again and for this reason, and patience is key. Patience is something that Gottlieb had but that none of the department heads that passed through Martin's life ever had.
And so the novel does not end at an ending but at a beginning. Lewis has written about the personal growth of one man who still may have more to learn. The novel ends, nevertheless, optimistically, even if the last word is fail, for failure is something Martin has come to accept in a world where "success" is the enemy.