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Title: The Short Stories of H. G. Wells (1927)
Author: H. G. Wells
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0609221.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: December 2006
Date most recently updated: December 2006


PRODUCTION NOTES:

'The Beautiful Suit' is also known as 'A Moonlight Fable'.

'The Red Room' is also known as 'The Ghost of Fear'.

'In The Modern Vein: An Unsympathetic Love Story' is also known as 'A
Bardlet's Romance'. In this story I have replaced "published on three
several occasions" with "published on three separate occasions".

'The Sad Story of a Dramatic Critic' is also known as 'The Obliterated Man'.

'The Reconciliation' is also known as 'The Bulla'.

'The Man Who Could Work Miracles' is also known as 'The Miracle Maker'.

Subtitles that appear before the titles such as 'Story The First,'
'Story the Second,' and so on, have been removed.



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Title: The Short Stories of H. G. Wells (1927)
Author: H. G. Wells



CONTENTS

The Time Machine And Other Stories--
The Time Machine
The Empire Of The Ants
A Vision Of Judgment
The Land Ironclads
The Beautiful Suit
The Door In The Wall
The Pearl Of Love
The Country Of The Blind

The Stolen Bacillus And Other Stories--
The Stolen Bacillus
The Flowering Of The Strange Orchid
In The Avu Observatory
The Triumphs Of A Taxidermist
A Deal In Ostriches
Through A Window
The Temptation Of Harringay
The Flying Man
The Diamond Maker
Aepyornis Island
The Remarkable Case Of Davidson's Eyes
The Lord Of The Dynamos
The Hammerpond Park Burglary
The Moth
The Treasure In The Forest

The Plattner Story And Others--
The Plattner Story
The Argonauts Of The Air
The Story Of The Late Mr. Elvesham
In The Abyss
The Apple
Under The Knife
The Sea Raiders
Pollock And The Porroh Man
The Red Room
The Cone
The Purple Pileus
The Jilting Of Jane
In The Modern Vein: An Unsympathetic Love Story
A Catastrophe
The Lost Inheritance
The Sad Story Of A Dramatic Critic
A Slip Under The Microscope
The Reconciliation
My First Aeroplane
Little Mother Up The Morderberg
The Story Of The Last Trump
The Grisly Folk

Tales Of Time And Space--
The Crystal Egg
The Star
A Story Of The Stone Age
A Story Of The Days To Come
The Man Who Could Work Miracles

Twelve Stories And A Dream--
Filmer
The Magic Shop
The Valley Of Spiders
The Truth About Pyecraft
Mr. Skelmersdale In Fairyland
The Inexperienced Ghost
Jimmy Goggles The God
The New Accelerator
Mr. Ledbetter's Vacation
The Stolen Body
Mr. Brisher's Treasure
Miss Winchelsea's Heart
A Dream Of Armageddon


* * * * *




THE TIME MACHINE AND OTHER STORIES--



THE TIME MACHINE


1.

The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was
expounding a recondite matter to us. His grey eyes shone and twinkled,
and his usually pale face was flushed and animated. The fire burned
brightly, and the soft radiance of the incandescent lights in the lilies
of silver caught the bubbles that flashed and passed in our glasses. Our
chairs, being his patents, embraced and caressed us rather than
submitted to be sat upon, and there was that luxurious after-dinner
atmosphere, when thought roams gracefully free of the trammels of
precision. And he put it to us in this way--marking the points with a
lean forefinger--as we sat and lazily admired his earnestness over this
new paradox (as we thought it) and his fecundity.

"You must follow me carefully. I shall have to controvert one or two
ideas that are almost universally accepted. The geometry, for instance,
they taught you at school is founded on a misconception."

"Is not that rather a large thing to expect us to begin upon?" said
Filby, an argumentative person with red hair.

"I do not mean to ask you to accept anything without reasonable ground
for it. You will soon admit as much as I need from you. You know of
course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real
existence. They taught you that? Neither has a mathematical plane. These
things are mere abstractions."

"That is all right," said the Psychologist.

"Nor, having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have a real
existence."

"There I object," said Filby. "Of course a solid body may exist. All
real things--"

"So most people think. But wait a moment. Can an instantaneous cube
exist?"

"Don't follow you," said Filby.

"Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real
existence?"

Filby became pensive. "Clearly," the Time Traveller proceeded, "any real
body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length,
Breadth, Thickness, and--Duration. But through a natural infirmity of
the flesh, which I will explain to you in a moment, we incline to
overlook this fact. There are really four dimensions, three which we
call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time. There is, however, a
tendency to draw an unreal distinction between the former three
dimensions and the latter, because it happens that our consciousness
moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the
beginning to the end of our lives."

"That," said a very young man, making spasmodic efforts to relight his
cigar over the lamp; "that... very clear indeed."

"Now, it is very remarkable that this is so extensively overlooked,"
continued the Time Traveller, with a slight accession of cheerfulness.
"Really this is what is meant by the Fourth Dimension, though some
people who talk about the Fourth Dimension do not know they mean it. It
is only another way of looking at Time. There is no difference between
time and any of the three dimensions of space except that our
consciousness moves along it. But some foolish people have got hold of
the wrong side of that idea. You have all heard what they have to say
about this Fourth Dimension?"

"I have not," said the Provincial Mayor.

"It is simply this. That Space, as our mathematicians have it, is spoken
of as having three dimensions, which one may call Length, Breadth, and
Thickness, and is always definable by reference to three planes, each at
right angles to the others. But some philosophical people have been
asking why three dimensions particularly--why not another direction at
right angles to the other three--? And have even tried to construct a
Four-Dimension geometry. Professor Simon Newcomb was expounding this to
the New York Mathematical Society only a month or so ago. You know how
on a flat surface, which has only two dimensions, we can represent a
figure of a three-dimensional solid, and similarly they think that by
models of thee dimensions they could represent one of four--if they
could master the perspective of the thing. See?"

"I think so," murmured the Provincial Mayor; and knitting his brows, he
lapsed into an introspective state, his lips moving as one who repeats
mystic words. "Yes, I think I see it now," he said after some time,
brightening in a quite transitory manner.

"Well, I do not mind telling you I have been at work upon this geometry
of Four Dimensions for some time. Some of my results are curious. For
instance, here is a portrait of a man at eight years old, another at
fifteen, another at seventeen, another at twenty-three, and so on. All
these are evidently sections, as it were, Three-Dimensional
representations of his Four-Dimensioned being, which is a fixed and
unalterable thing.

"Scientific people," proceeded the Time Traveller, after the pause
required for the proper assimilation of this, "know very well that Time
is only a kind of Space. Here is a popular scientific diagram, a weather
record. This line I trace with my finger shows the movement of the
barometer. Yesterday it was so high, yesterday night it fell, then this
morning it rose again, and so gently upward to here. Surely the mercury
did not trace this line in any of the dimensions of Space generally
recognized? But certainly it traced such a line, and that line,
therefore, we must conclude was along the Time-Dimension."

"But," said the Medical Man, staring hard at a coal in the fire, "if
Time is really only a fourth dimension of Space, why is it, and why has
it always been, regarded as something different? And why cannot we move
in Time as we move about in the other dimensions of Space?"

The Time Traveller smiled. "Are you sure we can move freely in Space?
Right and left we can go, backward and forward freely enough, and men
always have done so. I admit we move freely in two dimensions. But how
about up and down? Gravitation limits us there."

"Not exactly," said the Medical Man. "There are balloons."

"But before the balloons, save for spasmodic jumping and the
inequalities of the surface, man had no freedom of vertical movement."

"Still they could move a little up and down," said the Medical Man.

"Easier, far easier down than up."

"And you cannot move at all in Time, you cannot get away from the
present moment."

"My dear sir, that is just where you are wrong. That is just where the
whole world has gone wrong. We are always getting away from the present
movement. Our mental existences, which are immaterial and have no
dimensions, are passing along the Time-Dimension with a uniform velocity
from the cradle to the grave. Just as we should travel down if we began
our existence fifty miles above the earth's surface."

"But the great difficulty is this," interrupted the Psychologist. "You
can move about in all directions of Space, but you cannot move about in
Time."

"That is the germ of my great discovery. But you are wrong to say that
we cannot move about in Time. For instance, if I am recalling an
incident very vividly I go back to the instant of its occurrence: I
become absent-minded, as you say. I jump back for a moment. Of course we
have no means of staying back for any length of Time, any more than a
savage or an animal has of staying six feet above the ground. But a
civilized man is better off than the savage in this respect. He can go
up against gravitation in a balloon, and why should he not hope that
ultimately he may be able to stop or accelerate his drift along the
Time-Dimension, or even turn about and travel the other way?"

"Oh, this," began Filby, "is all--"

"Why not?" said the Time Traveller.

"It's against reason," said Filby.

"What reason?" said the Time Traveller.

"You can show black is white by argument," said Filby, "but you will
never convince me."

"Possibly not," said the Time Traveller. "But now you begin to see the
object of my investigations into the geometry of Four Dimensions. Long
ago I had a vague inkling of a machine--"

"To travel through Time!" exclaimed the Very Young Man.

"That shall travel indifferently in any direction of Space and Time, as
the driver determines."

Filby contented himself with laughter.

"But I have experimental verification," said the Time Traveller.

"It would be remarkably convenient for the historian," the Psychologist
suggested. "One might travel back and verify the accepted account of the
Battle of Hastings, for instance!"

"Don't you think you would attract attention?" said the Medical Man.
"Our ancestors had no great tolerance for anachronisms."

"One might get one's Greek from the very lips of Homer and Plato," the
Very Young Man thought.

"In which case they would certainly plough you for the Little-go. The
German scholars have improved Greek so much."

"Then there is the future," said the Very Young Man. "Just think! One
might invest all one's money, leave it to accumulate at interest, and
hurry on ahead!"

"To discover a society," said I, "erected on a strictly communistic
basis."

"Of all the wild extravagant theories!" began the Psychologist.

"Yes, so it seemed to me, and so I never talked of it until--"

"Experimental verification!" cried I. "You are going to verify that?"

"The experiment!" cried Filby, who was getting brain-weary.

"Let's see your experiment anyhow," said the Psychologist, "though it's
all humbug, you know."

The Time Traveller smiled round at us. Then still smiling faintly, and
with his hands deep in his trousers pockets, he walked slowly out of the
room, and we heard his slippers shuffling down the long passage to his
laboratory.

The Psychologist looked at us. "I wonder what he's got?"

"Some sleight-of-hand trick or other," said the Medical Man, and Filby
tried to tell us about a conjurer he had seen at Burslem; but before he
had finished his preface the Time Traveller came back, and Filby's
anecdote collapsed.

The thing the Time Traveller held in his hand was a glittering metallic
framework, scarcely larger than a small clock, and very delicately made.
There was ivory in it, and some transparent crystalline substance. And
now I must be explicit, for this that follows--unless his explanation is
to be accepted--is an absolutely unaccountable thing. He took one of the
small octagonal tables that were scattered about the room, and set it in
front of the fire, with two legs on the hearth rug. On this table he
placed the mechanism. Then he drew up a chair, and sat down. The only
other object on the table was a small shaded lamp, the bright light of
which fell upon the model. There were also perhaps a dozen candles
about, two in brass candlesticks upon the mantel and several in sconces,
so that the room was brilliantly illuminated. I sat in a low armchair
nearest the fire, and I drew this forward so as to be almost between the
Time Traveller and the fireplace. Filby sat behind him, looking over his
shoulder. The Medical Man and the Provincial Mayor watched him in
profile from the right, the Psychologist from the left. The Very Young
Man stood behind the Psychologist. We were all on the alert. It appears
incredible to me that any kind of trick, however subtly conceived and
however adroitly done, could have been played upon us under these
conditions.

The Time Traveller looked at us, and then at the mechanism. "Well?" said
the Psychologist.

"This little affair," said the Time Traveller, resting his elbows upon
the table and pressing his hands together above the apparatus, "is only
a model. It is my plan for a machine to travel through time. You will
notice that it looks singularly askew, and that there is an odd
twinkling appearance about this bar, as though it was in some way
unreal." He pointed to the part with his finger. "Also, here is one
little white lever, and here is another."

The Medical Man got up out of his chair and peered into the thing. "It's
beautifully made," he said.

"It took two years to make," retorted the Time Traveller. Then when we
had all imitated the action of the Medical Man, he said: "Now I want you
clearly to understand that this lever, being pressed over, sends the
machine gliding into the future, and this other reverses the motion.
This saddle represents the seat of a time traveller. Presently I am
going to press the lever, and off the machine will go. It will vanish,
pass into future Time, and disappear. Have a good look at the thing.
Look at the table too, and satisfy yourselves there is no trickery. I
don't want to waste this model, and then be told I'm a quack."

There was a minute's pause perhaps. The Psychologist seemed about to
speak to me, but changed his mind. Then the Time Traveller put forth his
finger towards the lever. "No," he said suddenly. "Lend me your hand."
And turning to the Psychologist, he took that individual's hand in his
own and told him to put out his forefinger. So that it was the
Psychologist himself who sent forth the model Time Machine on its
interminable voyage. We all saw the lever turn. I am absolutely certain
there was no trickery. There was a breath of wind, and the lamp flame
jumped. One of the candles on the mantel was blown out, and the little
machine suddenly swung round, became indistinct, was seen as a ghost for
a second perhaps, as an eddy of faintly glittering brass and ivory; and
it was gone--vanished! Save for the lamp the table was bare.

Everyone was silent for a minute. Then Filby said he was damned.

The Psychologist recovered from his stupor, and suddenly looked under
the table. At that the Time Traveller laughed cheerfully. "Well?" he
said, with a reminiscence of the Psychologist. Then, getting up, he went
to the tobacco jar on the mantel, and with his back to us began to fill
his pipe.

We stared at each other. "Look here," said the Medical Man, "are you in
earnest about this? Do you seriously believe that, that machine has
travelled into time?"

"Certainly," said the Time Traveller, stooping to light a spill at the
fire. Then he turned, lighting his pipe, to look at the Psychologist's
face. (The Psychologist, to show that he was not unhinged, helped
himself to a cigar and tried to light it uncut.) "What is more, I have a
big machine nearly finished in there--" he indicated the laboratory--
"and when that is put together I mean to have a journey on my own
account."

"You mean to say that, that machine has travelled into the future?" said
Filby.

"Into the future or the past--I don't, for certain, know which."

After an interval the Psychologist had an inspiration. "It must have
gone into the past if it has gone anywhere," he said.

"Why?" said the Time Traveller.

"Because I presume that it has not moved in space, and if it travelled
into the future it would still be here all this time, since it must have
travelled through this time."

"But," I said, "if it travelled into the past it would have been visible
when we came first into this room; and last Thursday when we were here;
and the Thursday before that; and so forth!"

"Serious objections," remarked the Provincial Mayor, with an air of
impartiality, turning towards the Time Traveller.

"Not a bit," said the Time Traveller, and to the Psychologist: "You
think. You can explain that. It's presentation below the threshold, you
know, diluted presentation."

"Of course," said the Psychologist, and reassured us. "That's a simple
point of psychology. I should have thought of it. It's plain enough, and
helps the paradox delightfully. We cannot see it, nor can we appreciate
this machine, any more than we can the spoke of a wheel spinning, or a
bullet flying through the air. If it is travelling through time fifty
times or a hundred times faster than we are, if it gets through a minute
while we get through a second, the impression it creates will of course
be only one-fiftieth or one-hundredth of what it would make if it were
not travelling in time. That's plain enough." He passed his hand through
the space in which the machine had been. "You see?" he said, laughing.

We sat and stared at the vacant table for a minute or so. Then the Time
Traveller asked us what we thought of it all.

"It sounds plausible enough to-night," said the Medical Man; "but wait
until to-morrow. Wait for the common sense of the morning."

"Would you like to see the Time Machine itself?" asked the Time
Traveller. And therewith, taking the lamp in his hand, he led the way
down the long, draughty corridor to his laboratory. I remember vividly
the flickering light, his queer, broad head in silhouette, the dance of
the shadows, how we all followed him, puzzled but incredulous, and how
there in the laboratory we beheld a larger edition of the little
mechanism which we had seen vanish from before our eyes. Parts were of
nickel, parts of ivory, parts had certainly been filed or sawn out of
rock crystal. The thing was generally complete, but the twisted
crystalline bars lay unfinished upon the bench beside some sheets of
drawings, and I took one up for a better look at it. Quartz it seemed to
be.

"Look here," said the Medical Man, "are you perfectly serious? Or is
this a trick--like that ghost you showed us last Christmas?"

"Upon that machine," said the Time Traveller, holding the lamp aloft, "I
intend to explore time. Is that plain? I was never more serious in my
life."

None of us quite knew how to take it.

I caught Filby's eye over the shoulder of the Medical Man, and he winked
at me solemnly.


2.

I think that at that time none of us quite believed in the Time
Machine. The fact is, the Time Traveller was one of those men who are
too clever to be believed: you never felt that you saw all round him;
you always suspected some subtle reserve, some ingenuity in ambush,
behind his lucid frankness. Had Filby shown the model and explained the
matter in the Time Traveller's words, we should have shown him far less
scepticism. For we should have perceived his motives; a pork butcher
could understand Filby. But the Time Traveller had more than a touch of
whim among his elements, and we distrusted him. Things that would have
made the frame of a less clever man seemed tricks in his hands. It is a
mistake to do things too easily. The serious people who took him
seriously never felt quite sure of his deportment; they were somehow
aware that trusting their reputations for judgment with him was like
furnishing a nursery with egg-shell china. So I don't think any of us
said very much about time travelling in the interval between that
Thursday and the next, though its odd potentialities ran, no doubt, in
most of our minds: its plausibility, that is, its practical
incredibleness, the curious possibilities of anachronism and of utter
confusion it suggested. For my own part, I was particularly preoccupied
with the trick of the model. That I remember discussing with the Medical
Man, whom I met on Friday at the Linnaean. He said he had seen a similar
thing at Tubingen, and laid considerable stress on the blowing out of
the candle. But how the trick was done he could not explain.

The next Thursday I went again to Richmond--I suppose I was one of the
Time Traveller's most constant guests--and arriving late, found four or
five men already assembled in his drawing-room. The Medical Man was
standing before the fire with a sheet of paper in one hand and his watch
in the other. I looked round for the Time Traveller, and--"It's half
past seven now," said the Medical Man. "I suppose we'd better have
dinner?"

"Where's ----?" said I, naming our host.

"You've just come? It's rather odd. He's unavoidably detained. He asks
me in this note to lead off with dinner at seven if he's not back. Says
he'll explain when he comes."

"It seems a pity to let the dinner spoil," said the Editor of a
well-known daily paper; and thereupon the Doctor rang the bell.

The Psychologist was the only person besides the Doctor and myself who
had attended the previous dinner. The other men were Blank, the Editor
aforementioned, a certain journalist, and another--a quiet, shy man with
a beard--whom I didn't know, and who, as far as my observation went,
never opened his mouth all the evening. There was some speculation at
the dinner table about the Time Traveller's absence, and I suggested
time travelling, in a half jocular spirit. The Editor wanted that
explained to him, and the Psychologist volunteered a wooden account of
the "ingenious paradox and trick" we had witnessed that day week. He was
in the midst of his exposition when the door from the corridor opened
slowly and without noise. I was facing the door, and saw it first.
"Hallo!" I said. "At last!" And the door opened wider, and the Time
Traveller stood before us. I gave a cry of surprise. "Good heavens! Man,
what's the matter?" cried the Medical Man, who saw him next. And the
whole tableful turned towards the door.

He was in an amazing plight. His coat was dusty and dirty, and smeared
with green, down the sleeves; his hair disordered, and as it seemed to
me greyer--either with dust and dirt or because its colour had actually
faded. His face was ghastly pale; his chin had a brown cut on it--a cut
half healed; his expression was haggard and drawn, as by intense
suffering. For a moment he hesitated in the doorway, as if he had been
dazzled by the light. Then he came into the room. He walked with just
such a limp as I have seen in footsore tramps. We stared at him in
silence, expecting him to speak.

He said not a word, but came painfully to the table, and made a motion
towards the wine. The Editor filled a glass of champagne, and pushed it
towards him. He drained it, and it seemed to do him good: for he looked
round the table, and the ghost of his old smile flickered across his
face. "What on earth have you been up to, man?" said the Doctor. The
Time Traveller did not seem to hear. "Don't let me disturb you," he
said, with a certain faltering articulation. "I'm all right." He
stopped, held out his glass for more, and took it off at a draught.
"That's good," he said. His eyes grew brighter, and a faint colour came
into his cheeks. His glance flickered over our faces with a certain dull
approval, and then went round the warm and comfortable room. Then he
spoke again, still as it were feeling his way among his words. "I'm
going to wash and dress, and then I'll come down and explain things...
Save me some of that mutton. I'm starving for a bit of meat."

He looked across at the Editor, who was a rare visitor, and hoped he was
all right. The Editor began a question. "Tell you presently," said the
Time Traveller. "I'm--funny! Be all right in a minute."

He put down his glass, and walked towards the staircase door. Again I
remarked his lameness and the soft padding sound of his footfall, and
standing up in my place, I saw his feet as he went out. He had nothing
on them but a pair of tattered bloodstained socks. Then the door closed
upon him. I had half a mind to follow, till I remembered how he detested
any fuss about himself. For a minute, perhaps, my mind was wool
gathering. Then, "Remarkable Behaviour of an Eminent Scientist," I heard
the Editor say, thinking (after his wont) in headlines. And this brought
my attention back to the bright dinner table.

"What's the game?" said the Journalist. "Has he been doing the Amateur
Cadger? I don't follow." I met the eye of the Psychologist, and read my
own interpretation in his face. I thought of the Time Traveller limping
painfully upstairs. I don't think any one else had noticed his lameness.

The first to recover completely from this surprise was the Medical Man,
who rang the bell--the Time Traveller hated to have servants waiting at
dinner--for a hot plate. At that the Editor turned to his knife and fork
with a grunt, and the Silent Man followed suit. The dinner was resumed.
Conversation was exclamatory for a little while, with gaps of
wonderment; and then the Editor got fervent in his curiosity. "Does our
friend eke out his modest income with a crossing? Or has he his
Nebuchadnezzar phases?" he inquired. "I feel assured it's this business
of the Time Machine," I said, and took up the Psychologist's account of
our previous meeting. The new guests were frankly incredulous. The
Editor raised objections. "What was this time travelling? A man couldn't
cover himself with dust by rolling in a paradox, could he?" And then, as
the idea came home to him, he resorted to caricature. Hadn't they any
clothes-brushes in the Future? The Journalist too, would not believe at
any price, and joined the Editor in the easy work of heaping ridicule on
the whole thing. They were both the new kind of journalist--very joyous,
irreverent young men. "Our Special Correspondent in the Day after
To-morrow reports," the Journalist was saying--or rather shouting--when
the Time Traveller came back. He was dressed in ordinary evening
clothes, and nothing save his haggard look remained of the change that
had startled me.

"I say," said the Editor hilariously, "these chaps here say you have
been travelling into the middle of next week! Tell us all about little
Rosebery, will you? What will you take for the lot?"

The Time Traveller came to the place reserved for him without a word. He
smiled quietly, in his old way. "Where's my mutton?" he said. "What a
treat it is to stick a fork into meat again!"

"Story!" cried the Editor.

"Story be damned!" said the Time Traveller. "I want something to eat. I
won't say a word until I get some peptone into my arteries. Thanks. And
the salt."

"One word," said I. "Have you been time travelling?"

"Yes," said the Time Traveller, with his mouth full, nodding his head.

"I'd give a shilling a line for a verbatim note," said the Editor. The
Time Traveller pushed his glass towards the Silent Man and rang it with
his finger nail; at which the Silent Man, who had been staring at his
face, started convulsively, and poured him wine. The rest of the dinner
was uncomfortable. For my own part, sudden questions kept on rising to
my lips, and I dare say it was the same with the others. The Journalist
tried to relieve the tension by telling anecdotes of Hettie Potter. The
Time Traveller devoted his attention to his dinner, and displayed the
appetite of a tramp. The Medical Man smoked a cigarette, and watched the
Time Traveller through his eyelashes. The Silent Man seemed even more
clumsy than usual, and drank champagne with regularity and determination
out of sheer nervousness. At last the Time Traveller pushed his plate
away, and looked round us. "I suppose I must apologize," he said. "I was
simply starving. I've had a most amazing time." He reached out his hand
for a cigar, and cut the end. "But come into the smoking-room. It's too
long a story to tell over greasy plates." And ringing the bell in
passing, he led the way into the adjoining room.

"You have told Blank, and Dash, and Chose about the machine?" he said to
me, leaning back in his easy chair and naming the three new guests.

"But the thing's a mere paradox," said the Editor.

"I can't argue to-night. I don't mind telling you the story, but I can't
argue. I will," he went on, "tell you the story of what has happened to
me, if you like, but you must refrain from interruptions. I want to tell
it. Badly. Most of it will sound like lying. So be it! It's true--every
word of it, all the same. I was in my laboratory at four o'clock, and
since then... I've lived eight days... such days as no human being ever
lived before! I'm nearly worn out, but I shan't sleep till I've told
this thing over to you. Then I shall go to bed. But no interruptions! Is
it agreed?"

"Agreed," said the Editor, and the rest of us echoed "Agreed." And with
that the Time Traveller began his story as I have set it forth. He sat
back in his chair at first, and spoke like a weary man. Afterwards he
got more animated. In writing it down I feel with only too much keenness
the inadequacy of pen and ink--and above all, my own inadequacy--to
express its quality. You read, I will suppose, attentively enough; but
you cannot see the speaker's white, sincere face in the bright circle of
the little lamp, nor hear the intonation of his voice. You cannot know
how his expression followed the turns of his story! Most of us hearers
were in shadow, for the candles in the smoking-room had not been
lighted, and only the face of the Journalist and the legs of the Silent
Man from the knees downward were illuminated. At first we glanced now
and again at each other. After a time we ceased to do that, and looked
only at the Time Traveller's face.


3.

"I told some of you last Thursday of the principles of the Time
Machine, and showed you the actual thing itself, incomplete in the
workshop. There it is now, a little travel-worn, truly; and one of the
ivory bars is cracked, and a brass rail bent; but the rest of it's sound
enough. I expected to finish it on Friday, but on Friday, when the
putting together was nearly done, I found that one of the nickel bars
was exactly one inch too short, and this I had to get remade; so that
the thing was not complete until this morning. It was at ten o'clock
to-day that the first of all Time Machines began its career. I gave it a
last tap, tried all the screws again, put one more drop of oil on the
quartz rod, and sat myself in the saddle. I suppose a suicide who holds
a pistol to his skull feels much the same wonder at what will come next
as I felt then. I took the starting lever in one hand and the stopping
one in the other, pressed the first, and almost immediately the second.
I seemed to reel; I felt a nightmare sensation of falling; and looking
round, I saw the laboratory exactly as before. Had anything happened?
For a moment I suspected that my intellect had tricked me. Then I noted
the clock. A moment before, as it seemed, it had stood at a minute or so
past ten; now it was nearly half past three!

"I drew a breath, set my teeth, gripped the starting lever with both
hands, and went off with a thud. The laboratory got hazy and went dark.
Mrs. Watchett came in and walked, apparently without seeing me, towards
the garden door. I suppose it took her a minute or so to traverse the
place, but to me she seemed to shoot across the room like a rocket. I
pressed the lever over to its extreme position. The night came like the
turning out of a lamp, and in another moment came to-morrow. The
laboratory grew faint and hazy, then fainter and ever fainter. To-morrow
night came black, then day again, night again, day again, faster and
faster still. An eddying murmur filled my ears, and a strange, dumb
confusedness descended on my mind.

"I am afraid I cannot convey the peculiar sensations of time travelling.
They are excessively unpleasant. There is a feeling exactly like that
one has upon a switchback--of a helpless headlong motion! I felt the
same horrible anticipation too, of an imminent smash. As I put on pace,
night followed day like the flapping of a black wing. The dim suggestion
of the laboratory seemed presently to fall away from me, and I saw the
sun hopping swiftly across the sky, leaping it every minute, and every
minute marking a day. I supposed the laboratory had been destroyed and I
had come into the open air. I had a dim impression of scaffolding, but I
was already going too fast to be conscious of any moving things. The
slowest snail that ever crawled dashed by too fast for me. The twinkling
succession of darkness and light was excessively painful to the eye.
Then in the intermittent darknesses, I saw the moon spinning swiftly
through her quarters from new to full, and had a faint glimpse of the
circling stars. Presently, as I went on, still gaining velocity, the
palpitation of night and day merged into one continuous greyness; the
sky took on a wonderful deepness of blue, a splendid luminous colour
like that of early twilight; the jerking sun became a streak of fire, a
brilliant arch, in space; the moon a fainter fluctuating band; and I
could see nothing of the stars, save now and then a brighter circle
flickering in the blue.

"The landscape was misty and vague. I was still on the hillside upon
which this house now stands, and the shoulder rose above me grey and
dim. I saw trees growing and changing like puffs of vapour, now brown,
now green; they grew, spread, shivered, and passed away. I saw huge
buildings rise up faint and fair, and pass like dreams. The whole
surface of the earth seemed changed--melting and flowing under my eyes.
The little hands upon the dials that registered my speed raced round
faster and faster. Presently I noted that the sun belt swayed up and
down, from solstice to solstice, in a minute or less, and that
consequently my pace was over a year a minute; and minute by minute the
white snow flashed across the world, and vanished, and was followed by
the bright, brief green of spring.

"The unpleasant sensations of the start were less poignant now. They
merged at last into a kind of hysterical exhilaration. I remarked indeed
a clumsy swaying of the machine, for which I was unable to account. But
my mind was too confused to attend to it, so with a kind of madness
growing upon me, I flung myself into futurity. At first I scarce thought
of stopping, scarce thought of anything but these new sensations. But
presently a fresh series of impressions grew up in my mind--a certain
curiosity and therewith a certain dread--until at last they took
complete possession of me. What strange developments of humanity, what
wonderful advances upon our rudimentary civilization, I thought, might
not appear when I came to look nearly into the dim elusive world that
raced and fluctuated before my eyes! I saw great and splendid
architecture rising about me, more massive than any buildings of our own
time, and yet, as it seemed, built of glimmer and mist. I saw a richer
green flow up the hillside, and remain there, without any wintry
intermission. Even through the veil of my confusion the earth seemed
very fair. And so my mind came round to the business of stopping.

"The peculiar risk lay in the possibility of my finding some substance
in the space which I, or the machine, occupied. So long as I travelled
at a high velocity through time, this scarcely mattered; I was, so to
speak, attenuated--was slipping like a vapour through the interstices of
intervening substances! But to come to a stop involved the jamming of
myself, molecule by molecule, into whatever lay in my way; meant
bringing my atoms into such intimate contact with those of the obstacle
that a profound chemical reaction--possibly a far-reaching
explosion--would result, and blow myself and my apparatus out of all
possible dimensions--into the Unknown. This possibility had occurred to
me again and again while I was making the machine; but then I had
cheerfully accepted it as an unavoidable risk--one of the risks a man
has got to take! Now the risk was inevitable, I no longer saw it in the
same cheerful light. The fact is that insensibly, the absolute
strangeness of everything, the sickly jarring and swaying of the
machine, above all, the feeling of prolonged falling, had absolutely
upset my nerve. I told myself that I could never stop, and with a gust
of petulance I resolved to stop forthwith. Like an impatient fool, I
lugged over the lever, and incontinently the thing went reeling over,
and I was flung headlong through the air.

"There was the sound of a clap of thunder in my ears. I may have been
stunned for a moment. A pitiless hail was hissing round me, and I was
sitting on soft turf in front of the overset machine. Everything still
seemed grey, but presently I remarked that the confusion in my ears was
gone. I looked round me. I was on what seemed to be a little lawn in a
garden, surrounded by rhododendron bushes, and I noticed that their
mauve and purple blossoms were dropping in a shower under the beating of
the hailstones. The rebounding, dancing hail hung in a cloud over the
machine, and drove along the ground like smoke. In a moment I was wet to
the skin. 'Fine hospitality,' said I, 'to a man who has travelled
innumerable years to see you.'

"Presently I thought what a fool I was to get wet. I stood up and looked
round me. A colossal figure, carved apparently in some white stone,
loomed indistinctly beyond the rhododendrons through the hazy downpour.
But all else of the world was invisible.

"My sensations would be hard to describe. As the columns of hail grew
thinner, I saw the white figure more distinctly. It was very large, for
a silver birch-tree touched its shoulder. It was of white marble, in
shape something like a winged sphinx, but the wings, instead of being
carried vertically at the sides, were spread so that it seemed to hover.
The pedestal, it appeared to me, was of bronze, and was thick with
verdigris. It chanced that the face was towards me; the sightless eyes
seemed to watch me; there was the faint shadow of a smile on the lips.
It was greatly weather-worn, and that imparted an unpleasant suggestion
of disease. I stood looking at it for a little space--half a minute
perhaps, or half an hour. It seemed to advance and to recede as the hail
drove before it denser or thinner. At last I tore my eyes from it for a
moment and saw that the hail curtain had worn threadbare, and that the
sky was lightening with the promise of the sun.

"I looked up again at the crouching white shape, and the full temerity
of my voyage came suddenly upon me. What might appear when that hazy
curtain was altogether withdrawn? What might not have happened to men?
What if cruelty had grown into a common passion? What if in this
interval the race had lost its manliness and had developed into
something inhuman, unsympathetic, and overwhelmingly powerful? I might
seem some old-world savage animal, only the more dreadful and disgusting
for our common likeness--a foul creature to be incontinently slain.

"Already I saw other vast shapes--huge buildings with intricate parapets
and tall columns, with a wooded hillside dimly creeping in upon me
through the lessening storm. I was seized with a panic fear. I turned
frantically to the Time Machine, and strove hard to readjust it. As I
did so the shafts of the sun smote through the thunderstorm. The grey
downpour was swept aside and vanished like the trailing garments of a
ghost. Above me, in the intense blue of the summer sky, some faint brown
shreds of cloud whirled into nothingness. The great buildings about me
stood out clear and distinct, shining with the wet of the thunderstorm,
and picked out in white by the unmelted hailstones piled along their
courses. I felt naked in a strange world. I felt as perhaps a bird may
feel in the clear air, knowing the hawk wings above and will swoop. My
fear grew to frenzy. I took a breathing space, set my teeth, and again
grappled fiercely, wrist and knee, with the machine. It gave under my
desperate onset and turned over. It struck my chin violently. One hand
on the saddle, the other on the lever, I stood panting heavily in
attitude to mount again.

"But with this recovery of a prompt retreat my courage recovered. I
looked more curiously and less fearfully at this world of the remote
future. In a circular opening, high up in the wall of the nearer house,
I saw a group of figures clad in rich soft robes. They had seen me, and
their faces were directed towards me.

"Then I heard voices approaching me. Coming through the bushes by the
White Sphinx were the heads and shoulders of men running. One of these
emerged in a pathway leading straight to the little lawn upon which I
stood with my machine. He was a slight creature--perhaps four feet
high--clad in a purple tunic, girdled at the waist with a leather belt.
Sandals or buskins--I could not clearly distinguish which--were on his
feet; his legs were bare to the knees, and his head was bare. Noticing
that, I noticed for the first time how warm the air was.

"He struck me as being a very beautiful and graceful creature, but
indescribably frail. His flushed face reminded me of the more beautiful
kind of consumptive--that hectic beauty of which we used to hear so
much. At the sight of him I suddenly regained confidence. I took my
hands from the machine."


4.

"In another moment we were standing face to face, I and this fragile
thing out of futurity. He came straight up to me and laughed into my
eyes. The absence from his bearing of any sign of fear struck me at
once. Then he turned to the two others who were following him and spoke
to them in a strange and very sweet and liquid tongue."

"There were others coming, and presently a little group of perhaps eight
or ten of these exquisite creatures were about me. One of them addressed
me. It came into my head, oddly enough, that my voice was too harsh and
deep for them. So I shook my head, and pointing to my ears, shook it
again. He came a step forward, hesitated, and then touched my hand. Then
I felt other soft little tentacles upon my back and shoulders. They
wanted to make sure I was real. There was nothing in this at all
alarming. Indeed there was something in these pretty little people that
inspired confidence--a graceful gentleness, a certain childlike ease.
And besides, they looked so frail that I could fancy myself flinging the
whole dozen of them about like nine-pins. But I made a sudden motion to
warn them when I saw their little pink hands feeling at the Time
Machine. Happily then, when it was not too late, I thought of a danger I
had hitherto forgotten, and reaching over the bars of the machine I
unscrewed the little levers that would set it in motion, and put these
in my pocket. Then I turned again to see what I could do in the way of
communication.

"And then, looking more nearly into their features, I saw some further
peculiarities in their Dresden-china type of prettiness. Their hair,
which was uniformly curly, came to a sharp end at the neck and cheek;
there was not the faintest suggestion of it on the face, and their ears
were singularly minute. The mouths were small, with bright red, rather
thin lips, and the little chins ran to a point. The eyes were large and
mild; and--this may seem egotism on my part--I fancied even that there
was a certain lack of the interest, I might have expected, in them.

"As they made no effort to communicate with me, but simply stood round
me smiling and speaking in soft cooing notes to each other, I began the
conversation. I pointed to the Time Machine and to myself. Then
hesitating for a moment how to express time, I pointed to the sun. At
once a quaintly pretty little figure in chequered purple and white
followed my gesture, and then astonished me by imitating the sound of
thunder.

"For a moment I was staggered, though the import of his gesture was
plain enough. The question had come into my mind abruptly: were these
creatures fools? You may hardly understand how it took me. You see I had
always anticipated that the people of the year Eight Hundred and Two
Thousand odd {or so}, would be incredibly in front of us in knowledge,
art, everything. Then one of them suddenly asked me a question that
showed him to be on the intellectual level of one of our five-year-old
children--asked me, in fact, if I had come from the sun in a
thunderstorm! It let loose the judgment I had suspended upon their
clothes, their frail light limbs, and fragile features. A flow of
disappointment rushed across my mind. For a moment I felt that I had
built the Time Machine in vain.

"I nodded, pointed to the sun, and gave them such a vivid rendering of a
thunderclap as startled them. They all withdrew a pace or so and bowed.
Then came one laughing towards me, carrying a chain of beautiful flowers
altogether new to me, and put it about my neck. The idea was received
with melodious applause; and presently they were all running to and fro
for flowers, and laughingly flinging them upon me until I was almost
smothered with blossom. You who have never seen the like can scarcely
imagine what delicate and wonderful flowers countless years of culture
had created. Then someone suggested that their plaything should be
exhibited in the nearest building, and so I was led past the sphinx of
white marble, which had seemed to watch me all the while with a smile at
my astonishment, towards a vast grey edifice of fretted stone. As I went
with them the memory of my confident anticipations of a profoundly grave
and intellectual posterity came, with irresistible merriment, to my
mind.

"The building had a huge entry, and was altogether of colossal
dimensions. I was naturally most occupied with the growing crowd of
little people, and with the big open portals that yawned before me
shadowy and mysterious. My general impression of the world I saw over
their heads was a tangled waste of beautiful bushes and flowers, a
long-neglected and yet weedless garden. I saw a number of tall spikes of
strange white flowers, measuring a foot perhaps across the spread of the
waxen petals. They grew scattered, as if wild, among the variegated
shrubs, but as I say, I did not examine them closely at this time. The
Time Machine was left deserted on the turf among the rhododendrons.

"The arch of the doorway was richly carved, but naturally I did not
observe the carving very narrowly, though I fancied I saw suggestions of
old Phoenician decorations as I passed through, and it struck me that
they were very badly broken and weather-worn. Several more brightly clad
people met me in the doorway, and so we entered, I, dressed in dingy
nineteenth-century garments, looking grotesque enough, garlanded with
flowers, and surrounded by an eddying mass of bright, soft-coloured
robes and shining white limbs, in a melodious whirl of laughter and
laughing speech.

"The big doorway opened into a proportionately great hall hung with
brown. The roof was in shadow, and the windows, partially glazed with
coloured glass and partially unglazed, admitted a tempered light. The
floor was made up of huge blocks of some very hard white metal, not
plates nor slabs--, blocks, and it was so much worn, as I judged by the
going to and fro of past generations, as to be deeply channelled along
the more frequented ways. Transverse to the length were innumerable
tables made of slabs of polished stone, raised perhaps a foot from the
floor, and upon these were heaps of fruits. Some I recognized as a kind
of hypertrophied raspberry and orange, but for the most part they were
strange.

"Between the tables was scattered a great number of cushions. Upon these
my conductors seated themselves, signing for me to do likewise. With a
pretty absence of ceremony they began to eat the fruit with their hands,
flinging peel and stalks, and so forth, into the round openings in the
sides of the tables. I was not loath to follow their example, for I felt
thirsty and hungry. As I did so I surveyed the hall at my leisure.

"And perhaps the thing that struck me most was its dilapidated look. The
stained-glass windows, which displayed only a geometrical pattern, were
broken in many places, and the curtains that hung across the lower end
were thick with dust. And it caught my eye that the corner of the marble
table near me was fractured. Nevertheless, the general effect was
extremely rich and picturesque. There were perhaps, a couple of hundred
people dining in the hall, and most of them, seated as near to me as
they could come, were watching me with interest, their little eyes
shining over the fruit they were eating. All were clad in the same soft
and yet strong, silky material.

"Fruit, by the by, was all their diet. These people of the remote future
were strict vegetarians, and while I was with them, in spite of some
carnal cravings, I had to be frugivorous also. Indeed I found afterwards
that horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, had followed the Ichthyosaurus into
extinction. But the fruits were very delightful; one in particular, that
seemed to be in season all the time I was there--a floury thing in a
three-sided husk--was especially good, and I made it my staple. At first
I was puzzled by all these strange fruits, and by the strange flowers I
saw, but later I began to perceive their import.

"However I am telling you of my fruit dinner in the distant future now.
So soon as my appetite was a little checked, I determined to make a
resolute attempt to learn the speech of these new men of mine. Clearly
that was the next thing to do. The fruits seemed a convenient thing to
begin upon, and holding one of these up I began a series of
interrogative sounds and gestures. I had some considerable difficulty in
conveying my meaning. At first my efforts met with a stare of surprise
or inextinguishable laughter, but presently a fair-haired little
creature seemed to grasp my intention and repeated a name. They had to
chatter and explain the business at great length to each other, and my
first attempts to make the exquisite little sounds of their language
caused an immense amount of amusement. However, I felt like a
schoolmaster amidst children, and persisted, and presently I had a score
of noun substantives at least at my command; and then I got to
demonstrative pronouns, and even the verb "to eat." But it was slow
work, and the little people soon tired and wanted to get away from my
interrogations, so I determined, rather of necessity, to let them give
their lessons in little doses when they felt inclined. And very little
doses, I found they were before long, for I never met people more
indolent or more easily fatigued.

"A queer thing I soon discovered about my little hosts, and that was
their lack of interest. They would come to me with eager cries of
astonishment, like children, but like children they would soon stop
examining me and wander away after some other toy. The dinner and my
conversational beginnings ended, I noted for the first time that almost
all those who had surrounded me at first were gone. It is odd too, how
speedily I came to disregard these little people. I went out through the
portal into the sunlit world again as soon as my hunger was satisfied. I
was continually meeting more of these men of the future, who would
follow me a little distance, chatter and laugh about me, and having
smiled and gesticulated in a friendly way, leave me again to my own
devices.

"The calm of evening was upon the world as I emerged from the great
hall, and the scene was lit by the warm glow of the setting sun. At
first things were very confusing. Everything was so entirely different
from the world I had known--even the flowers. The big building I had
left was situated on the slope of a broad river valley, but the Thames
had shifted perhaps a mile from its present position. I resolved to
mount to the summit of a crest perhaps a mile and a half away, from
which I could get a wider view of this our planet in the year Eight
Hundred and Two Thousand Seven Hundred and One A.D. For that, I should
explain, was the date the little dials of my machine recorded.

"As I walked I was watching for every impression that could possibly
help to explain the condition of ruinous splendour in which I found the
world--for ruinous it was. A little way up the hill, for instance, was a
great heap of granite, bound together by masses of aluminium, a vast
labyrinth of precipitous walls and crumpled heaps, amidst which were
thick heaps of very beautiful pagoda-like plants--nettles possibly--but
wonderfully tinted with brown about the leaves, and incapable of
stinging. It was evidently the derelict remains of some vast structure,
to what end built I could not determine. It was here that I was
destined, at a later date, to have a very strange experience--the first
intimation of a still stranger discovery--but of that I will speak in
its proper place.

"Looking round with a sudden thought, from a terrace on which I rested
for a while, I realized that there were no small houses to be seen.
Apparently the single house, and possibly even the household, had
vanished. Here and there among the greenery were palace-like buildings,
but the house and the cottage, which form such characteristic features
of our own English landscape, had disappeared.

"'Communism,' said I to myself.

"And on the heels of that came another thought. I looked at the
half-dozen little figures that were following me. Then in a flash, I
perceived that all had the same form of costume, the same soft hairless
visage, and the same girlish rotundity of limb. It may seem strange
perhaps, that I had not noticed this before. But everything was so
strange. Now I saw the fact plainly enough. In costume, and in all the
differences of texture and bearing that now mark off the sexes from each
other, these people of the future were alike. And the children seemed to
my eyes to be but the miniatures of their parents. I judged then, that
the children of that time were extremely precocious, physically at
least, and I found afterwards abundant verification of my opinion.

"Seeing the ease and security in which these people were living, I felt
that this close resemblance of the sexes was after all what one would
expect; for the strength of a man and the softness of a woman, the
institution of the family, and the differentiation of occupations are
mere militant necessities of an age of physical force; where population
is balanced and abundant, much child-bearing becomes an evil rather than
a blessing to the State; where violence comes but rarely and offspring
are secure, there is less necessity--indeed there is no necessity--for
an efficient family, and the specialization of the sexes with reference
to their children's needs disappears. We see some beginnings of this
even in our own time, and in this future age it was complete. This I
must remind you, was my speculation at the time. Later I was to
appreciate how far it fell short of the reality.

"While I was musing upon these things, my attention was attracted by a
pretty little structure, like a well under a cupola. I thought in a
transitory way of the oddness of wells still existing, and then resumed
the thread of my speculations. There were no large buildings towards the
top of the hill, and as my walking powers were evidently miraculous, I
was presently left alone for the first time. With a strange sense of
freedom and adventure I pushed on up to the crest.

"There I found a seat of some yellow metal that I did not recognize,
corroded in places with a kind of pinkish rust and half smothered in
soft moss, the arm-rests cast and filed into the resemblance of
griffins' heads. I sat down on it, and I surveyed the broad view of our
old world under the sunset of that long day. It was as sweet and fair a
view as I have ever seen. The sun had already gone below the horizon and
the west was flaming gold, touched with some horizontal bars of purple
and crimson. Below was the valley of the Thames, in which the river lay
like a band of burnished steel. I have already spoken of the great
palaces dotted about among the variegated greenery, some in ruins and
some still occupied. Here and there rose a white or silvery figure in
the waste garden of the earth, here and there came the sharp vertical
line of some cupola or obelisk. There were no hedges, no signs of
proprietary rights, no evidences of agriculture; the whole earth had
become a garden.

"So watching, I began to put my interpretation upon the things I had
seen, and as it shaped itself to me that evening, my interpretation was
something in this way. (Afterwards I found I had got only a
half-truth--or only a glimpse of one facet of the truth.)

"It seemed to me that I had happened upon humanity upon the wane. The
ruddy sunset set me thinking of the sunset of mankind. For the first
time I began to realize an odd consequence of the social effort in which
we are at present engaged. And yet, come to think, it is a logical
consequence enough. Strength is the outcome of need; security sets a
premium on feebleness. The work of ameliorating the conditions of
life--the true civilizing process that makes life more and more
secure--had gone steadily on to a climax. One triumph of a united
humanity over Nature had followed another. Things that are now mere
dreams had become projects deliberately put in hand and carried forward.
And the harvest was what I saw!

"After all, the sanitation and the agriculture of to-day are still in
the rudimentary stage. The science of our time has attacked but a little
department of the field of human disease, but even so, it spreads its
operations very steadily and persistently. Our agriculture and
horticulture destroy a weed just here and there and cultivate perhaps a
score or so of wholesome plants, leaving the greater number to fight out
a balance as they can. We improve our favourite plants and animals--and
how few they are--gradually by selective breeding; now a new and better
peach, now a seedless grape, now a sweeter and larger flower, now a more
convenient breed of cattle. We improve them gradually, because our
ideals are vague and tentative, and our knowledge is very limited;
because Nature too, is shy and slow in our clumsy hands. Some day all
this will be better organized, and still better. That is the drift of
the current in spite of the eddies. The whole world will be intelligent,
educated, and co-operating; things will move faster and faster towards
the subjugation of Nature. In the end, wisely and carefully we shall
readjust the balance of animal and vegetable me to suit our human
needs.

"This adjustment, I say, must have been done, and done well; done indeed
for all Time, in the space of Time across which my machine had leaped.
The air was free from gnats, the earth from weeds or fungi; everywhere
were fruits and sweet and delightful flowers; brilliant butterflies flew
hither and thither. The ideal of preventive medicine was attained.
Diseases had been stamped out. I saw no evidence of any contagious
diseases during all my stay. And I shall have to tell you later that
even the processes of putrefaction and decay had been profoundly
affected by these changes.

"Social triumphs too, had been effected. I saw mankind housed in
splendid shelters, gloriously clothed, and as yet I had found them
engaged in no toil. There were no signs of struggle, neither social nor
economical struggle. The shop, the advertisement, traffic, all that
commerce which constitutes the body of our world, was gone. It was
natural on that golden evening that I should jump at the idea of a
social paradise. The difficulty of increasing population had been met, I
guessed, and population had ceased to increase.

"But with this change in condition comes inevitably adaptations to the
change. What, unless biological science is a mass of errors, is the
cause of human intelligence and vigour? Hardship and freedom: conditions
under which the active, strong, and subtle survive and the weaker go to
the wall; conditions that put a premium upon the loyal alliance of
capable men, upon self-restraint, patience, and decision. And the
institution of the family, and the emotions that arise therein, the
fierce jealousy, the tenderness for offspring, parental self-devotion,
all found their justification and support in the imminent dangers of the
young. Now, where are these imminent dangers? There is a sentiment
arising, and it will grow, against connubial jealousy, against fierce
maternity, against passion of all sorts; unnecessary things now, and
things that make us uncomfortable, savage survivals, discords in a
refined and pleasant life.

"I thought of the physical slightness of the people, their lack of
intelligence, and those big abundant ruins, and it strengthened my
belief in a perfect conquest of Nature. For after the battle comes
Quiet. Humanity had been strong, energetic, and intelligent, and had
used all its abundant vitality to alter the conditions under which it
lived. And now came the reaction of the altered conditions.

"Under the new conditions of perfect comfort and security, that restless
energy, that with us is strength, would become weakness. Even in our own
time certain tendencies and desires, once necessary to survival, are a
constant source of failure. Physical courage and the love of battle, for
instance, are no great help--may even be hindrances--to a civilized man.
And in a state of physical balance and security, power, intellectual as
well as physical, would be out of place. For countless years I judged
there had been no danger of war or solitary violence, no danger from
wild beasts, no wasting disease to require strength of constitution, no
need of toil. For such a life, what we should call the weak are as well
equipped as the strong, are indeed no longer weak. Better equipped
indeed they are, for the strong would be fretted by an energy for which
there was no outlet. No doubt the exquisite beauty of the buildings I
saw was the outcome of the last surgings of the now purposeless energy
of mankind before it settled down into perfect harmony with the
conditions under which it lived--the flourish of that triumph which
began the last great peace. This has ever been the fate of energy in
security; it takes to art and to eroticism, and then come languor and
decay.

"Even this artistic impetus would at last die away--had almost died in
the Time I saw. To adorn themselves with flowers, to dance, to sing in
the sunlight: so much was left of the artistic spirit, and no more. Even
that would fade in the end into a contented inactivity. We are kept keen
on the grindstone of pain and necessity, and it seemed to me, that here
was that hateful grindstone broken at last!

"As I stood there in the gathering dark I thought that in this simple
explanation I had mastered the problem of the world--mastered the whole
secret of these delicious people. Possibly the checks they had devised
for the increase of population had succeeded too well, and their numbers
had rather diminished than kept stationary. That would account for the
abandoned ruins. Very simple was my explanation, and plausible
enough--as most wrong theories are!"


5.

"As I stood there musing over this, too perfect triumph of man, the
full moon, yellow and gibbous, came up out of an overflow of silver
light in the north-east. The bright little figures ceased to move about
below, a noiseless owl flitted by, and I shivered with the chill of the
night. I determined to descend and find where I could sleep.

"I looked for the building I knew. Then my eye travelled along to the
figure of the White Sphinx upon the pedestal of bronze, growing distinct
as the light of the rising moon grew brighter. I could see the silver
birch against it. There was the tangle of rhododendron bushes, black in
the pale light, and there was the little lawn. I looked at the lawn
again. A queer doubt chilled my complacency. "No," said I stoutly to
myself, "that was not the lawn. But it was the lawn. For the white
leprous face of the sphinx was towards it. Can you imagine what I felt
as this conviction came home to me? But you cannot. The Time Machine
was gone!

"At once, like a lash across the face, came the possibility of losing my
own age, of being left helpless in this strange new world. The bare
thought of it was an actual physical sensation. I could feel it grip me
at the throat and stop my breathing. In another moment I was in a
passion of fear and running with great leaping strides down the slope.
Once I fell headlong and cut my face; I lost no time in stanching the
blood, but jumped up and ran on, with a warm trickle down my cheek and
chin. All the time I ran I was saying to myself: 'They have moved it a
little, pushed it under the bushes out of the way.' Nevertheless, I ran
with all my might. All the time, with the certainty that sometimes comes
with excessive dread, I knew that such assurance was folly, knew
instinctively that the machine was removed out of my reach. My breath
came with pain. I suppose I covered the whole distance from the hill
crest to the little lawn, two miles perhaps, in ten minutes. And I am
not a young man. I cursed aloud, as I ran, at my confident folly in
leaving the machine, wasting good breath thereby. I cried aloud, and
none answered. Not a creature seemed to be stirring in that moonlit
world.

"When I reached the lawn my worst fears were realized. Not a trace of
the thing was to be seen. I felt faint and cold when I faced the empty
space among the black tangle of bushes. I ran round it furiously, as if
the thing might be hidden in a corner, and then stopped abruptly, with
my hands clutching my hair. Above me towered the sphinx, upon the bronze
pedestal, white, shining, leprous, in the light of the rising moon. It
seemed to smile in mockery of my dismay.

"I might have consoled myself by imagining the little people had put the
mechanism in some shelter for me, had I not felt assured of their
physical and intellectual inadequacy. That is what dismayed me: the
sense of some hitherto unsuspected power, through whose intervention my
invention had vanished. Yet for one thing I felt assured: unless some
other age had produced its exact duplicate, the machine could not have
moved in time. The attachment of the levers--I will show you the method
later--prevented any one from tampering with it in that way when they
were removed. It had moved, and was hid, only in space. But then, where
could it be?

"I think I must have had a kind of frenzy. I remember running violently
in and out among the moonlit bushes all round the sphinx, and startling
some white animal that, in the dim light, I took for a small deer. I
remember too, late that night, beating the bushes with my clenched fist
until my knuckles were gashed and bleeding from the broken twigs. Then
sobbing and raving in my anguish of mind, I went down to the great
building of stone. The big hall was dark, silent, and deserted. I
slipped on the uneven floor, and fell over one of the malachite tables,
almost breaking my shin. I lit a match and went on past the dusty
curtains, of which I have told you.

"There I found a second great hall covered with cushions, upon which,
perhaps a score or so of the little people were sleeping. I have no
doubt they found my second appearance strange enough, coming suddenly
out of the quiet darkness with inarticulate noises and the splutter and
flare of a match. For they had forgotten about matches. "Where is my
Time Machine?" I began, bawling like an angry child, laying hands upon
them and shaking them up together. It must have been very queer to them.
Some laughed, most of them looked sorely frightened. When I saw them
standing round me, it came into my head that I was doing as foolish a
thing as it was possible for me to do under the circumstances, in trying
to revive the sensation of fear. For, reasoning from their daylight
behaviour, I thought that fear must be forgotten.

"Abruptly, I dashed down the match, and knocking one of the people over
in my course, went blundering across the big dining-hall again, out
under the moonlight. I heard cries of terror and their little feet
running and stumbling this way and that. I do not remember all I did as
the moon crept up the sky. I suppose it was the unexpected nature of my
loss that maddened me. I felt hopelessly cut off from my own kind--a
strange animal in an unknown world. I must have raved to and fro,
screaming and crying upon God and Fate. I have a memory of horrible
fatigue, as the long night of despair wore away; of looking in this
impossible place and that; of groping among moonlit ruins and touching
strange creatures in the black shadows; at last, of lying on the ground
near the sphinx and weeping with absolute wretchedness. I had nothing
left but misery. Then I slept, and when I woke again it was full day,
and a couple of sparrows were hopping round me on the turf within reach
of my arm.

"I sat up in the freshness of the morning, trying to remember how I had
got there, and why I had such a profound sense of desertion and despair.
Then things came clear in my mind. With the plain, reasonable daylight,
I could look my circumstances fairly in the face. I saw the wild folly
of my frenzy overnight, and I could reason with myself. 'Suppose the
worst?' I said. 'Suppose the machine altogether lost--perhaps destroyed?
It behoves me to be calm and patient, to learn the way of the people, to
get a clear idea of the method of my loss, and the means of getting
materials and tools; so that in the end, perhaps, I may make another.'
That would be my only hope, perhaps but better than despair. And after
all, it was a beautiful and curious world.

"But probably, the machine had only been taken away. Still I must be
calm and patient, find its hiding-place, and recover it by force or
cunning. And with that I scrambled to my feet and looked about me,
wondering where I could bathe. I felt weary, stiff, and travel-soiled.
The freshness of the morning made me desire an equal freshness. I had
exhausted my emotion. Indeed as I went about my business, I found myself
wondering at my intense excitement overnight. I made a careful
examination of the ground about the little lawn. I wasted some time in
futile questionings, conveyed, as well as I was able, to such of the
little people as came by. They all failed to understand my gestures;
some were simply stolid, some thought it was a jest and laughed at me. I
had the hardest task in the world to keep my hands off their pretty
laughing faces. It was a foolish impulse, but the devil begotten of fear
and blind anger was ill curbed and still eager to take advantage of my
perplexity. The turf gave better counsel. I found a groove ripped in it,
about midway between the pedestal of the sphinx and the marks of my feet
where, on arrival, I had struggled with the overturned machine. There
were other signs of removal about, with queer narrow footprints like
those I could imagine made by a sloth. This directed my closer attention
to the pedestal. It was, as I think I have said, of bronze. It was not a
mere block, but highly decorated with deep framed panels on either side.
I went and rapped at these. The pedestal was hollow. Examining the
panels with care I found them discontinuous with the frames. There were
no handles or keyholes, but possibly the panels, if they were doors, as
I supposed, opened from within. One thing was clear enough to my mind.
It took no very great mental effort to infer that my Time Machine was
inside that pedestal. But how it got there was a different problem.

"I saw the heads of two orange-clad people coming through the bushes and
under some blossom-covered apple-trees towards me. I turned smiling to
them and beckoned them to me. They came, and then pointing to the bronze
pedestal, I tried to intimate my wish to open it. But at my first
gesture towards this they behaved very oddly. I don't know how to convey
their expression to you. Suppose you were to use a grossly improper
gesture to a delicate-minded woman--it is how she would look. They went
off as if they had received the last possible insult. I tried a
sweet-looking little chap in white next, with exactly the same result.
Somehow, his manner made me feel ashamed of myself. But as you know, I
wanted the Time Machine, and I tried him once more. As he turned off,
like the others, my temper got the better of me. In three strides I was
after him, had him by the loose part of his robe round the neck, and
began dragging him towards the sphinx. Then I saw the horror and
repugnance of his face, and all of a sudden I let him go.

"But I was not beaten yet. I banged with my fist at the bronze panels. I
thought I heard something stir inside--to be explicit, I thought I heard
a sound like a chuckle--but I must have been mistaken. Then I got a big
pebble from the river, and came and hammered till I had flattened a coil
in the decorations, and the verdigris came off in powdery flakes. The
delicate little people must have heard me hammering in gusty outbreaks a
mile away on either hand, but nothing came of it. I saw a crowd of them
upon the slopes, looking furtively at me. At last, hot and tired, I sat
down to watch the place. But I was too restless to watch long; I am too
Occidental for a long vigil. I could work at a problem for years, but to
wait inactive for twenty-four hours--that is another matter.

"I got up after a time, and began walking aimlessly through the bushes
towards the hill again. 'Patience,' said I to myself. 'If you want your
machine again you must leave that sphinx alone. If they mean to take
your machine away, it's little good your wrecking their bronze panels,
and if they don't, you will get it back as soon as you can ask for it.
To sit among all those unknown things before a puzzle like that is
hopeless. That way lies monomania. Face this world. Learn its ways,
watch it, be careful of too hasty guesses at its meaning. In the end you
will find clues to it all.' Then suddenly the humour of the situation
came into my mind: the thought of the years I had spent in study and
toil to get into the future age, and now my passion of anxiety to get
out of it. I had made myself the most complicated and the most hopeless
trap that ever a man devised. Although it was at my own expense, I could
not help myself. I laughed aloud.

"Going through the big palace, it seemed to me that the little people
avoided me. It may have been my fancy, or it may have had something to
do with my hammering at the gates of bronze. Yet I felt tolerably sure
of the avoidance. I was careful however, to show no concern and to
abstain from any pursuit of them, and in the course of a day or two
things got back to the old footing. I made what progress I could in the
language, and in addition I pushed my explorations here and there.
Either I missed some subtle point or their language was excessively
simple--almost exclusively composed of concrete substantives and verbs.
There seemed to be few, if any, abstract terms, or little use of
figurative language. Their sentences were usually simple and of two
words, and I failed to convey or understand any but the simplest
propositions. I determined to put the thought of my Time Machine and the
mystery of the bronze doors under the sphinx as much as possible in a
corner of memory, until my growing knowledge would lead me back to them
in a natural way. Yet a certain feeling, you may understand, tethered me
in a circle of a few miles round the point of my arrival.

"So far as I could see, all the world displayed the same exuberant
richness as the Thames valley. From every hill I climbed I saw the same
abundance of splendid buildings, endlessly varied in material and style,
the same clustering thickets of evergreens, the same blossom-laden trees
and tree-ferns. Here and there water shone like silver, and beyond, the
land rose into blue undulating hills, and so faded into the serenity of
the sky. A peculiar feature, which presently attracted my attention, was
the presence of certain circular wells, several, as it seemed to me, of
a very great depth. One lay by the path up the hill, which I had
followed during my first walk. Like the others, it was rimmed with
bronze, curiously wrought, and protected by a little cupola from the
rain. Sitting by the side of these wells, and peering down into the
shafted darkness, I could see no gleam of water, nor could I start any
reflection with a lighted match. But in all of them I heard a certain
sound: a thud--thud--thud, like the beating of some big engine; and I
discovered, from the flaring of my matches, that a steady current of air
set down the shafts. Further, I threw a scrap of paper into the throat
of one, and instead of fluttering slowly down, it was at once sucked
swiftly out of sight.

"After a time too, I came to connect these wells with tall towers
standing here and there upon the slopes; for above them there was often
just such a flicker in the air as one sees on a hot day above a
sun-scorched beach. Putting things together, I reached a strong
suggestion of an extensive system of subterranean ventilation, whose
true import it was difficult to imagine. I was at first inclined to
associate it with the sanitary apparatus of these people. It was an
obvious conclusion, but it was absolutely wrong.

"And here I must admit that I learned very little of drains and bells
and modes of conveyance, and the like conveniences, during my time in
this real future. In some of these visions of Utopias and coming times
which I have read, there is a vast amount of detail about building, and
social arrangements, and so forth. But while such details are easy
enough to obtain when the whole world is contained in one's imagination,
they are altogether inaccessible to a real traveller amid such realities
as I found here. Conceive the tale of London which a negro, fresh from
Central Africa, would take back to his tribe! What would he know of
railway companies, of social movements, of telephone and telegraph
wires, of the Parcels Delivery Company, and postal orders and the like?
Yet we, at least, should be willing enough to explain these things to
him! And even of what he knew, how much could he make his untravelled
friend either apprehend or believe? Then think how narrow the gap
between a negro and a white man of our own times, and how wide the
interval between myself and these of the Golden Age! I was sensible of
much which was unseen, and which contributed to my comfort; but save for
a general impression of automatic organization, I fear I can convey very
little of the difference to your mind.

"In the matter of sepulture, for instance, I could see no signs of
crematoria nor anything suggestive of tombs. But it occurred to me that,
possibly, there might be cemeteries (or crematoria) somewhere beyond the
range of my explorings. This again, was a question I deliberately put to
myself, and my curiosity was at first entirely defeated upon the point.
The thing puzzled me, and I was led to make a further remark, which
puzzled me still more: that aged and infirm among this people there were
none.

"I must confess that my satisfaction with my first theories of an
automatic civilization and a decadent humanity did not long endure. Yet
I could think of no other. Let me put {mention} my difficulties. The
several big palaces I had explored were mere living places, great
dining-halls and sleeping apartments. I could find no machinery, no
appliances of any kind. Yet these people were clothed in pleasant
fabrics that must at times need renewal, and their sandals, though
undecorated, were fairly complex specimens of metal-work. Somehow such
things must be made. And the little people displayed no vestige of a
creative tendency. There were no shops, no workshops, no sign of
importations among them. They spent all their time in playing gently, in
bathing in the river, in making love in a half-playful fashion, in
eating fruit and sleeping. I could not see how things were kept going.

"Then again, about the Time Machine: something, I knew not what, had
taken it into the hollow pedestal of the White Sphinx. Why? For the life
of me I could not imagine. Those waterless wells, too, those flickering
pillars. I felt I lacked a clue. I felt--how shall I put it? Suppose you
found an inscription, with sentences here and there in excellent plain
English, and interpolated therewith, others made up of words, of letters
even, absolutely unknown to you? Well on the third day of my visit, that
was how the world of Eight Hundred and Two Thousand Seven Hundred and
One presented itself to me!

"That day too, I made a friend--of a sort. It happened that, as I was
watching some of the little people bathing in a shallow, one of them was
seized with cramp and began drifting downstream. The main current ran
rather swiftly, but not too strongly for even a moderate swimmer. It
will give you an idea, therefore, of the strange deficiency in these
creatures, when I tell you that none made the slightest attempt to
rescue the weakly crying little thing which was drowning before their
eyes. When I realized this, I hurriedly slipped off my clothes, and
wading in at a point lower down, I caught the poor mite and drew her
safe to land. A little rubbing of the limbs soon brought her round, and
I had the satisfaction of seeing she was all right before I left her. I
had got to such a low estimate of her kind that I did not expect any
gratitude from her. In that however, I was wrong.

"This happened in the morning. In the afternoon I met my little woman,
as I believe it was, as I was returning towards my centre from an
exploration, and she received me with cries of delight and presented me
with a big garland of flowers--evidently made for me and me alone. The
thing took my imagination. Very possibly I had been feeling desolate. At
any rate I did my best to display my appreciation of the gift. We were
soon seated together in a little stone arbour, engaged in conversation,
chiefly of smiles. The creature's friendliness affected me exactly as a
child's might have done. We passed each other flowers, and she kissed my
hands. I did the same to hers. Then I tried talk, and found that her
name was Weena, which though I don't know what it meant, somehow seemed
appropriate enough. That was the beginning of a queer friendship which
lasted a week, and ended--as I will tell you!

"She was exactly like a child. She wanted to be with me always. She
tried to follow me everywhere, and on my next journey out and about it
went to my heart to tire her down, and leave her at last, exhausted and
calling after me rather plaintively. But the problems of the world had
to be mastered. I had not, I said to myself, come into the future to
carry on a miniature flirtation. Yet her distress when I left her was
very great, her expostulations at the parting were sometimes frantic,
and I think, altogether, I had as much trouble as comfort from her
devotion. Nevertheless she was, somehow, a very great comfort. I thought
it was mere childish affection that made her cling to me. Until it was
too late, I did not clearly know what I had inflicted upon her when I
left her. Nor until it was too late did I clearly understand what she
was to me. For by merely seeming fond of me, and showing in her weak,
futile way that she cared for me, the little doll of a creature
presently gave my return to the neighbourhood of the White Sphinx almost
the feeling of coming home; and I would watch for her tiny figure of
white and gold so soon as I came over the hill.

"It was from her too, that I learned that fear had not yet left the
world. She was fearless enough in the daylight, and she had the oddest
confidence in me; for once, in a foolish moment, I made threatening
grimaces at her, and she simply laughed at them. But she dreaded the
dark, dreaded shadows, dreaded black things. Darkness to her was the one
thing dreadful. It was a singularly passionate emotion, and it set me
thinking and observing. I discovered then, among other things, that
these little people gathered into the great houses after dark, and slept
in droves. To enter upon them without a light was to put them into a
tumult of apprehension. I never found one out of doors, or one sleeping
alone within doors, after dark. Yet I was still such a blockhead that I
missed the lesson of that fear, and in spite of Weena's distress I
insisted upon sleeping away from these slumbering multitudes.

"It troubled her greatly, but in the end her odd affection for me
triumphed, and for five of the nights of our acquaintance, including the
last night of all, she slept with her head pillowed on my arm. But my
story slips away from me as I speak of her. It must have been the night
before her rescue that I was awakened about dawn. I had been restless,
dreaming most disagreeably that I was drowned, and that sea-anemones
were feeling over my face with their soft palps. I woke with a start,
and with an odd fancy that some greyish animal had just rushed out of
the chamber. I tried to get to sleep again, but I felt restless and
uncomfortable. It was that dim grey hour when things are just creeping
out of darkness, when everything is colourless and clear cut, and yet
unreal. I got up, and went down into the great hall, and so out upon the
flagstones in front of the palace. I thought I would make a virtue of
necessity, and see the sunrise.

"The moon was setting, and the dying moonlight and the first pallor of
dawn were mingled in a ghastly half-light. The bushes were inky black,
the ground a sombre grey, the sky colourless and cheerless. And up the
hill I thought I could see ghosts. There several times, as I scanned the
slope, I saw white figures. Twice I fancied I saw a solitary white,
ape-like creature running rather quickly up the hill, and once near the
ruins I saw a leash of them carrying some dark body. They moved hastily.
I did not see what became of them. It seemed that they vanished among
the bushes. The dawn was still indistinct, you must understand. I was
feeling that chill, uncertain, early-morning feeling you may have known.
I doubted my eyes.

"As the eastern sky grew brighter, and the light of the day came on and
its vivid colouring returned upon the world once more, I scanned the
view keenly. But I saw no vestige of my white figures. They were mere
creatures of the half-light. 'They must have been ghosts,' I said; 'I
wonder whence they dated.' For a queer notion of Grant Allen's came into
my head, and amused me. If each generation die and leave ghosts, he
argued, the world at last will get overcrowded with them. On that theory
they would have grown innumerable some Eight Hundred Thousand Years
hence, and it was no great wonder to see four at once. But the jest was
unsatisfying, and I was thinking of these figures all the morning, until
Weena's rescue drove them out of my head. I associated them in some
indefinite way with the white animal I had startled in my first
passionate search for the Time Machine. But Weena was a pleasant
substitute. Yet all the same, they were soon destined to take far
deadlier possession of my mind.

"I think I have said how much hotter than our own was the weather of
this Golden Age. I cannot account for it. It may be that the sun was
hotter, or the earth nearer the sun. It is usual to assume that the sun
will go on cooling steadily in the future. But people, unfamiliar with
such speculations as those of the younger Darwin, forget that the
planets must ultimately fall back one by one into the parent body. As
these catastrophes occur, the sun will blaze with renewed energy; and it
may be that some inner planet had suffered this fate. Whatever the
reason, the fact remains that the sun was very much hotter than we know
it.

"Well, one very hot morning--my fourth, I think--as I was seeking
shelter from the heat and glare in a colossal ruin near the great house
where I slept and fed, there happened this strange thing: Clambering
among these heaps of masonry, I found a narrow gallery, whose end and
side windows were blocked by fallen masses of stone. By contrast with
the brilliancy outside, it seemed at first impenetrably dark to me. I
entered it groping, for the change from light to blackness made spots of
colour swim before me. Suddenly I halted spellbound. A pair of eyes,
luminous by reflection against the daylight without, was watching me out
of the darkness.

"The old instinctive dread of wild beasts came upon me. I clenched my
hands and steadfastly looked into the glaring eyeballs. I was afraid to
turn. Then the thought of the absolute security in which humanity
appeared to be living came to my mind. And then I remembered that
strange terror of the dark. Overcoming my fear to some extent, I
advanced a step and spoke. I will admit that my voice was harsh and
ill-controlled. I put out my hand and touched something soft. At once
the eyes darted sideways, and something white ran past me. I turned with
my heart in my mouth, and saw a queer little ape-like figure, its head
held down in a peculiar manner, running across the sunlit space behind
me. It blundered against a block of granite, staggered aside, and in a
moment was hidden in a black shadow beneath another pile of ruined
masonry.

"My impression of it is, of course, imperfect; but I know it was a dull
white, and had strange large greyish-red eyes; also that there was
flaxen hair on its head and down its back. But as I say, it went too
fast for me to see distinctly. I cannot even say whether it ran on
all-fours, or only with its forearms held very low. After an instant's
pause I followed it into the second heap of ruins. I could not find it
at first; but after a time in the profound obscurity, I came upon one of
those round well-like openings of which I have told you, half closed by
a fallen pillar. A sudden thought came to me. Could this Thing have
vanished down the shaft? I lit a match, and looking down, I saw a small,
white, moving creature, with large bright eyes which regarded me
steadfastly as it retreated. It made me shudder. It was so like a human
spider! It was clambering down the wall, and now I saw for the first
time a number of metal foot and hand rests forming a kind of ladder down
the shaft. Then the light burned my fingers and fell out of my hand,
going out as it dropped, and when I had lit another the little monster
had disappeared.

"I do not know how long I sat peering down that well. It was not for
some time that I could succeed in persuading myself that the thing I had
seen was human. But gradually, the truth dawned on me: that Man had not
remained one species, but had differentiated into two distinct animals:
that my graceful children of the Upper World were not the sole
descendants of our generation, but that this bleached, obscene,
nocturnal Thing, which had flashed before me, was also heir to all the
ages.

"I thought of the flickering pillars and of my theory of an underground
ventilation. I began to suspect their true import. And what, I wondered,
was this Lemur doing in my scheme of a perfectly balanced organization?
How was it related to the indolent serenity of the beautiful
Upper-worlders? And what was hidden down there, at the foot of that
shaft? I sat upon the edge of the well telling myself that, at any rate,
there was nothing to fear, and that there I must descend for the
solution of my difficulties. And withal I was absolutely afraid to go!
As I hesitated, two of the beautiful Upper-World people came running in
their amorous sport across the daylight into the shadow. The male
pursued the female, flinging flowers at her as he ran.

"They seemed distressed to find me, my arm against the overturned
pillar, peering down the well. Apparently it was considered bad form to
remark these apertures; for when I pointed to this one, and tried to
frame a question about it, in their tongue, they were still more visibly
distressed and turned away. But they were interested by my matches, and
I struck some to amuse them. I tried them again about the well, and
again I failed. So presently I left them, meaning to go back to Weena,
and see what I could get from her. But my mind was already in
revolution; my guesses and impressions were slipping and sliding to a
new adjustment. I had now a clue to the import of these wells, to the
ventilating towers, to the mystery of the ghosts; to say nothing of a
hint at the meaning of the bronze gates and the fate of the Time
Machine! And very vaguely there came a suggestion towards the solution
of the economic problem that had puzzled me.

"Here was the new view. Plainly this second species of Man was
subterranean. There were three circumstances in particular which made me
think that its rare emergence above ground was the outcome of a
long-continued underground habit. In the first place, there was the
bleached look common in most animals that live largely in the dark--the
white fish of the Kentucky caves, for instance. Then those large eyes,
with that capacity for reflecting light, are common features of
nocturnal things--witness the owl and the cat. And last of all, that
evident confusion in the sunshine, that hasty yet fumbling awkward
flight towards dark shadow, and that peculiar carriage of the head while
in the light--all reinforced the theory of an extreme sensitiveness of
the retina.

"Beneath my feet then, the earth must be tunnelled enormously, and these
tunnellings were the habitat of the new race. The presence of
ventilating shafts and wells along the hill slopes--everywhere, in fact
except along the river valley--showed how universal were its
ramifications. What so natural, then as to assume, that it was in this
artificial underworld that such work, as was necessary to the comfort of
the daylight race, was done? The notion was so plausible that I at once
accepted it, and went on to assume the how of this splitting of the
human species. I dare say you will anticipate the shape of my theory;
though, for myself, I very soon felt that it fell far short of the
truth.

"At first, proceeding from the problems of our own age, it seemed clear
as daylight to me that the gradual widening of the present merely
temporary and social difference between the Capitalist and the Labourer,
was the key to the whole position. No doubt it will seem grotesque
enough to you--and wildly incredible--! And yet even now there are
existing circumstances to point that way. There is a tendency to utilize
underground space for the less ornamental purposes of civilization;
there is the Metropolitan Railway in London, for instance, there are new
electric railways, there are subways, there are underground workrooms
and restaurants, and they increase and multiply. Evidently I thought,
this tendency had increased till Industry had gradually lost its
birthright in the sky. I mean that it had gone deeper and deeper into
larger and ever larger underground factories, spending a
still-increasing amount of its time therein, till in the end--! Even
now, does not an East-end worker live in such artificial conditions as
practically to be cut off from the natural surface of the earth?

"Again, the exclusive tendency of richer people--due, no doubt to the
increasing refinement of their education, and the widening gulf between
them and the rude violence of the poor--is already leading to the
closing, in their interest, of considerable portions of the surface of
the land. About London, for instance, perhaps half the prettier country
is shut in, against intrusion. And this same widening gulf--which is due
to the length and expense of the higher educational process and the
increased facilities for and temptations towards refined habits on the
part of the rich--will make that exchange between class and class, that
promotion by intermarriage which at present retards the splitting of our
species along lines of social stratification, less and less frequent. So
in the end, above ground you must have the Haves, pursuing pleasure and
comfort and beauty, and below ground the Have-nots, the Workers getting
continually adapted to the conditions of their labour. Once they were
there, they would no doubt have to pay rent, and not a little of it, for
the ventilation of their caverns; and if they refused, they would starve
or be suffocated for arrears. Such of them as were so constituted as to
be miserable and rebellious would die; and in the end, the balance being
permanent, the survivors would become as well adapted to the conditions
of underground life, and as happy in their way, as the Upper-World
people were to theirs. As it seemed to me, the refined beauty and the
etiolated pallor followed naturally enough.

"The great triumph of Humanity I had dreamed of took a different shape
in my mind. It had been no such triumph of moral education and general
co-operation as I had imagined. Instead I saw a real aristocracy, armed
with a perfected science and working to a logical conclusion the
industrial system of to-day. Its triumph had not been simply a triumph
over Nature, but a triumph over Nature and the fellowman. This I must
warn you, was my theory at the time. I had no convenient cicerone in the
pattern of the Utopian books. My explanation may be absolutely wrong. I
still think it is the most plausible one. But even on this supposition
the balanced civilization that was at last attained must have long since
passed its zenith, and was now far fallen into decay. The too-perfect
security of the Upper-Worlders had led them to a slow movement of
degeneration, to a general dwindling in size, strength, and
intelligence. That I could see clearly enough already. What had happened
to the Undergrounders I did not yet suspect; but from what I had seen of
the Morlocks--that by the by, was the name by which these creatures were
called--I could imagine that the modification of the human type was even
far more profound than among the 'Eloi,' the beautiful race that I
already knew.

"Then came troublesome doubts. Why had the Morlocks taken my Time
Machine? For I felt sure it was they who had taken it. Why too, if the
Eloi were masters, could they not restore the machine to me? And why
were they so terribly afraid of the dark? I proceeded, as I have said,
to question Weena about this Under World, but here again I was
disappointed. At first she would not understand my questions, and
presently she refused to answer them. She shivered as though the topic
was unendurable. And when I pressed her, perhaps a little harshly, she
burst into tears. They were the only tears, except my own, I ever saw in
that Golden Age. When I saw them I ceased abruptly to trouble about the
Morlocks, and was only concerned in banishing these signs of the human
inheritance from Weena's eyes. And very soon she was smiling and
clapping her hands, while I solemnly burned a match."


6.

"It may seem odd to you, but it was two days before I could follow up
the new-found clue in what was manifestly the proper way. I felt a
peculiar shrinking from those pallid bodies. They were just the
half-bleached colour of the worms and things one sees preserved in
spirit in a zoological museum. And they were filthily cold to the touch.
Probably my shrinking was largely due to the sympathetic influence of
the Eloi, whose disgust of the Morlocks I now began to appreciate.

"The next night I did not sleep well. Probably my health was a little
disordered. I was oppressed with perplexity and doubt. Once or twice I
had a feeling of intense fear for which I could perceive no definite
reason. I remember creeping noiselessly into the great hall where the
little people were sleeping in the moonlight--that night Weena was among
them--and feeling reassured by their presence. It occurred to me even
then, that in the course of a few days the moon must pass through its
last quarter, and the nights grow dark, when the appearances of these
unpleasant creatures from below, these whitened Lemurs, this new vermin
that had replaced the old, might be more abundant. And on both these
days I had the restless feeling of one who shirks an inevitable duty. I
felt assured that the Time Machine was only to be recovered by boldly
penetrating these underground mysteries. Yet I could not face the
mystery. If only I had, had a companion it would have been different.
But I was so horribly alone, and even to clamber down into the darkness
of the well appalled me. I don't know if you will understand my feeling,
but I never felt quite safe at my back.

"It was this restlessness, this insecurity perhaps, that drove me
further and further afield in my exploring expeditions. Going to the
south-westward towards the rising country that is now called Combe Wood,
I observed far off, in the direction of nineteenth-century Banstead, a
vast green structure, different in character from any I had hitherto
seen. It was larger than the largest of the palaces or ruins I knew, and
the facade had an Oriental look: the face of it having the lustre, as
well as the pale-green tint, a kind of bluish-green, of a certain type
of Chinese porcelain. This difference in aspect suggested a difference
in use, and I was minded to push on and explore. But the day was growing
late, and I had come upon the sight of the place after a long and tiring
circuit; so I resolved to hold over the adventure for the following day,
and I returned to the welcome and the caresses of little Weena. But next
morning I perceived clearly enough that my curiosity regarding the
Palace of Green Porcelain was a piece of self-deception, to enable me to
shirk, by another day, an experience I dreaded. I resolved I would make
the descent without further waste of time, and started out in the early
morning towards a well near the ruins of granite and aluminium.

"Little Weena ran with me. She danced beside me to the well, but when
she saw me lean over the mouth and look downward, she seemed strangely
disconcerted. 'Good-bye, Little Weena,' I said, kissing her; and then
putting her down, I began to feel over the parapet for the climbing
hooks. Rather hastily, I may as well confess, for I feared my courage
might leak away! At first she watched me in amazement. Then she gave a
most piteous cry, and running to me, she began to pull at me with her
little hands. I think her opposition nerved me rather to proceed. I
shook her off, perhaps a little roughly, and in another moment I was in
the throat of the well. I saw her agonized face over the parapet, and
smiled to reassure her. Then I had to look down at the unstable hooks to
which I clung."

"I had to clamber down a shaft of perhaps two hundred yards. The descent
was effected by means of metallic bars projecting from the sides of the
well, and these being adapted to the needs of a creature much smaller
and lighter than myself, I was speedily cramped and fatigued by the
descent. And not simply fatigued! One of the bars bent suddenly under my
weight, and almost swung me off into the blackness beneath. For a moment
I hung by one hand, and after that experience I did not dare to rest
again. Though my arms and back were presently acutely painful, I went on
clambering down the sheer descent with as quick a motion as possible.
Glancing upward, I saw the aperture, a small blue disk, in which a star
was visible, while little Weena's head showed as a round black
projection. The thudding sound of a machine below grew louder and more
oppressive. Everything save that little disk above was profoundly dark,
and when I looked up again Weena had disappeared."

"I was in an agony of discomfort. I had some thought of trying to go up
the shaft again, and leave the Under World alone. But even while I turned
this over in my mind I continued to descend. At last, with intense
relief, I saw dimly coming up, a foot to the right of me, a slender
loophole in the wall. Swinging myself in, I found it was the aperture of
a narrow horizontal tunnel in which I could lie down and rest. It was
not too soon. My arms ached, my back was cramped, and I was trembling
with the prolonged terror of a fall. Besides this, the unbroken darkness
had had a distressing effect upon my eyes. The air was full of the
throb and hum of machinery pumping air down the shaft.

"I do not know how long I lay. I was roused by a soft hand touching my
face. Starting up in the darkness I snatched at my matches, and hastily
striking one, I saw three stooping white creatures similar to the one I
had seen above ground in the ruin, hastily retreating before the light.
Living as they did, in what appeared to me impenetrable darkness, their
eyes were abnormally large and sensitive, just as are the pupils of the
abysmal fishes, and they reflected the light in the same way. I have no
doubt they could see me in that rayless obscurity, and they did not seem
to have any fear of me apart from the light. But so soon as I struck a
match in order to see them, they fled incontinently, vanishing into dark
gutters and tunnels, from which their eyes glared at me in the strangest
fashion.

"I tried to call them, but the language they had was apparently
different from that of the Overworld people; so that I was needs left to
my own unaided efforts, and the thought of flight before exploration was
even then in my mind. But I said to myself, 'You are in for it now,' and
feeling my way along the tunnel, I found the noise of machinery grow
louder. Presently the walls fell away from me, and I came to a large
open space, and striking another match, saw that I had entered a vast
arched cavern, which stretched into utter darkness beyond the range of
my light. The view I had of it was as much as one could see in the
burning of a match.

"Necessarily my memory is vague. Great shapes like big machines rose out
of the dimness, and cast grotesque black shadows, in which dim spectral
Morlocks sheltered from the glare. The place, by the by, was very stuffy
and oppressive, and the faint halitus of freshly shed blood was in the
air. Some way down the central vista was a little table of white metal,
laid with what seemed a meal. The Morlocks at any rate were carnivorous!
Even at the time, I remember wondering what large animal could have
survived to furnish the red joint I saw. It was all very indistinct: the
heavy smell, the big unmeaning shapes, the obscene figures lurking in
the shadows, and only waiting for the darkness to come at me again! Then
the match burned down, and stung my fingers, and fell, a wriggling red
spot in the blackness.

"I have thought since how particularly ill-equipped I was for such an
experience. When I had started with the Time Machine, I had started with
the absurd assumption that the men of the Future would certainly be
infinitely ahead of ourselves in all their appliances. I had come
without arms, without medicine, without anything to smoke--at times I
missed tobacco frightfully--even without enough matches. If only I had
thought of a Kodak! I could have flashed that glimpse of the Under World
in a second, and examined it at leisure. But as it was, I stood there
with only the weapons and the powers that Nature had endowed me
with--hands, feet, and teeth; these, and four safety-matches that still
remained to me.

"I was afraid to push my way in among all this machinery in the dark,
and it was only with my last glimpse of light I discovered that my store
of matches had run low. It had never occurred to me until that moment
that there was any need to economize them, and I had wasted almost half
the box in astonishing the Upper-Worlders, to whom fire was a novelty.
Now as I say, I had four left, and while I stood in the dark, a hand
touched mine, lank fingers came feeling over my face, and I was sensible
of a peculiar unpleasant odour. I fancied I heard the breathing of a
crowd of those dreadful little beings about me. I felt the box of
matches in my hand being gently disengaged, and other hands behind me
plucking at my clothing. The sense of these unseen creatures examining
me was indescribably unpleasant. The sudden realization of my ignorance
of their ways of thinking and doing came home to me very vividly in the
darkness. I shouted at them as loudly as I could. They started away, and
then I could feel them approaching me again. They clutched at me more
boldly, whispering odd sounds to each other. I shivered violently, and
shouted again--rather discordantly. This time they were not so seriously
alarmed, and they made a queer laughing noise as they came back at me. I
will confess I was horribly frightened. I determined to strike another
match and escape under the protection of its glare. I did so, and eking
out the flicker with a scrap of paper from my pocket, I made good my
retreat to the narrow tunnel. But I had scarce entered this when my
light was blown out and in the blackness I could hear the Morlocks
rustling like wind among leaves, and pattering like the rain, as they
hurried after me.

"In a moment I was clutched by several hands, and there was no mistaking
that they were trying to haul me back. I struck another light, and waved
it in their dazzled faces. You can scarce imagine how nauseatingly
inhuman they looked--those pale, chinless faces and great, lidless,
pinkish-grey eyes--! As they stared in their blindness and bewilderment.
But I did not stay to look, I promise you: I retreated again, and when
my second match had ended, I struck my third. It had almost burned
through when I reached the opening into the shaft. I lay down on the
edge, for the throb of the great pump below made me giddy. Then I felt
sideways for the projecting hooks, and, as I did so, my feet were
grasped from behind, and I was violently tugged backward. I lit my last
match... and it incontinently went out. But I had my hand on the
climbing bars now, and kicking violently, I disengaged myself from the
clutches of the Morlocks and was speedily clambering up the shaft, while
they stayed peering and blinking up at me: all but one little wretch who
followed me for some way, and well-nigh secured my boot as a trophy.

"That climb seemed interminable to me. With the last twenty or thirty
feet of it a deadly nausea came upon me. I had the greatest difficulty
in keeping my hold. The last few yards was a frightful struggle against
this faintness. Several times my head swam, and I felt all the
sensations of falling. At last, however I got over the well-mouth
somehow, and staggered out of the ruin into the blinding sunlight. I
fell upon my face. Even the soil smelt sweet and clean. Then I remember
Weena kissing my hands and ears, and the voices of others among the
Eloi. Then for a time, I was insensible."


7.

"Now indeed, I seemed in a worse case than before. Hitherto, except
during my night's anguish at the loss of the Time Machine, I had felt a
sustaining hope of ultimate escape, but that hope was staggered by these
new discoveries. Hitherto I had merely thought myself impeded by the
childish simplicity of the little people, and by some unknown forces
which I had only to understand to overcome; but there was an altogether
new element in the sickening quality of the Morlocks--a something
inhuman and malign. Instinctively I loathed them. Before I had felt as a
man might feel who had fallen into a pit: my concern was with the pit
and how to get out of it. Now I felt like a beast in a trap, whose enemy
would come upon him soon.

"The enemy I dreaded may surprise you. It was the darkness of the new
moon. Weena had put this into my head by some at first incomprehensible
remarks about the Dark Nights. It was not now such a very difficult
problem to guess what the coming Dark Nights might mean. The moon was on
the wane: each night there was a longer interval of darkness. And I now
understood to some slight degree at least the reason of the fear of the
little Upper-World people for the dark. I wondered vaguely what foul
villainy it might be that the Morlocks did under the new moon. I felt
pretty sure now that my second hypothesis was all wrong. The Upper-World
people might once have been the favoured aristocracy, and the Morlocks
their mechanical servants: but that had long since passed away. The two
species that had resulted from the evolution of man were sliding down
towards, or had already arrived at, an altogether new relationship. The
Eloi, like the Carolingian kings, had decayed to a mere beautiful
futility. They still possessed the earth on sufferance: since the
Morlocks, subterranean for innumerable generations, had come at last to
find the daylit surface intolerable. And the Morlocks made their
garments, I inferred, and maintained them in their habitual needs,
perhaps through the survival of an old habit of service. They did it as
a standing horse paws with his foot, or as a man enjoys killing animals
in sport: because ancient and departed necessities had impressed it on
the organism. But clearly, the old order was already in part reversed.
The Nemesis of the delicate ones was creeping on apace. Ages ago,
thousands of generations ago, man had thrust his brother man out of the
ease and the sunshine. And now that brother was coming back--changed!
Already the Eloi had begun to learn one old lesson anew. They were
becoming reacquainted with Fear. And suddenly there came into my head
the memory of the meat I had seen in the Under World. It seemed odd how
it floated into my mind: not stirred up as it were by the current of my
meditations, but coming in almost like a question from outside. I tried
to recall the form of it. I had a vague sense of something familiar, but
I could not tell what it was at the time.

"Still, however helpless the little people in the presence of their
mysterious Fear, I was differently constituted. I came out of this age
of ours, this ripe prime of the human race, when Fear does not paralyse
and mystery has lost its terrors. I at least would defend myself.
Without further delay I determined to make myself arms and a fastness
where I might sleep. With that refuge as a base, I could face this
strange world with some of that confidence I had lost in realizing to
what creatures night by night I lay exposed. I felt I could never sleep
again until my bed was secure from them. I shuddered with horror to
think how they must already have examined me.

"I wandered during the afternoon along the valley of the Thames, but
found nothing that commended itself to my mind as inaccessible. All the
buildings and trees seemed easily practicable to such dexterous climbers
as the Morlocks, to judge by their wells, must be. Then the tall
pinnacles of the Palace of Green Porcelain and the polished gleam of its
walls came back to my memory; and in the evening, taking Weena like a
child upon my shoulder, I went up the hills towards the south-west. The
distance, I had reckoned, was seven or eight miles, but it must have
been nearer eighteen. I had first seen the place on a moist afternoon
when distances are deceptively diminished. In addition, one of my shoes
was loose, and a nail was working through the sole--they were
comfortable old shoes I wore about indoors--so that I was lame. And it
was already long past sunset when I came in sight of the palace,
silhouetted black against the pale yellow of the sky.

"Weena had been hugely delighted when I began to carry her, but after a
while she desired me to let her down, and ran along by the side of me,
occasionally darting off on either hand to pick flowers to stick in my
pockets. My pockets had always puzzled Weena, but at the last she had
concluded that they were an eccentric kind of vase for floral
decoration. At least she utilized them for that purpose. And that
reminds me! In changing my jacket I found..."

The Time Traveller paused, put his hand into his pocket, and silently
placed two withered flowers, not unlike very large white mallows, upon
the little table. Then he resumed his narrative.

"As the hush of evening crept over the world and we proceeded over the
hill crest towards Wimbledon, Weena grew tired and wanted to return to
the house of grey stone. But I pointed out the distant pinnacles of the
Palace of Green Porcelain to her, and contrived to make her understand
that we were seeking a refuge there from her Fear. You know that great
pause that comes upon things before the dusk? Even the breeze stops in
the trees. To me there is always an air of expectation about that
evening stillness. The sky was clear, remote, and empty save for a few
horizontal bars far down in the sunset. Well, that night, the
expectation took the colour of my fears. In that darkling calm my senses
seemed preternaturally sharpened. I fancied I could even feel the
hollowness of the ground beneath my feet: could indeed, almost see
through it the Morlocks on their ant-hill going hither and thither and
waiting for the dark. In my excitement I fancied that they would receive
my invasion of their burrows as a declaration of war. And why had they
taken my Time Machine?

"So we went on in the quiet, and the twilight deepened into night. The
clear blue of the distance faded, and one star after another came out.
The ground grew dim and the trees black. Weena's fears and her fatigue
grew upon her. I took her in my arms and talked to her and caressed her.
Then as the darkness grew deeper, she put her arms round my neck, and
closing her eyes, tightly pressed her face against my shoulder. So we
went down a long slope into a valley, and there in the dimness I almost
walked into a little river. This I waded, and went up the opposite side
of the valley, past a number of sleeping houses, and by a statue--a
Faun, or some such figure, minus the head. Here too were acacias. So far
I had seen nothing of the Morlocks, but it was yet early in the night,
and the darker hours before the old moon rose were still to come.

"From the brow of the next hill I saw a thick wood spreading wide and
black before me. I hesitated at this. I could see no end to it, either
to the right or the left. Feeling tired--my feet, in particular, were
very sore--I carefully lowered Weena from my shoulder as I halted, and
sat down upon the turf. I could no longer see the Palace of Green
Porcelain, and I was in doubt of my direction. I looked into the
thickness of the wood and thought of what it might hide. Under that
dense tangle of branches one would be out of sight of the stars. Even
were there no other lurking danger--a danger I did not care to let my
imagination loose upon--there would still be all the roots to stumble
over and the tree-boles to strike against.

"I was very tired too, after the excitements of the day; so I decided
that I would not face it, but would pass the night upon the open hill.

"Weena, I was glad to find, was fast asleep. I carefully wrapped her in
my jacket, and sat down beside her to wait for the moonrise. The
hillside was quiet and deserted, but from the black of the wood there
came now and then a stir of living things. Above me shone the stars, for
the night was very clear. I felt a certain sense of friendly comfort in
their twinkling. All the old constellations had gone from the sky,
however: that slow movement which is imperceptible in a hundred human
lifetimes, had long since rearranged them in unfamiliar groupings. But
the Milky Way, it seemed to me, was still the same tattered streamer of
star-dust as of yore. Southward (as I judged it) was a very bright red
star that was new to me; it was even more splendid than our own green
Sirius. And amid all these scintillating points of light one bright
planet shone kindly and steadily like the face of an old friend."

"Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the
gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable distance,
and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of the unknown
past, into the unknown future. I thought of the great precessional cycle
that the pole of the earth describes. Only forty times had that silent
revolution occurred during all the years that I had traversed. And
during these few revolutions all the activity, all the traditions, the
complex organizations, the nations, languages, literatures, aspirations,
even the mere memory of Man as I knew him, had been swept out of
existence. Instead were these frail creatures who had forgotten their
high ancestry, and the white Things of which I went in terror. Then I
thought of the Great Fear that was between the two species, and for the
first time, with a sudden shiver, came the clear knowledge of what the
meat I had seen might be. Yet it was too horrible! I looked at little
Weena sleeping beside me, her face white and starlike under the stars,
and forthwith dismissed the thought.

"Through that long night I held my mind off the Morlocks as well as I
could, and whiled away the time by trying to fancy I could find signs of
the old constellations in the new confusion. The sky kept very clear,
except for a hazy cloud or so. No doubt I dozed at times. Then, as my
vigil wore on, came a faintness in the eastward sky, like the reflection
of some colourless fire, and the old moon rose, thin and peaked and
white. And close behind, and overtaking it, and overflowing it, the dawn
came, pale at first, and then growing pink and warm. No Morlocks had
approached us. Indeed I had seen none upon the hill that night. And in
the confidence of renewed day it almost seemed to me that my fear had
been unreasonable. I stood up and found my foot with the loose heel
swollen at the ankle and painful under the heel; so I sat down again,
took off my shoes, and flung them away.

"I awakened Weena, and we went down into the wood, now green and
pleasant instead of black and forbidding. We found some fruit wherewith
to break our fast. We soon met others of the dainty ones, laughing and
dancing in the sunlight as though there was no such thing in nature as
the night. And then I thought once more of the meat that I had seen. I
felt assured now of what it was, and from the bottom of my heart I
pitied this last feeble rill from the great flood of humanity. Clearly
at some time in the Long-Ago of human decay the Morlocks' food had run
short. Possibly they had lived on rats and suchlike vermin. Even now man
is far less discriminating and exclusive in his food than he was--far
less than any monkey. His prejudice against human flesh is no
deep-seated instinct. And so these inhuman sons of men--! I tried to
look at the thing in a scientific spirit. After all, they were less
human and more remote than our cannibal ancestors of three or four
thousand years ago. And the intelligence that would have made this state
of things a torment had gone. Why should I trouble myself? These Eloi
were mere fatted cattle, which the ant-like Morlocks preserved and
preyed upon--probably saw to the breeding of. And there was Weena
dancing at my side!

"Then I tried to preserve myself from the horror that was coming upon
me, by regarding it as a rigorous punishment of human selfishness. Man
had been content to live in ease and delight upon the labours of his
fellowman, had taken Necessity as his watchword and excuse, and in the
fullness of time Necessity had come home to him. I even tried a
Carlyle-like scorn of this wretched aristocracy in decay. But this
attitude of mind was impossible. However great their intellectual
degradation, the Eloi had kept too much of the human form not to claim
my sympathy, and to make me perforce a sharer in their degradation and
their Fear.

"I had at that time very vague ideas as to the course I should pursue.
My first was to secure some safe place of refuge, and to make myself
such arms of metal or stone as I could contrive. That necessity was
immediate. In the next place, I hoped to procure some means of fire, so
that I should have the weapon of a torch at hand, for nothing, I knew,
would be more efficient against these Morlocks. Then I wanted to arrange
some contrivance to break open the doors of bronze under the White
Sphinx. I had in mind a battering-ram. I had a persuasion that if I
could enter those doors and carry a blaze of light before me I should
discover the Time Machine and escape. I could not imagine the Morlocks
were strong enough to move it far away. Weena I had resolved to bring
with me to our own time. And turning such schemes over in my mind I
pursued our way towards the building which my fancy had chosen as our
dwelling."


8.

"I found the Palace of Green Porcelain, when we approached it about
noon, deserted and falling into ruin. Only ragged vestiges of glass
remained in its windows, and great sheets of the green facing had fallen
away from the corroded metallic framework. It lay very high upon a turfy
down, and looking north-eastward before I entered it, I was surprised to
see a large estuary, or even creek, where I judged Wandsworth and
Battersea must once have been. I thought then--though I never followed
up the thought--of what might have happened, or might be happening, to
the living things in the sea.

"The material of the Palace proved on examination to be indeed
porcelain, and along the face of it I saw an inscription in some unknown
character. I thought, rather foolishly, that Weena might help me to
interpret this, but I only learned that the bare idea of writing had
never entered her head. She always seemed to me, I fancy, more human
than she was, perhaps because her affection was so human.

"Within the big valves of the door--which were open and broken--we
found, instead of the customary hall, a long gallery lit by many side
windows. At the first glance I was reminded of a museum. The tiled floor
was thick with dust, and a remarkable array of miscellaneous objects was
shrouded in the same grey covering. Then I perceived, standing strange
and gaunt in the centre of the hall, what was clearly the lower part of
a huge skeleton. I recognized by the oblique feet that it was some
extinct creature after the fashion of the Megatherium. The skull and the
upper bones lay beside it in the thick dust, and in one place, where
rain-water had dropped through a leak in the roof, the thing itself had
been worn away. Further in the gallery was the huge skeleton barrel of a
Brontosaurus. My museum hypothesis was confirmed. Going towards the side
I found what appeared to be sloping shelves, and clearing away the thick
dust, I found the old familiar glass cases of our own time. But they
must have been air-tight to judge from the fair preservation of some of
their contents.

"Clearly we stood among the ruins of some latter-day South Kensington!
Here, apparently, was the Palaeontological Section, and a very splendid
array of fossils it must have been, though the inevitable process of
decay that had been staved off for a time, and had, through the
extinction of bacteria and fungi, lost ninety-nine hundredths of its
force, was nevertheless, with extreme sureness if with extreme slowness
at work again upon all its treasures. Here and there I found traces of
the little people in the shape of rare fossils broken to pieces or
threaded in strings upon reeds. And the cases had in some instances been
bodily removed--by the Morlocks as I judged. The place was very silent.
The thick dust deadened our footsteps. Weena, who had been rolling a
sea-urchin down the sloping glass of a case, presently came, as I stared
about me, and very quietly took my hand and stood beside me.

"And at first I was so much surprised by this ancient monument of an
intellectual age, that I gave no thought to the possibilities it
presented. Even my preoccupation about the Time Machine receded a little
from my mind.

"To judge from the size of the place, this Palace of Green Porcelain had
a great deal more in it than a Gallery of Palaeontology; possibly
historical galleries; it might be, even a library! To me, at least in my
present circumstances, these would be vastly more interesting than this
spectacle of old-time geology in decay. Exploring, I found another short
gallery running transversely to the first. This appeared to be devoted
to minerals, and the sight of a block of sulphur set my mind running on
gunpowder. But I could find no saltpetre; indeed, no nitrates of any
kind. Doubtless they had deliquesced ages ago. Yet the sulphur hung in
my mind, and set up a train of thinking. As for the rest of the contents
of that gallery, though on the whole they were the best preserved of all
I saw, I had little interest. I am no specialist in mineralogy, and I
went on down a very ruinous aisle running parallel to the first hall I
had entered. Apparently this section had been devoted to natural
history, but everything had long since passed out of recognition. A few
shrivelled and blackened vestiges of what had once been stuffed animals,
desiccated mummies in jars that had once held spirit, a brown dust of
departed plants: that was all! I was sorry for that, because I should
have been glad to trace the patent readjustments by which the conquest
of animated nature had been attained. Then we came to a gallery of
simply colossal proportions, but singularly ill-lit, the floor of it
running downward at a slight angle from the end at which I entered. At
intervals white globes hung from the ceiling--many of them cracked and
smashed--which suggested that originally the place had been artificially
lit. Here I was more in my element, for rising on either side of me were
the huge bulks of big machines, all greatly corroded and many broken
down, but some still fairly complete. You know I have a certain weakness
for mechanism, and I was inclined to linger among these; the more so as
for the most part they had the interest of puzzles, and I could make
only the vaguest guesses at what they were for. I fancied that if I
could solve their puzzles I should find myself in possession of powers
that might be of use against the Morlocks.

"Suddenly Weena came very close to my side. So suddenly that she
startled me. Had it not been for her I do not think I should have
noticed that the floor of the gallery sloped at all.* The end I had come
in at was quite above ground, and was lit by rare slit-like windows. As
you went down the length, the ground came up against these windows,
until at last there was a pit like the 'area' of a London house before
each, and only a narrow line of daylight at the top. I went slowly
along, puzzling about the machines, and had been too intent upon them to
notice the gradual diminution of the light, until Weena's increasing
apprehensions drew my attention. Then I saw that the gallery ran down at
last into a thick darkness. I hesitated, and then, as I looked round me,
I saw that the dust was less abundant and its surface less even. Further
away towards the dimness, it appeared to be broken by a number of small
narrow footprints. My sense of the immediate presence of the Morlocks
revived at that. I felt that I was wasting my time in the academic
examination of machinery. I called to mind that it was already far
advanced in the afternoon, and that I had still no weapon, no refuge,
and no means of making a fire. And then down in the remote blackness of
the gallery I heard a peculiar pattering, and the same odd noises I had
heard down the well."

[* It may be, of course, that the floor did not slope, but that the
museum was built into the side of a hill.--Editor.]

"I took Weena's hand. Then struck with a sudden idea, I left her and
turned to a machine from which projected a lever not unlike those in a
signal-box. Clambering upon the stand, and grasping this lever in my
hands, I put all my weight upon it sideways. Suddenly Weena, deserted in
the central aisle, began to whimper. I had judged the strength of the
lever pretty correctly, for it snapped after a minute's strain, and I
rejoined her with a mace in my hand more than sufficient, I judged, for
any Morlock skull I might encounter. And I longed very much to kill a
Morlock or so. Very inhuman, you may think, to want to go killing one's
own descendants! But it was impossible, somehow, to feel any humanity in
the things. Only my disinclination to leave Weena, and a persuasion that
if I began to slake my thirst for murder my Time Machine might suffer,
restrained me from going straight down the gallery and killing the
brutes I heard.

"Well, mace in one hand and Weena in the other, I went out of that
gallery and into another and still larger one, which at the first glance
reminded me of a military chapel hung with tattered flags. The brown and
charred rags that hung from the sides of it, I presently recognized as
the decaying vestiges of books. They had long since dropped to pieces,
and every semblance of print had left them. But here and there were
warped boards and cracked metallic clasps that told the tale well
enough. Had I been a literary man I might, perhaps, have moralised upon
the futility of all ambition. But as it was, the thing that struck me
with keenest force was the enormous waste of labour to which this sombre
wilderness of rotting paper testified. At the time I will confess that I
thought chiefly of the philosophical transactions and my own seventeen
papers upon physical optics.

"Then, going up a broad staircase, we came to what may once have been a
gallery of technical chemistry. And here I had not a little hope of
useful discoveries. Except at one end where the roof had collapsed, this
gallery was well preserved. I went eagerly to every unbroken case. And
at last, in one of the really air-tight cases, I found a box of matches.
Very eagerly I tried them. They were perfectly good. They were not even
damp. I turned to Weena. 'Dance,' I cried to her in her own tongue. For
now I had a weapon indeed against the horrible creatures we feared. And
so, in that derelict museum, upon the thick soft carpeting of dust, to
Weena's huge delight, I solemnly performed a kind of composite dance,
whistling 'The Land of the Leal' as cheerfully as I could. In part it
was a modest cancan, in part a step-dance, in part a skirt-dance (so far
as my tail-coat permitted), and in part original. For I am naturally
inventive, as you know.

"Now, I still think that for this box of matches to have escaped the
wear of time for immemorial years was a most strange, as for me it was a
most fortunate thing. Yet oddly enough, I found a far unlikelier
substance, and that was camphor. I found it in a sealed jar, that by
chance, I suppose, had been really hermetically sealed. I fancied at
first that it was paraffin wax, and smashed the glass accordingly. But
the odour of camphor was unmistakable. In the universal decay this
volatile substance had chanced to survive, perhaps through many
thousands of centuries. It reminded me of a sepia painting I had once
seen done from the ink of a fossil Belemnite that must have perished and
become fossilised millions of years ago. I was about to throw it away,
but I remembered that it was inflammable and burned with a good bright
flame--was in fact, an excellent candle--and I put it in my pocket. I
found no explosives, however nor any means of breaking down the bronze
doors. As yet my iron crowbar was the most helpful thing I had chanced
upon. Nevertheless I left that gallery greatly elated.

"I cannot tell you all the story of that long afternoon. It would
require a great effort of memory to recall my explorations in at all the
proper order. I remember a long gallery of rusting stands of arms, and
how I hesitated between my crowbar and a hatchet or a sword. I could not
carry both however, and my bar of iron promised best against the bronze
gates. There were numbers of guns, pistols, and rifles. The most were
masses of rust, but many were of some new metal, and still fairly sound.
But any cartridges or powder there may once have been had rotted into
dust. One corner I saw was charred and shattered; perhaps, I thought, by
an explosion among the specimens. In another place was a vast array of
idols--Polynesian, Mexican, Grecian, Phoenician, every country on earth
I should think. And here, yielding to an irresistible impulse, I wrote
my name upon the nose of a steatite monster from South America that
particularly took my fancy.

"As the evening drew on, my interest waned. I went through gallery after
gallery, dusty, silent, often ruinous, the exhibits sometimes mere heaps
of rust and lignite, sometimes fresher. In one place I suddenly found
myself near the model of a tin-mine, and then by the merest accident I
discovered, in an air-tight case, two dynamite cartridges! I shouted
'Eureka!' and smashed the case with joy. Then came a doubt. I hesitated.
Then, selecting a little side gallery, I made my essay. I never felt
such a disappointment as I did in waiting five, ten, fifteen minutes for
an explosion that never came. Of course the things were dummies, as I
might have guessed from their presence. I really believe that had they
not been so, I should have rushed off incontinently and blown Sphinx,
bronze doors, and (as it proved) my chances of finding the Time Machine,
all together into non-existence.

"It was after that, I think, that we came to a little open court within
the palace. It was turfed, and had three fruit-trees. So we rested and
refreshed ourselves. Towards sunset I began to consider our position.
Night was creeping upon us, and my inaccessible hiding-place had still
to be found. But that troubled me very little now. I had in my
possession a thing that was, perhaps, the best of all defences against
the Morlocks--I had matches! I had the camphor in my pocket too, if a
blaze were needed. It seemed to me that the best thing we could do would
be to pass the night in the open, protected by a fire. In the morning
there was the getting of the Time Machine. Towards that, as yet, I had
only my iron mace. But now, with my growing knowledge, I felt very
differently towards those bronze doors. Up to this, I had refrained from
forcing them, largely because of the mystery on the other side. They had
never impressed me as being very strong, and I hoped to find my bar of
iron not altogether inadequate for the work."


9.

"We emerged from the palace while the sun was still in part above the
horizon. I was determined to reach the White Sphinx early the next
morning, and ere the dusk I purposed pushing through the woods that had
stopped me on the previous journey. My plan was to go as far as possible
that night, and then, building a fire, to sleep in the protection of its
glare. Accordingly, as we went along I gathered any sticks or dried
grass I saw, and presently had my arms full of such litter. Thus loaded,
our progress was slower than I had anticipated, and besides Weena was
tired. And I began to suffer from sleepiness too; so that it was full
night before we reached the wood. Upon the shrubby hill of its edge
Weena would have stopped, fearing the darkness before us; but a singular
sense of impending calamity, that should indeed have served me as a
warning, drove me onward. I had been without sleep for a night and two
days, and I was feverish and irritable. I felt sleep coming upon me, and
the Morlocks with it.

"While we hesitated, among the black bushes behind us, and dim against
their blackness, I saw three crouching figures. There was scrub and long
grass all about us, and I did not feel safe from their insidious
approach. The forest, I calculated, was rather less than a mile across.
If we could get through it to the bare hillside, there as it seemed to
me, was an altogether safer resting-place; I thought that with my
matches and my camphor I could contrive to keep my path illuminated
through the woods. Yet it was evident that if I was to flourish matches
with my hands I should have to abandon my firewood; so, rather
reluctantly, I put it down. And then it came into my head that I would
amaze our friends behind by lighting it. I was to discover the atrocious
folly of this proceeding, but it came to my mind as an ingenious move
for covering our retreat."

"I don't know if you have ever thought what a rare thing flame must be
in the absence of man and in a temperate climate. The sun's heat is
rarely strong enough to burn, even when it is focused by dewdrops, as is
sometimes the case in more tropical districts. Lightning may blast and
blacken, but it rarely gives rise to widespread fire. Decaying
vegetation may occasionally smoulder with the heat of its fermentation,
but this rarely results in flame. In this decadence, too, the art of
fire-making had been forgotten on the earth. The red tongues that went
licking up my heap of wood were an altogether new and strange thing to
Weena.

"She wanted to run to it and play with it. I believe she would have cast
herself into it had I not restrained her. But I caught her up, and in
spite of her struggles, plunged boldly before me into the wood. For a
little way the glare of my fire lit the path. Looking back presently, I
could see, through the crowded stems, that from my heap of sticks the
blaze had spread to some bushes adjacent, and a curved line of fire was
creeping up the grass of the hill. I laughed at that, and turned again
to the dark trees before me. It was very black, and Weena clung to me
convulsively, but there was still, as my eyes grew accustomed to the
darkness, sufficient light for me to avoid the stems. Overhead it was
simply black, except where a gap of remote blue sky shone down upon us
here and there. I struck none of my matches because I had no hand free.
Upon my left arm I carried my little one, in my right hand I had my iron
bar.

"For some way I heard nothing but the crackling twigs under my feet, the
faint rustle of the breeze above, and my own breathing and the throb of
the blood-vessels in my ears. Then I seemed to know of a pattering about
me. I pushed on grimly. The pattering grew more distinct, and then I
caught the same queer sound and voices I had heard in the Under World.
There were evidently several of the Morlocks, and they were closing in
upon me. Indeed, in another minute I felt a tug at my coat, then
something at my arm. And Weena shivered violently, and became quite
still.

"It was time for a match. But to get one I must put her down. I did so,
and as I fumbled with my pocket, a struggle began in the darkness about
my knees, perfectly silent on her part and with the same peculiar cooing
sounds from the Morlocks. Soft little hands too, were creeping over my
coat and back, touching even my neck. Then the match scratched and
fizzed. I held it flaring, and saw the white backs of the Morlocks in
flight amid the trees. I hastily took a lump of camphor from my pocket,
and prepared to light it as soon as the match should wane. Then I looked
at Weena. She was lying clutching my feet and quite motionless, with her
face to the ground. With a sudden fright I stooped to her. She seemed
scarcely to breathe. I lit the block of camphor and flung it to the
ground, and as it split and flared up and drove back the Morlocks and
the shadows, I knelt down and lifted her. The wood behind seemed full of
the stir and murmur of a great company!

"She seemed to have fainted. I put her carefully upon my shoulder and
rose to push on, and then there came a horrible realization. In
manoeuvring with my matches and Weena, I had turned myself about several
times, and now I had not the faintest idea in what direction lay my
path. For all I knew, I might be facing back towards the Palace of Green
Porcelain. I found myself in a cold sweat. I had to think rapidly what
to do. I determined to build a fire and encamp where we were. I put
Weena, still motionless, down upon a turfy bole, and very hastily, as my
first lump of camphor waned, I began collecting sticks and leaves. Here
and there out of the darkness round me the Morlocks' eyes shone like
carbuncles.

"The camphor flickered and went out. I lit a match, and as I did so, two
white forms that had been approaching Weena dashed hastily away. One was
so blinded by the light that he came straight for me, and I felt his
bones grind under the blow of my fist. He gave a whoop of dismay,
staggered a little way, and fell down. I lit another piece of camphor,
and went on gathering my bonfire. Presently I noticed how dry was some
of the foliage above me, for since my arrival on the Time Machine, a
matter of a week, no rain had fallen. So instead of casting about among
the trees for fallen twigs, I began leaping up and dragging down
branches. Very soon I had a choking smoky fire of green wood and dry
sticks, and could economize my camphor. Then I turned to where Weena lay
beside my iron mace. I tried what I could to revive her, but she lay
like one dead. I could not even satisfy myself whether or not she
breathed.

"Now the smoke of the fire beat over towards me, and it must have made
me heavy of a sudden. Moreover, the vapour of camphor was in the air. My
fire would not need replenishing for an hour or so. I felt very weary
after my exertion, and sat down. The wood too, was full of a slumbrous
murmur that I did not understand. I seemed just to nod and open my eyes.
But all was dark, and the Morlocks had their hands upon me. Flinging off
their clinging fingers I hastily felt in my pocket for the match-box,
and--it had gone! Then they gripped and closed with me again. In a
moment I knew what had happened. I had slept, and my fire had gone out,
and the bitterness of death came over my soul. The forest seemed full of
the smell of burning wood. I was caught by the neck, by the hair, by the
arms, and pulled down. It was indescribably horrible in the darkness to
feel all these soft creatures heaped upon me. I felt as if I was in a
monstrous spider's web. I was overpowered, and went down. I felt little
teeth nipping at my neck. I rolled over, and as I did so my hand came
against my iron lever. It gave me strength. I struggled up, shaking the
human rats from me, and holding the bar short, I thrust where I judged
their faces might be. I could feel the succulent giving of flesh and
bone under my blows, and for a moment I was free.

"The strange exultation that so often seems to accompany hard fighting
came upon me. I knew that both I and Weena were lost, but I determined
to make the Morlocks pay for their meat. I stood with my back to a tree,
swinging the iron bar before me. The whole wood was full of the stir and
cries of them. A minute passed. Their voices seemed to rise to a higher
pitch of excitement, and their movements grew faster. Yet none came
within reach. I stood glaring at the blackness. Then suddenly came hope.
What if the Morlocks were afraid? And close on the heels of that came a
strange thing. The darkness seemed to grow luminous. Very dimly I began
to see the Morlocks about me--three battered at my feet--and then I
recognized, with incredulous surprise, that the others were running, in
an incessant stream, as it seemed, from behind me, and away through the
wood in front. And their backs seemed no longer white, but reddish. As I
stood agape, I saw a little red spark go drifting across a gap of
starlight between the branches, and vanish. And at that I understood the
smell of burning wood, the slumbrous murmur that was growing now into a
gusty roar, the red glow, and the Morlocks' flight.

"Stepping out from behind my tree and looking back, I saw through the
black pillars of the nearer trees, the flames of the burning forest. It
was my first fire coming after me. With that I looked for Weena, but she
was gone. The hissing and crackling behind me, the explosive thud as
each fresh tree burst into flame, left little time for reflection. My
iron bar still gripped, I followed in the Morlocks' path. It was a close
race. Once the flames crept forward so swiftly on my right as I ran that
I was outflanked and had to strike off to the left. But at last I
emerged upon a small open space, and as I did so, a Morlock came
blundering towards me, and past me, and went on straight into the fire!

"And now I was to see the most weird and horrible thing, I think, of all
that I beheld in that future age. This whole space was as bright as day
with the reflection of the fire. In the centre was a hillock or tumulus,
surmounted by a scorched hawthorn. Beyond this was another arm of the
burning forest, with yellow tongues already writhing from it, completely
encircling the space with a fence of fire. Upon the hillside were some
thirty or forty Morlocks, dazzled by the light and heat, and blundering
hither and thither against each other in their bewilderment. At first I
did not realize their blindness, and struck furiously at them with my
bar, in a frenzy of fear, as they approached me, killing one and
crippling several more. But when I had watched the gestures of one of
them groping under the hawthorn against the red sky, and heard their
moans, I was assured of their absolute helplessness and misery in the
glare, and I struck no more of them.

"Yet every now and then one would come straight towards me, setting
loose a quivering horror that made me quick to elude him. At one time
the flames died down somewhat, and I feared the foul creatures would
presently be able to see me. I was thinking of beginning the fight by
killing some of them before this should happen; but the fire burst out
again brightly, and I stayed my hand. I walked about the hill among them
and avoided them, looking for some trace of Weena. But Weena was gone.

"At last I sat down on the summit of the hillock, and watched this
strange incredible company of blind things groping to and fro, and
making uncanny noises to each other, as the glare of the fire beat on
them. The coiling uprush of smoke streamed across the sky, and through
the rare tatters of that red canopy, remote as though they belonged to
another universe, shone the little stars. Two or three Morlocks came
blundering into me, and I drove them off with blows of my fists,
trembling as I did so.

"For the most part of that night I was persuaded it was a nightmare. I
bit myself and screamed in a passionate desire to awake. I beat the
ground with my hands, and got up and sat down again, and wandered here
and there, and again sat down. Then I would fall to rubbing my eyes and
calling upon God to let me awake. Thrice I saw Morlocks put their heads
down in a kind of agony and rush into the flames. But at last, above the
subsiding red of the fire, above the streaming masses of black smoke and
the whitening and blackening tree stumps, and the diminishing numbers of
these dim creatures, came the white light of the day.

"I searched again for traces of Weena, but there were none. It was plain
that they had left her poor little body in the forest. I cannot describe
how it relieved me to think that it had escaped the awful fate to which
it seemed destined. As I thought of that, I was almost moved to begin a
massacre of the helpless abominations about me, but I contained myself.
The hillock, as I have said, was a kind of island in the forest. From
its summit I could now make out through a haze of smoke the Palace of
Green Porcelain, and from that I could get my bearings for the White
Sphinx. And so, leaving the remnant of these damned souls still going
hither and thither and moaning, as the day grew clearer, I tied some
grass about my feet and limped on across smoking ashes and among black
stems, that still pulsated internally with fire, towards the
hiding-place of the Time Machine. I walked slowly, for I was almost
exhausted, as well as lame, and I felt the intensest wretchedness for
the horrible death of little Weena. It seemed an overwhelming calamity.
Now in this old familiar room, it is more like the sorrow of a dream
than an actual loss. But that morning it left me absolutely lonely
again--terribly alone. I began to think of this house of mine, of this
fireside, of some of you, and with such thoughts came a longing that was
pain.

"But as I walked over the smoking ashes under the bright morning sky, I
made a discovery. In my trouser pocket were still some loose matches.
The box must have leaked before it was lost."


10.

"About eight or nine in the morning I came to the same seat of
yellow metal from which I had viewed the world upon the evening of my
arrival. I thought of my hasty conclusions upon that evening and could
not refrain from laughing bitterly at my confidence. Here was the same
beautiful scene, the same abundant foliage, the same splendid palaces
and magnificent ruins, the same silver river running between its fertile
banks. The gay robes of the beautiful people moved hither and thither
among the trees. Some were bathing in exactly the place where I had
saved Weena, and that suddenly gave me a keen stab of pain. And like
blots upon the landscape rose the cupolas above the ways to the
Under World. I understood now what all the beauty of the Overworld
people covered. Very pleasant was their day, as pleasant as the day of
the cattle in the field. Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies and
provided against no needs. And their end was the same.

"I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been.
It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort
and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its
watchword, it had attained its hopes--to come to this at last. Once life
and property must have reached almost absolute safety. The rich had been
assured of his wealth and comfort, the toiler assured of his life and
work. No doubt in that perfect world there had been no unemployed
problem, no social question left unsolved. And a great quiet had
followed.

"It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the
compensation for change, danger, and trouble. An animal perfectly in
harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never
appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is
no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change. Only
those animals partake of intelligence that have to meet a huge variety
of needs and dangers.

"So, as I see it, the Upper-World man had drifted towards his feeble
prettiness, and the Under-World to mere mechanical industry. But that
perfect state had lacked one thing even for mechanical
perfection--absolute permanency. Apparently as time went on, the feeding
of the UnderWorld, however it was effected, had become disjointed.
Mother Necessity, who had been staved off for a few thousand years, came
back again, and she began below. The Under-World being in contact with
machinery, which however perfect, still needs some little thought
outside habit, had probably retained perforce rather more initiative, if
less of every other human character, than the Upper. And when other meat
failed them, they turned to what old habit had hitherto forbidden. So I
say I saw it in my last view of the world of Eight Hundred and Two
Thousand Seven Hundred and One. It may be as wrong an explanation as
mortal wit could invent. It is how the thing shaped itself to me, and as
that I give it to you.

"After the fatigues, excitements, and terrors of the past days, and in
spite of my grief, this seat and the tranquil view and the warm sunlight
were very pleasant. I was very tired and sleepy, and soon my theorizing
passed into dozing. Catching myself at that, I took my own hint, and
spreading myself out upon the turf I had a long and refreshing sleep.

"I awoke a little before sunsetting. I now felt safe against being
caught napping by the Morlocks, and stretching myself, I came on down
the hill towards the White Sphinx. I had my crowbar in one hand, and the
other hand played with the matches in my pocket.

"And now came a most unexpected thing. As I approached the pedestal of
the sphinx I found the bronze valves were open. They had slid down into
grooves.

"At that I stopped short before them, hesitating to enter.

"Within was a small apartment, and on a raised place in the corner of
this was the Time Machine. I had the small levers in my pocket. So here,
after all my elaborate preparations for the siege of the White Sphinx,
was a meek surrender. I threw my iron bar away, almost sorry not to use
it.

"A sudden thought came into my head as I stooped towards the portal. For
once, at least, I grasped the mental operations of the Morlocks.
Suppressing a strong inclination to laugh, I stepped through the bronze
frame and up to the Time Machine. I was surprised to find it had been
carefully oiled and cleaned. I have suspected since that the Morlocks
had even partially taken it to pieces while trying in their dim way to
grasp its purpose.

"Now as I stood and examined it, finding a pleasure in the mere touch of
the contrivance, the thing I had expected happened. The bronze panels
suddenly slid up and struck the frame with a clang. I was in the
dark--trapped. So the Morlocks thought. At that I chuckled gleefully.

"I could already hear their murmuring laughter as they came towards me.
Very calmly I tried to strike the match. I had only to fix on the levers
and depart then like a ghost. But I had overlooked one little thing. The
matches were of that abominable kind that light only on the box.

"You may imagine how all my calm vanished. The little brutes were close
upon me. One touched me. I made a sweeping blow in the dark at them with
the levers, and began to scramble into the saddle of the machine. Then
came one hand upon me and then another. Then I had simply to fight
against their persistent fingers for my levers, and at the same time
feel for the studs over which these fitted. Once indeed, they almost got
away from me. As it slipped from my hand, I had to butt in the dark with
my head--I could hear the Morlock's skull ring--to recover it. It was a
nearer thing than the fight in the forest, I think, this last scramble.

"But at last the lever was fitted and pulled over. The clinging hands
slipped from me. The darkness presently fell from my eyes. I found
myself in the same grey light and tumult I have already described."


11.

"I have already told you of the sickness and confusion that comes
with time travelling. And this time I was not seated properly in the
saddle, but sideways and in an unstable fashion. For an indefinite time
I clung to the machine as it swayed and vibrated, quite unheeding how I
went, and when I brought myself to look at the dials again I was amazed
to find where I had arrived. One dial records days, and another
thousands of days, another millions of days, and another thousands of
millions. Now, instead of reversing the levers, I had pulled them over
so as to go forward with them, and when I came to look at these
indicators I found that the thousands hand was sweeping round as fast as
the seconds hand of a watch--into futurity.

"As I drove on, a peculiar change crept over the appearance of things.
The palpitating greyness grew darker; then--though I was still
travelling with prodigious velocity--the blinking succession of day and
night, which was usually indicative of a slower pace, returned, and grew
more and more marked. This puzzled me very much at first. The
alternations of night and day grew slower and slower, and so did the
passage of the sun across the sky, until they seemed to stretch through
centuries. At last a steady twilight brooded over the earth, a twilight
only broken now and then when a comet glared across the darkling sky.
The band of light that had indicated the sun had long since disappeared;
for the sun had ceased to set--it simply rose and fell in the west, and
grew ever broader and more red. All trace of the moon had vanished. The
circling of the stars, growing slower and slower, had given place to
creeping points of light. At last, some time before I stopped, the sun,
red and very large, halted motionless upon the horizon, a vast dome
glowing with a dull heat, and now and then suffering a momentary
extinction. At one time it had for a little while glowed more
brilliantly again, but it speedily reverted to its sullen red heat. I
perceived by this slowing down of its rising and setting that the work
of the tidal drag was done. The earth had come to rest with one face to
the sun, even as in our own time the moon faces the earth. Very
cautiously, for I remembered my former headlong fall, I began to reverse
my motion. Slower and slower went the circling hands until the thousands
one seemed motionless and the daily one was no longer a mere mist upon
its scale. Still slower, until the dim outlines of a desolate beach grew
visible. I stopped very gently and sat upon the Time Machine, looking
round. The sky was no longer blue. North-eastward it was inky black, and
out of the blackness shone brightly and steadily the pale white stars.
Overhead it was a deep Indian red and starless, and south-eastward it
grew brighter to a glowing scarlet where, cut by the horizon, lay the
huge hull of the sun, red and motionless. The rocks about me were of a
harsh reddish colour, and all the trace of life that I could see at
first was the intensely green vegetation that covered every projecting
point on their south-eastern face. It was the same rich green that one
sees on forest moss or on the lichen in caves: plants which like these
grow in a perpetual twilight.

"The machine was standing on a sloping beach. The sea stretched away to
the south-west, to rise into a sharp bright horizon against the wan sky.
There were no breakers and no waves, for not a breath of wind was
stirring. Only a slight oily swell rose and fell like a gentle
breathing, and showed that the eternal sea was still moving and living.
And along the margin where the water sometimes broke was a thick
incrustation of salt--pink under the lurid sky. There was a sense of
oppression in my head, and I noticed that I was breathing very fast. The
sensation reminded me of my only experience of mountaineering, and from
that I judged the air to be more rarefied than it is now.

"Far away up the desolate slope I heard a harsh scream, and saw a thing
like a huge white butterfly go slanting and fluttering up into the sky
and, circling, disappear over some low hillocks beyond. The sound of its
voice was so dismal that I shivered and seated myself more firmly upon
the machine. Looking round me again, I saw that, quite near, what I had
taken to be a reddish mass of rock was moving slowly towards me. Then I
saw the thing was really a monstrous crab-like creature. Can you imagine
a crab as large as yonder table, with its many legs moving slowly and
uncertainly, its big claws swaying, its long antennae, like carters'
whips, waving and feeling, and its stalked eyes gleaming at you on
either side of its metallic front? Its back was corrugated and
ornamented with ungainly bosses, and a greenish incrustation blotched it
here and there. I could see the many palps of its complicated mouth
flickering and feeling as it moved.

"As I stared at this sinister apparition crawling towards me, I felt a
tickling on my cheek as though a fly had lighted there. I tried to brush
it away with my hand, but in a moment it returned, and almost
immediately came another by my ear. I struck at this, and caught
something threadlike. It was drawn swiftly out of my hand. With a
frightful qualm, I turned, and I saw that I had grasped the antenna of
another monster crab that stood just behind me. Its evil eyes were
wriggling on their stalks, its mouth was all alive with appetite, and
its vast ungainly claws, smeared with an algal slime, were descending
upon me. In a moment my hand was on the lever, and I had placed a month
between myself and these monsters. But I was still on the same beach,
and I saw them distinctly now as soon as I stopped. Dozens of them
seemed to be crawling here and there, in the sombre light, among the
foliated sheets of intense green.

"I cannot convey the sense of abominable desolation that hung over the
world. The red eastern sky, the northward blackness, the salt Dead Sea,
the stony beach crawling with these foul, slow-stirring monsters, the
uniform poisonous-looking green of the lichenous plants, the thin air
that hurts one's lungs: all contributed to an appalling effect. I moved
on a hundred years, and there was the same red sun--a little larger, a
little duller--the same dying sea, the same chill air, and the same
crowd of earthy crustacea creeping in and out among the green weed and
the red rocks. And in the westward sky, I saw a curved pale line like a
vast new moon.

"So I travelled, stopping ever and again, in great strides of a thousand
years or more, drawn on by the mystery of the earth's fate, watching
with a strange fascination the sun grow larger and duller in the
westward sky, and the life of the old earth ebb away. At last, more than
thirty million years hence, the huge red-hot dome of the sun had come to
obscure nearly a tenth part of the darkling heavens. Then I stopped once
more, for the crawling multitude of crabs had disappeared, and the red
beach, save for its livid green liverworts and lichens, seemed lifeless.
And now it was flecked with white. A bitter cold assailed me. Rare white
flakes ever and again came eddying down. To the north-eastward, the
glare of snow lay under the starlight of the sable sky and I could see
an undulating crest of hillocks pinkish white. There were fringes of ice
along the sea margin, with drifting masses further out; but the main
expanse of that salt ocean, all bloody under the eternal sunset, was
still unfrozen.

"I looked about me to see if any traces of animal life remained. A
certain indefinable apprehension still kept me in the saddle of the
machine. But I saw nothing moving, in earth or sky or sea. The green
slime on the rocks alone testified that life was not extinct. A shallow
sand-bank had appeared in the sea and the water had receded from the
beach. I fancied I saw some black object flopping about upon this bank,
but it became motionless as I looked at it, and I judged that my eye had
been deceived, and that the black object was merely a rock. The stars in
the sky were intensely bright and seemed to me to twinkle very little.

"Suddenly I noticed that the circular westward outline of the sun had
changed; that a concavity, a bay, had appeared in the curve. I saw this
grow larger. For a minute perhaps I stared aghast at this blackness that
was creeping over the day, and then I realized that an eclipse was
beginning. Either the moon or the planet Mercury was passing across the
sun's disk. Naturally, at first I took it to be the moon, but there is
much to incline me to believe that what I really saw was the transit of
an inner planet passing very near to the earth.

"The darkness grew apace; a cold wind began to blow in freshening gusts
from the east, and the showering white flakes in the air increased in
number. From the edge of the sea came a ripple and whisper. Beyond these
lifeless sounds the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey
the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the
cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background
of our lives--all that was over. As the darkness thickened, the eddying
flakes grew more abundant, dancing before my eyes; and the cold of the
air more intense. At last, one by one, swiftly, one after the other, the
white peaks of the distant hills vanished into blackness. The breeze
rose to a moaning wind. I saw the black central shadow of the eclipse
sweeping towards me. In another moment the pale stars alone were
visible. All else was rayless obscurity. The sky was absolutely black."

"A horror of this great darkness came on me. The cold, that smote to my
marrow, and the pain I felt in breathing, overcame me. I shivered, and a
deadly nausea seized me. Then like a red-hot bow in the sky appeared the
edge of the sun. I got off the machine to recover myself. I felt giddy
and incapable of facing the return journey. As I stood sick and confused
I saw again the moving thing upon the shoal--there was no mistake now
that it was a moving thing--against the red water of the sea. It was a
round thing, the size of a football perhaps, or, it may be, bigger, and
tentacles trailed down from it; it seemed black against the weltering
blood-red water, and it was hopping fitfully about. Then I felt I was
fainting. But a terrible dread of lying helpless in that remote and
awful twilight sustained me while I clambered upon the saddle."


12.

"So I came back. For a long time I must have been insensible upon
the machine. The blinking succession of the days and nights was resumed,
the sun got golden again, the sky blue. I breathed with greater freedom.
The fluctuating contours of the land ebbed and flowed. The hands spun
backward upon the dials. At last I saw again the dim shadows of houses,
the evidences of decadent humanity. These too, changed and passed, and
others came. Presently, when the million dial was at zero, I slackened
speed. I began to recognize our own petty and familiar architecture, the
thousands hand ran back to the starting-point, the night and day flapped
slower and slower. Then the old walls of the laboratory came round me.
Very gently, now, I slowed the mechanism down.

"I saw one little thing that seemed odd to me. I think I have told you
that when I set out, before my velocity became very high, Mrs. Watchett
had walked across the room, travelling, as it seemed to me, like a
rocket. As I returned, I passed again across that minute when she
traversed the laboratory. But now her every motion appeared to be the
exact inversion of her previous ones. The door at the lower end opened,
and she glided quietly up the laboratory, back foremost, and disappeared
behind the door by which she had previously entered. Just before that I
seemed to see Hillyer for a moment; but he passed like a flash.

"Then I stopped the machine, and saw about me again the old familiar
laboratory, my tools, my appliances just as I had left them. I got off
the thing very shaky, and sat down upon my bench. For several minutes I
trembled violently. Then I became calmer. Around me was my old workshop
again, exactly as it had been. I might have slept there, and the whole
thing have been a dream.

"And yet, not exactly! The thing had started from the south-east corner
of the laboratory. It had come to rest again in the north-west, against
the wall where you saw it. That gives you the exact distance from my
little lawn to the pedestal of the White Sphinx, into which the Morlocks
had carried my machine.

"For a time my brain went stagnant. Presently I got up and came through
the passage here, limping, because my heel was still painful, and
feeling sorely begrimed. I saw the 'Pall Mall Gazette' on the table by
the door. I found the date was indeed to-day, and looking at the
timepiece, saw the hour was almost eight o'clock. I heard your voices
and the clatter of plates. I hesitated--I felt so sick and weak. Then I
sniffed good wholesome meat, and opened the door on you. You know the
rest. I washed, and dined, and now I am telling you the story.

"I know," he said, after a pause, "that all this will be absolutely
incredible to you. To me the one incredible thing is that I am here
to-night in this old familiar room looking into your friendly faces and
telling you these strange adventures."

He looked at the Medical Man. "No, I cannot expect you to believe it.
Take it as a lie--or a prophecy. Say I dreamed it in the workshop.
Consider I have been speculating upon the destinies of our race until I
have hatched this fiction. Treat my assertion of its truth as a mere
stroke of art to enhance its interest. And taking it as a story, what do
you think of it?"

He took up his pipe, and began, in his old accustomed manner, to tap
with it nervously upon the bars of the grate. There was a momentary
stillness. Then chairs began to creak and shoes to scrape upon the
carpet. I took my eyes off the Time Traveller's face, and looked round
at his audience. They were in the dark, and little spots of colour swam
before them. The Medical Man seemed absorbed in the contemplation of our
host. The Editor was looking hard at the end of his cigar--the sixth.
The Journalist fumbled for his watch. The others, as far as I remember,
were motionless.

The Editor stood up with a sigh. "What a pity it is you're not a writer
of stories!" he said, putting his hand on the Time Traveller's shoulder.

"You don't believe it?"

"Well--"

"I thought not."

The Time Traveller turned to us. "Where are the matches?" he said. He
lit one and spoke over his pipe, puffing. "To tell you the truth... I
hardly believe it myself... And yet..."

His eye fell with a mute inquiry upon the withered white flowers upon
the little table. Then he turned over the hand holding his pipe, and I
saw he was looking at some half-healed scars on his knuckles.

The Medical Man rose, came to the lamp, and examined the flowers. "The
gynaeceum's odd," he said. The Psychologist leant forward to see,
holding out his hand for a specimen.

"I'm hanged if it isn't a quarter to one," said the Journalist. "How
shall we get home?"

"Plenty of cabs at the station," said the Psychologist.

"It's a curious thing," said the Medical Man; "but I certainly don't
know the natural order of these flowers. May I have them?"

The Time Traveller hesitated. Then suddenly: "Certainly not."

"Where did you really get them?" said the Medical Man.

The Time Traveller put his hand to his head. He spoke like one who was
trying to keep hold of an idea that eluded him. "They were put into my
pocket by Weena, when I travelled into Time." He stared round the room.
"I'm damned if it isn't all going. This room and you and the atmosphere
of every day is too much for my memory. Did I ever make a Time Machine,
or a model of a Time Machine? Or is it all only a dream? They say life
is a dream, a precious poor dream at times--but I can't stand another
that won't fit. It's madness. And where did the dream come from...? I
must look at that machine. If there is one!"

He caught up the lamp swiftly, and carried it, flaring red, through the
door into the corridor. We followed him. There in the flickering light
of the lamp was the machine sure enough, squat, ugly, and askew; a thing
of brass, ebony, ivory, and translucent glimmering quartz. Solid to the
touch--for I put out my hand and felt the rail of it--and with brown
spots and smears upon the ivory, and bits of grass and moss upon the
lower parts, and one rail bent awry.

The Time Traveller put the lamp down on the bench, and ran his hand
along the damaged rail. "It's all right now," he said. "The story I told
you was true. I'm sorry to have brought you out here in the cold." He
took up the lamp, and in an absolute silence, we returned to the
smoking-room.

He came into the hall with us and helped the Editor on with his coat.
The Medical Man looked into his face and, with a certain hesitation,
told him he was suffering from overwork, at which he laughed hugely. I
remember him standing in the open doorway, bawling good-night.

I shared a cab with the Editor. He thought the tale a "gaudy lie." For
my own part I was unable to come to a conclusion. The story was so
fantastic and incredible, the telling so credible and sober. I lay awake
most of the night thinking about it. I determined to go next day and see
the Time Traveller again. I was told he was in the laboratory, and being
on easy terms in the house, I went up to him. The laboratory, however
was empty. I stared for a minute at the Time Machine and put out my hand
and touched the lever. At that the squat substantial-looking mass swayed
like a bough shaken by the wind. Its instability startled me extremely,
and I had a queer reminiscence of the childish days when I used to be
forbidden to meddle. I came back through the corridor. The Time
Traveller met me in the smoking-room. He was coming from the house. He
had a small camera under one arm and a knapsack under the other. He
laughed when he saw me, and gave me an elbow to shake. "I'm frightfully
busy," said he, "with that thing in there."

"But is it not some hoax?" I said. "Do you really travel through time?"

"Really and truly I do." And he looked frankly into my eyes. He
hesitated. His eye wandered about the room. "I only want half an hour,"
he said. "I know why you came, and it's awfully good of you. There's
some magazines here. If you'll stop to lunch I'll prove you this time
travelling up to the hilt, specimen and all. If you'll forgive my
leaving you now?"

I consented, hardly comprehending then the full import of his words, and
he nodded and went on down the corridor. I heard the door of the
laboratory slam, seated myself in a chair, and took up a daily paper.
What was he going to do before lunchtime? Then suddenly I was reminded
by an advertisement that I had promised to meet Richardson, the
publisher, at two. I looked at my watch, and saw that I could barely
save that engagement. I got up and went down the passage to tell the
Time Traveller.

As I took hold of the handle of the door I heard an exclamation, oddly
truncated at the end, and a click and a thud. A gust of air whirled
round me as I opened the door, and from within came the sound of broken
glass falling on the floor. The Time Traveller was not there. I seemed
to see a ghostly, indistinct figure sitting in a whirling mass of black
and brass for a moment--a figure so transparent that the bench behind
with its sheets of drawings was absolutely distinct; but this phantasm
vanished as I rubbed my eyes. The Time Machine had gone. Save for a
subsiding stir of dust, the further end of the laboratory was empty. A
pane of the skylight had, apparently, just been blown in.

I felt an unreasonable amazement. I knew that something strange had
happened, and for the moment could not distinguish what the strange
thing might be. As I stood staring, the door into the garden opened, and
the man-servant appeared.

We looked at each other. Then ideas began to come. "Has Mr. ---- gone out
that way?" said I.

"No, sir. No one has come out this way. I was expecting to find him
here."

At that I understood. At the risk of disappointing Richardson I stayed
on, waiting for the Time Traveller; waiting for the second, perhaps
still stranger story, and the specimens and photographs he would bring
with him. But I am beginning now to fear that I must wait a lifetime.
The Time Traveller vanished three years ago. And, as everybody knows
now, he has never returned.


Epilogue One cannot choose but wonder. Will he ever return? It may be
that he swept back into the past, and fell among the blood-drinking,
hairy savages of the Age of Unpolished Stone; into the abysses of the
Cretaceous Sea; or among the grotesque saurians, the huge reptilian
brutes of the Jurassic times. He may even now--if I may use the
phrase--be wandering on some plesiosaurus-haunted Oolitic coral reef, or
beside the lonely saline lakes of the Triassic Age. Or did he go
forward, into one of the nearer ages, in which men are still men, but
with the riddles of our own time answered and its wearisome problems
solved? Into the manhood of the race: for I, for my own part cannot
think that these latter days of weak experiment, fragmentary theory, and
mutual discord are indeed man's culminating time! I say, for my own
part. He, I know--for the question had been discussed among us long
before the Time Machine was made--thought but cheerlessly of the
Advancement of Mankind, and saw in the growing pile of civilization only
a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its
makers in the end. If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it
were not so. But to me the future is still black and blank--is a vast
ignorance, lit at a few casual places by the memory of his story. And I
have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers--shrivelled now,
and brown and flat and brittle--to witness that even when mind and
strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in
the heart of man.




THE EMPIRE OF THE ANTS


1.

When Captain Gerilleau received instructions to take his new gunboat,
the Benjamin Constant, to Badama on the Batemo arm of the Guaramadema
and there assist the inhabitants against a plague of ants, he suspected
the authorities of mockery. His promotion had been romantic and
irregular, the affections of a prominent Brazilian lady and the
captain's liquid eyes had played a part in the process, and the Diario
and O Futuro had been lamentably disrespectful in their comments. He
felt he was to give further occasion for disrespect.

He was a Creole, his conceptions of etiquette and discipline were
pure-blooded Portuguese, and it was only to Holroyd, the Lancashire
engineer, who had come over with the boat, and as an exercise in the use
of English--his "th" sounds were very uncertain--that he opened his
heart.

"It is in effect," he said, "to make me absurd! What can a man do
against ants? Dey come, dey go."

"They say," said Holroyd, "that these don't go. That chap you said was a
Sambo--"

"Zambo--it is a sort of mixture of blood."

"Sambo. He said the people are going!"

The captain smoked fretfully for a time. "Dese things 'ave to happen,"
he said at last. "What is it? Plagues of ants and suchlike as God wills.
Dere was a plague in Trinidad--the like ants that carry leaves. Orl der
oranges-trees, all der mangoes! What does it matter? Sometimes ant
armies come into your houses--fighting ants; a different sort. You go
and they clean the house. Then you come back again;--the house is clean,
like new! No cockroaches, no fleas, no jiggers in the floor."

"That Sambo chap," said Holroyd, "says these are a different sort of
ant."

The captain shrugged his shoulders, fumed, and gave his attention to a
cigarette.

Afterwards he reopened the subject. "My dear 'Olroyd, what am I to do
about des infernal ants?"

The captain reflected. "It is ridiculous," he said. But in the afternoon
he put on his full uniform and went ashore, and jars and boxes came back
to the ship and subsequently he did. And Holroyd sat on deck in evening
coolness and smoked profoundly and marvelled at Brazil. They were six
days up the Amazon, some hundreds of miles from the ocean, and east and
west of him there was horizon like the sea, and to the south nothing but
a sand-bank island with some tufts of scrub. The water was always
running like a sluice, thick with dirt, animated with crocodiles and
hovering birds, and fed by some inexhaustible source of tree trunks; and
the waste of it, the headlong waste of it, filled his soul. The town of
Alemquer, with its meagre church, its thatched sheds for houses, its
discoloured ruins of ampler days, seemed a little thing lost in this
wilderness of Nature, a sixpence dropped on Sahara. He was a young man,
this was his first site of the tropics, he came straight from England,
where Nature is hedged, ditched, and drained into the perfection of
submission, and he had suddenly discovered the insignificance of man.
For six days they had been steaming up the sea by unfrequented channels,
and man had been as rare as a rare butterfly. One saw one day a canoe,
another day a distant station, the next no men at all. He began to
perceive that man is indeed a rare animal, having but a precarious hold
upon this land.

He perceived it more clearly as the days passed, and he made his devious
way to the Batemo, in the company of this remarkable commander, who
ruled over one big gun, and was forbidden to waste his ammunition.
Holroyd was learning Spanish industriously, but he was still in the
present tense and substantive stage of speech, and the only other person
who had any words of English was a negro stoker, who had them all wrong.
The second in command was a Portuguese, da Cunha, who spoke French, but
it was a different sort of French from the French Holroyd had learned in
Southport, and their intercourse was confined to politenesses and simple
propositions about weather. And the weather, like everything else in
this amazing new world, the weather had no human aspect, and was hot by
night and hot by day, and the air steam, even the wind was hot steam,
smelling of vegetation in decay: and the alligators and the strange
birds, the flies of many sorts and sizes, the beetles, the ants, the
snakes and monkeys seemed to wonder what man was doing in an atmosphere
that had no gladness in its sunshine and no coolness in its night. To
wear clothing was intolerable, but to cast it aside was to scorch by
day, and expose an ampler area to the mosquitoes by night; to go on deck
by day was to be blinded by glare and to stay below was to suffocate.
And in the daytime came certain flies, extremely clever and noxious
about one's wrist and ankle. Captain Gerilleau, who was Holroyd's sole
distraction from these physical distresses, developed into a formidable
bore, telling the simple story of his heart's affections day by day, a
string of anonymous women, as if he was telling beads. Sometimes he
suggested sport, and they shot at alligators, and at rare intervals they
came to human aggregations in the waste of trees, and stayed for a day
or so, and drank and sat about; and one night, danced with Creole girls,
who found Holroyd's poor elements of Spanish, without either past tense
or future, amply sufficient for their purposes. But these were mere
luminous chinks in the long grey passage of the streaming river, up
which the throbbing engines beat. A certain liberal heathen deity, in
the shape of demi-john, held seductive court aft, and it is probable,
forward.

But Gerilleau learned things about the ants, more things and more, at
this stopping-place and that, and became interested in his mission.

"Dey are a new sort of ant," he said. "We have got to be--what do you
call it--? Entomologie? Big. Five centimetres! Some bigger! It is
ridiculous. We are like monkeys--sent to pick insects... But dey are
eating up the country."

He burst out indignantly. "Suppose--suddenly, there are complications
with Europe. Here am I--soon we shall be above the Rio Negro--and my gun,
useless!"

He nursed his knee and mused.

"Dose people who were dere at de dancing place, dey 'ave come down. Dey
'ave lost all they got. De ants come to deir house one afternoon.
Everyone run out. You know when de ants come one must--every one runs
out and they go over the house. If you stayed they'd eat you. See? Well,
presently dey go back; dey say, 'The ants 'ave gone...' De ants 'aven't
gone. Dey try to go in--de son, 'e gose in. De ants fight."

"Swarm over him?"

"Bite 'im. Presently he comes out again--screaming and running. He runs
past them to river. See? He get into de water and drowns de ants--yes."
Gerilleau paused, brought his liquid eyes close to Holroyd's face,
tapped Holroyd's knee with his knuckle. "That night he dies, just as if
he was stung by snake."

"Poisoned--by the ants?"

"Who knows?" Gerilleau shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps they bit him
badly... When I joined dis service I joined to fight men. Dese things,
dese ants, dey come and go. It is no business for men."

After that he talked frequently of ants to Holroyd, and whenever they
chanced to drift against any speck of humanity in that waste of water
and sunshine and distant trees, Holroyd's improving knowledge of the
language enabled him to recognise the ascendant word Sauba, more and
more completely dominating the whole.

He perceived the ants were becoming interesting, and the nearer he drew
to them the more interesting they became. Gerilleau abandoned his old
themes almost suddenly, and the Portuguese lieutenant became a
conversational figure; he knew something about the leaf-cutting ant, and
expanded his knowledge. Gerilleau sometimes rendered what he had to tell
to Holroyd. He told of the little workers that swarm and fight, and the
big workers that command and rule, and how these latter always crawled
to the neck and how their bites drew blood. He told how they cut leaves
and made fungus beds, and how their nests in Caracas are sometimes a
hundred yards across. Two days the three men spent disputing whether
ants have eyes. The discussion grew dangerously heated on the second
afternoon, and Holroyd saved the situation by going ashore in a boat to
catch ants and see. He captured various specimens and returned and some
had eyes and some hadn't. Also, they argued, do ants bite or sting?

"Dese ants," said Gerilleau, after collecting information at a rancho,
"have big eyes. They don't run about blind--not as most ants do. No! Dey
get in corners and watch what you do."

"And they sting?" asked Holroyd.

"Yes. Dey sting. Dere is poison in the sting." He meditated. "I do not
see what men can do against ants. Dey come and go."

"But these don't go."

"They will," said Gerilleau.

Past Tamandu there is a long low coast of eighty miles without any
population, and then ones comes to the confluence of the main river and
the Batemo arm, like a great lake, and then the forest came nearer, came
at last intimately near. The character of the channel changes, snags
abound, and the Benjamin Constant moored by a cable that night, under
the very shadow of dark trees. For the first time for many days came a
spell of coolness, and Holroyd and Gerilleau sat late, smoking cigars
and enjoying this delicious sensation. Gerilleau's mind was full of ants
and what they could do. He decided to sleep at last, and lay down on a
mattress on deck, a man hopelessly perplexed; his last words, when he
already seemed asleep, were to ask, with a flourish of despair: "What
can one do with ants...? De whole thing is absurd."

Holroyd was left to scratch his bitten wrists, and meditate alone.

He sat on the bulwark and listened to changes in Gerilleau's breathing
until he was fast asleep, and then the ripple and lap of stream took his
mind, and brought back that sense of immensity that had been growing
upon him since first he had left Para and come up the river. The monitor
showed but one small light, and there was first a little talking forward
and then stillness. His eyes went from the dim black outlines of the
middle works of the gunboat towards the bank, to the black overwhelming
mysteries of forest, lit now and then by a fire-fly, and never still
from the murmur of alien and mysterious activities...

It was the inhuman immensity of this land that astonished and oppressed
him. He knew the skies were empty of men, the stars were specks in an
incredible vastness of space; he knew the ocean was enormous and
untamable, but in England he had come to think of the land as man's. In
England it is indeed man's, the wild things live by sufferance, grow on
lease, everywhere the roads, the fences, and absolute security runs. In
an atlas, too, the land is man's, and all coloured to show his claim to
it--in vivid contrast to the universal independent blueness of the sea.
He had taken it for granted that a day would come when everywhere about
the earth, plough and culture, light tramways, and good roads, an
ordered security, would prevail. But now he doubted.

This forest was interminable, it had an air of being invincible, and Man
seemed at best an infrequent precarious intruder. One travelled for
miles amidst the still silent struggle of giant trees, of strangulating
creepers, of assertive flowers, everywhere the alligator, the turtle,
and endless varieties of bird and insects seemed at home, dwelt
irreplaceable--but man, man at most held a footing upon resentful
clearings, fought weeds, fought beasts and insects for the barest
foothold, fell a prey to snake and beast, insects and fever, and was
presently carried away. In many places down the river he had been
manifestly driven back, this deserted creek or that preserved the name
of a casa, and here and there ruinous white walls and shattered towers
enforced the lesson. The puma, the jaguar, were more the masters here...

Who are the real masters?

In a few miles of this forest there must be more ants than there are men
in the world! This seemed to Holroyd a perfectly new idea. In a few
thousand years men had emerged from barbarism to a stage of civilisation
that made them feel lords of the future and masters of earth! But what
was to prevent ants evolving also? Such ants as one knew lived in little
communities of a few thousand individuals, made no concerted efforts
against the greater world. But they had a language, they had an
intelligence! Why should things stop at that any more then men had
stopped at the barbaric stage? Suppose presently the ants began to store
knowledge, just as men had done by means of books and records, use
weapons, form great empires, sustain a planned and organised war?

Things came back to him that Gerilleau had gathered about these ants
they were approaching. They used a poison like the poison of snakes.
They obeyed greater leaders even as the leaf-cutting ants do. They were
carnivorous, and where they came they stayed...

The forest was very still. The water lapped incessantly against the
side. About the lantern overhead there eddied a noiseless whirl of
phantom moths.

Gerilleau stirred in the darkness and sighed. "What can one do?" he
murmured, and turned over and was still again.

Holroyd was roused from meditations that were becoming sinister by the
hum of a mosquito.


2.

The next morning Holroyd learned they were within forty kilometers of
Badama, and his interest in the banks intensified. He came up whenever
an opportunity offered to examine his surroundings. He could see no
signs of human occupation whatever, save for a weedy ruin of a house and
green-stained facade of the long-deserted monastery at Moju, with a
forest tree growing out of a vacant window space, and great creepers
netted across its vacant portals. Several flights of strange yellow
butterflies with semi-transparent wings crossed the river that morning,
and many alighted on the monitor and were killed by men. It was towards
afternoon that they came upon the derelict cuberta.

She did not at first appear to be derelict; both her sails were set and
hanging slack in the afternoon calm, and there was the figure of a man
sitting on the fore planking beside the shipped sweeps. Another man
appeared to be sleeping face downwards on the sort of longitudinal
bridge, these big canoes have in the waist. But it was presently
apparent, from the sway of her rudder and the way she drifted into the
course of the gunboat, that something was out of order with her.
Gerilleau surveyed her through a field-glass, and became interested in
queer darkness of the face of the sitting man, a red-faced man he
seemed, without a nose--crouching he was rather than sitting, and the
longer the captain looked the less he liked to look at him, and the less
able he was to take his glasses away.

But he did so at last, and went a little way to call up Holroyd. Then he
went back to hail the cuberta. He hailed her again, and so she drove
past him. Santa Rosa stood out clearly as her name.

As she came by and into the wake of the monitor, she pitched a little,
and suddenly the figure of the crouching man collapsed as though all
it's joints had given way. His hat fell off, his head was not nice to
look at, and his body flopped lax and rolled out of sight behind the
bulwarks.

"Caramba!" cried Gerilleau, and resorted to Holroyd forthwith.

Holroyd was halfway up the companion. "Did you see dat?" said the
captain.

"Dead!" said Holroyd. "Yes. You'd better send a boat aboard. There's
something wrong."

"Did you--by any chance--see his face?"

"What was it like?"

"It was--ugh--! I have no words." And the captain suddenly turned his
back on Holroyd and became a active and strident commander.

The gunboat came about, steamed parallel to the erratic course of the
canoe, and dropped the boat with Lieutenant da Cunha and three sailors
to board her. Then the curiosity of the captain made him draw up almost
alongside as the lieutenant got aboard, so that the whole of the Santa
Rosa deck and hold, was visible to Holroyd.

He saw now clearly that the sole crew of the vessel was these two dead
men, and though he could not see their faces, he saw by their
outstretched hands, which were all of ragged flesh, that they had been
subjected to some strange exceptional process of decay. For a moment his
attention, concentrated on these two enigmatical bundles of dirty cloths
and laxly flung limbs, and then his eyes went forward to discover the
open hold piled high with trunks and cases, and aft, to where the little
cabin gaped inexplicably empty. Then he became aware that the planks of
the middle decking were dotted with moving black specks.

His attention was riveted by these specks. They were all walking in
directions radiating from the fallen man in a manner--the image came
unsought to his mind--like the crowd dispersing from a bull-fight.

He became aware of Gerilleau beside him. "Capo," he said, "have you your
glasses? Can you focus as closely as those planks there?"

Gerilleau made an effort, grunted, and handed him the glasses.

There followed a moment of scrutiny. "It's ants," said the Englishman,
and handed the focused field-glasses back to Gerilleau.

His impression of them was of a crowd of large black ants, very like
ordinary ants except for size, and for the fact some of the larger of
them bore a sort of clothing of grey. But at the time his inspection was
too brief for particulars. The head of Lieutenant da Cunha appeared over
the side of the cuberta, and a brief colloquy ensued.

"You must go aboard," said Gerilleau.

The lieutenant objected that the boat was full of ants.

"You have your boots," said Gerilleau.

The lieutenant changed the subject. "How did these men die?" he asked.

Captain Gerilleau embarked upon speculation that Holroyd could not
follow, and the two men disputed with a certain vehemence. Holroyd took
up the field-glass and resumed his scrutiny, first of ants and then of
the dead man amidships.

He has described these ants to me very particularly.

He says they were as large as any ants he has ever seen, black and
moving with a steady deliberation very different from the mechanical
fussiness of the common ant. About one in twenty was much larger than
it's fellows, and with an exceptionally large head. These reminded him
at once of the master workers who are said to rule over the leaf-cutter
ants; like them they seemed to be directing and co-ordinating the
general movements. They tilted their bodies back in a manner altogether
singular, as if they made some use of the fore feet. And he had a
curious fancy, that he was too far off to verify, that most of these
ants of both kinds were wearing accoutrements, had things strapped about
their bodies by bright white bands like white metal threads...

He put down the glasses abruptly, realising that the question of
discipline between the captain and his subordinate had become acute.

"It is your duty," said the captain, "to go aboard. It is my
instructions."

The lieutenant seemed on the verge of refusing. The head of one of the
mulatto sailors appeared beside him.

"I believe these men were killed by ants," said Holroyd abruptly in
English.

The captain burst into rage. He made no answer to Holroyd. "I have
commanded you to go aboard," he screamed to his subordinate in
Portuguese. "If you do not go aboard forthwith it is mutiny--rank
mutiny. Mutiny and cowardice! Where is the courage that should animate
us? I will have you in irons, I will have you shot like a dog." He began
a torrent of abuse and curses, he danced to and fro. He shook his fists,
he behaved as if beside himself with rage, and the lieutenant, white and
still, stood looking at him. The crew appeared forward, with amazed
faces.

Suddenly, in a pause of this outbreak, the lieutenant came to some
heroic decision, saluted, drew himself together and clambered upon the
deck of the cuberta.

"Ah!" said Gerilleau, and his mouth shut like a trap. Holroyd saw the
ants retreating before da Cunha's boots. The Portuguese walked slowly to
the fallen man, stooped down, hesitated, clutched his coat and turned
him over. A black swarm of ants rushed out of the clothes, and da Cunha
stepped back very quickly and trod two or three times on the deck.

Holroyd put up the glasses. He saw the scattered ants about the
invader's feet, and doing what he had never seen ants doing before. They
had nothing of the blind movements of the common ant; they were looking
at him--as a rallying crowd of men might look at some gigantic monster
that had dispersed it.

"How did he die?" the captain shouted.

Holroyd understood the Portuguese to say the body was too much eaten to
tell.

"What is there forward?" asked Gerilleau.

The lieutenant walked a few paces, and began his answer in Portuguese.
He stopped abruptly and beat off something from his leg. He made some
peculiar steps as if he was trying to stamp on something invisible, and
went quickly towards the side. Then he controlled himself, turned about,
walked deliberately forward to the hold, clambered up to the fore
decking, from which the sweeps are worked, stooped for a time over the
second man, groaned audibly, and made his way back and aft to the cabin;
moving very rigidly. He turned and began a conversation with his
captain, cold and respectful in tone on either side, contrasting vividly
with the wrath and insult of a few moments before. Holroyd gathered only
fragments of it's purport.

He reverted to the field-glass, and was surprised to find the ants had
vanished from all exposed surfaces of the deck. He turned towards the
shadow beneath the decking, and it seemed to him they were full of
watching eyes.

The cuberta, it was agreed, was derelict, but too full of ants to put
men aboard to sit and sleep: it must be towed. The lieutenant went
forward to take in and adjust the cable, and the men in the boat stood
up to be ready to help him. Holroyd's glasses searched the canoe.

He became more and more impressed by the fact that a great if minute and
furtive activity was going on. He perceived that a number of gigantic
ants--they seemed nearly a couple of inches in length--carrying
oddly-shaped burthens for which he could imagine no use--were moving in
rushes from one point of obscurity to another. They did not move in
columns across the exposed places, but in open, spaced-out lines, oddly
suggestive of the rushes of modern infantry advancing under fire. A
number were taking cover under the dead man's clothes, and a perfect
swarm was gathering along the side over which da Cunha must presently
go.

He did not see them actually rush for the lieutenant as he returned, but
he has no doubt they did make a concerted rush. Suddenly the lieutenant
was shouting and cursing and beating at his legs. "I'm stung!" he
shouted, with a face of hate and accusation towards Gerilleau.

Then he vanished over the side, dropped into his boat, and plunged at
once into the water. Holroyd heard the splash.

The three men in the boat pulled him out and brought him aboard, and
that night he died.


3.

Holroyd and the captain came out of the cabin in which the swollen
and contorted body of the lieutenant lay, and stood together at the
stern of the monitor, staring at the sinister vessel they trailed behind
them. It was a close, dark night that had only phantom flickers of sheet
lightning to illuminate it. The cuberta, a vague black triangle, rocked
about in the steamer's wake, her sails bobbing and flapping, and the
black smoke from the funnels, spark-lit ever and again, streamed over
her swaying masts.

Gerilleau's mind was inclined to run on the unkind things the lieutenant
had said in the heat of his last fever.

"He says I murdered 'im," he protested. "It is simply absurd. Someone 'ad
to go aboard. Are we to run away from these confounded ants whenever
they show up?"

Holroyd said nothing. He was thinking of a disciplined rush of little
black shapes across bare sunlit planking.

"It was his place to go," harped Gerilleau. "He died in the execution of
his duty. What has he to complain of? Murdered...! But the poor fellow
was--what is it--? Demented. He was not in his right mind. The poison
swelled him... U'm."

They came to a long silence.

"We will sink that canoe--burn it."

"And then?"

The inquiry irritated Gerilleau. His shoulders went up, his hands flew
out at right angles from his body. "What is one to do?" he said, his
voice going up to an angry squeak.

"Anyhow," he broke out vindictively, "every ant in dat cuberta--! I will
burn dem alive!"

Holroyd was not moved to conversation. A distant ululation of howling
monkeys filled the sultry night with foreboding sounds, and as the
gunboat drew near the black mysterious banks this was reinforced by a
depressing clamour of frogs.

"What is one to do?" the captain repeated after a vast interval, and
suddenly becoming active and savage and blasphemous, decided to burn the
Santa Rosa without further delay. Everyone aboard was pleased by that
idea, everyone helped with zest; they pulled in the cable, cut it, and
dropped the boat and fired her with tow and kerosene, and soon the
cuberta was crackling and flaring merrily amidst the immensities of the
tropical night. Holroyd watched the mounting yellow flare against the
blackness, and the livid flashes of sheet lightning that came and went
above the forest summits, throwing them into momentary silhouette, and
his stoker stood behind him watching also.

The stoker was stirred to the depths of his linguistics. "Sauba go pop,
pop," he said. "Wahaw!" and laughed richly.

But Holroyd was thinking that these little creatures on the decked canoe
had also eyes and brains.

The whole thing impressed him as incredibly foolish and wrong, but--what
was one to do? This question came back enormously reinforced on the
morrow, when at last the gunboat reached Badama.

This place, with its leaf-thatch-covered houses and sheds, its
creeper-invaded sugar-mill, its little jetty of timber and canes, was
very still in the morning heat, and showed never a sign of living men.
Whatever ants there were at that distance were too small to see.

"All the people have gone," said Gerilleau, "but we will do one thing
anyhow. We will 'oot and vissel."

So Holroyd hooted and whistled.

Then the captain fell into a doubting fit of the worst kind. "Dere is
one thing we can do," he said presently.

"What's that?" said Holroyd.

"'Oot and vissel again."

So they did.

The captain walked his deck and gesticulated to himself. He seemed to
have many things on his mind. Fragments of speeches came from his lips.
He appeared to be addressing some imaginary public tribunal either in
Spanish or Portuguese. Holroyd's improving ear detected something about
ammunition. He came out of these preoccupations suddenly into English.
"My dear 'Olroyd!" he cried, and broke off with "But what can one do?"

They took the boat and field-glasses, and went close in to examine the
place. They made out a number of big ants, whose still postures had a
certain effect of watching them, dotted about the edge of the rude
embarkation jetty. Gerilleau tried ineffectual pistol shots at these.
Holroyd thinks he distinguished curious earthworks running between the
nearer houses, that may have been the work of insect conquerors of those
human habitations. The explorers pulled past the jetty, and became aware
of a human skeleton wearing a loin cloth, and very bright and clean and
shining, lying beyond. They came to a pause regarding this...

"I 'ave all dose lives to consider," said Gerilleau suddenly.

Holroyd turned and stared at the captain, realising slowly that he
referred to the unappetising mixture of races that constituted his crew.

"To send a landing party--it is impossible--impossible. They will be
poisoned, they will swell, they will swell up and abuse me and die. It
is totally impossible... If we land, I must land alone, alone in thick
boots and with my life in my hand. Perhaps I should live. Or again--I
might not land. I do not know. I do not know."

Holroyd thought he did, but he said nothing.

"De whole thing," said Gerilleau suddenly, "'as been got up to make me
ridiculous. De whole thing!"

They paddled about and regarded the clean white skeleton from various
points of view, and then they returned to the gunboat. Then Gerilleau's
indecisions became terrible. Steam was got up, and in the afternoon the
monitor went on up the river with an air of going to ask somebody
something, and by sunset came back again, and anchored. A thunderstorm
gathered and broke furiously, and then the night became beautifully cool
and quiet and everyone slept on deck. Except Gerilleau, who tossed about
and muttered. In the dawn he awakened Holroyd.

"Lord!" said Holroyd, "what now?"

"I have decided," said the captain.

"What--to land?" said Holroyd, sitting up brightly.

"No!" said the captain, and was for a time very reserved. "I have
decided," he repeated, and Holroyd manifested symptoms of impatience.

"Well--yes," said the captain. "I shall fire de big gun!"

And he did! Heaven knows what the ants thought of it, but he did. He
fired it twice with great sternness and ceremony. All the crew had
wadding in their ears, and there was effect of going into action about
the whole affair, and first hit and wrecked the old sugar-mill, and then
they smashed the abandoned store behind the jetty. And then Gerilleau
experienced the inevitable reaction.

"It is no good," he said to Holroyd; "no good at all. No sort of bally
good. We must go back--for instructions. Dere will be de devil of a row
about dis ammunition--oh! De devil of a row! You don't know, 'Olroyd..."

He stood regarding the world in infinite perplexity for a space.

"But what else was there to do?" he cried.

In the afternoon the monitor started down stream again, and in the
evening a landing party took the body of the lieutenant and buried it on
the bank upon which the new ants have so far not appeared...


4.

I heard this story in a fragmentary state from Holroyd not three
weeks ago. These new ants have got into his brain, and he has come back
to England with the idea, as he says, of "exciting people" about them
"before it is too late." He says they threaten British Guiana, which
cannot be much over a trifle of a thousand miles from their present
sphere of activity, and that the Colonial Office ought to get to work
upon them at once. He declaims with great passion: "These are
intelligent ants. Just think what that means!"

There can be no doubt they are a serious pest, and that the Brazilian
Government is well advised in offering a prize of five hundred pounds
for some effectual method of extirpation. It is certain too, that since
they first appeared in the hills beyond Badama, about three years ago,
they have achieved extraordinary conquests. The whole of the south bank
of the Batemo River, for nearly sixty miles, they have in their
effectual occupation; they have driven men out completely, occupied
plantations and settlements, and boarded and captured at least one ship.
It is even said they have in some inexplicable way bridged the very
considerable Capuarana arm and pushed many miles towards the Amazon
itself. There can be little doubt that they are far more reasonable and
with a far better social organisation then any previously known ant
species; instead of being dispersed societies they are organised into
what is in effect a single nation; but their peculiar and immediate
formidableness lies not so much in this as in the intelligent use they
make of poison against their enemies. It would seem this poison of
theirs is closely akin to snake poison, and it is highly probable they
actually manufacture it, and that the larger individuals among them
carry the needle-like crystals of it in their attacks upon men.

Of course it is extremely difficult to get any detailed information
about these new competitors for sovereignty of the globe. No
eye-witnesses of their activity, except for such glimpses as Holroyd's,
have survived the encounter. The most extraordinary legends of their
prowess and capacity are in circulation in the region of the Upper
Amazon, and grow daily as the steady advance of the invader stimulates
men's imaginations through their fears. These strange little creatures
are credited not only with the use of implements and knowledge of fire
and metals and with organised feats of engineering that stagger our
Northern minds--used as we are to such feats as that of the Saubas of
Rio de Janeiro, who, in 1841, drove a tunnel under Parahyba, where it is
as wide as the Thames at London Bridge--but with an organised and
detailed method of record and communication analogous to our books. So
far their action has been a steady progressive settlement, involving the
flight or slaughter of every human being in the new areas they invade.
They are increasing rapidly in numbers, and Holroyd at least is firmly
convinced that they will finally dispossess man over the whole of
tropical South America.

And why should they stop at tropical South America?

Well, there they are, anyhow. By 1911 or thereabouts, if they go on as
they are going, they ought to strike the Capuarana Extension Railway,
and force themselves upon the attention of the European capitalist.

By 1920 they will be halfway down the Amazon. I fix 1950 or '60 at least
for the discovery of Europe.




A VISION OF JUDGMENT


1.

Bru-a-a-a.

I listened, not understanding. Wa-ra-ra-ra.

"Good Lord!" said I, still only half awake. "What an infernal shindy!"
Ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra Ta-ra-rra-ra.

"It's enough," said I, "to wake--" and stopped short. Were was I?
Ta-rra-rara--louder and louder.

"It's either some new invention--" Toora-toora-toora! Deafening!

"No," said I, speaking loud in order to hear myself. "That's the Last
Trump." Tooo-rraa!


2.

The last note jerked me out of my grave like a hooked minnow.

I saw my monument (rather a mean little affair, and I wished I knew
who'd done it), and the old elm tree and the sea view vanished like a
puff of steam, and then all about me--a multitude no man could number,
nations, tongues, kingdoms, peoples--children of all ages, in an
amphitheatral space as vast as the sky. And over against us, seated on a
throne of dazzling white cloud, the Lord God and all the host of his
angels. I recognised Azreal by his darkness and Michael by his sword,
and the great angel who had blown the trumpet stood with the trumpet
still half raised.


3.

"Prompt," said the little man beside me. "Very prompt. Do you see the
angel with the book?"

He was ducking and craning his head about to see over and under and
between the souls that crowded round us. "Everybody's here," he said.
"Everybody. And now we shall know--"

"There's Darwin," he said, going off at a tangent. "He'll catch it! And
there--you see--? That tall, important-looking man trying to catch the
eye of the Lord God, that's the Duke. But there's a lot of people one
doesn't know.

"Oh! There's Priggles, the publisher. I have always wondered about
printers' overs. Priggles was a clever man... But we shall know
now--even about him.

"I shall hear all that. I shall get most of the fun before... My
letter's S."

He drew the air in between his teeth.

"Historical characters, too. See? That's Henry the Eighth. There'll be a
good bit of evidence. Oh, damn! He's Tudor."

He lowered his voice. "Notice this chap, just in front of us, all
covered with hair. Paleolithic, you know. And there again--"

But I did not heed him, because I was looking at the Lord God.


4.

"Is this all?" asked the Lord God.

The angel at the book--it was one of countless volumes, like the British
Museum Reading-room Catalogue, glanced at us and seemed to count us in
the instant.

"That's all," he said, and added: "It was, O God, a very little planet."

The eyes of God surveyed us.

"Let us begin," said the Lord God.


5.

The angel opened the book and read a name. It was a name full of A's,
and the echoes of it came back out of the uttermost parts of space. I
did not catch it clearly, because the little man beside me said, in a
sharp jerk, "What's that?" It sounded like "Ahab" to me; but it could
not have been the Ahab of Scripture.

Instantly a small black figure was lifted up to a puffy cloud at the
very feet of God. It was a stiff little figure, dressed in rich
outlandish robes and crowned, and it folded its arms and scowled.

"Well?" said God, looking down at him.

We were privileged to hear the reply, and indeed the acoustic properties
of the place were marvellous.

"I plead guilty," said the little figure.

"Tell them what you have done," said the Lord God.

"I was a king," said the little figure, "a great king, and I was lustful
and proud and cruel. I made wars, I devastated countries, I built
palaces, and the mortar was the blood of men. Hear, O God, the witnesses
against me, calling to you for vengeance. Hundreds and thousands of
witnesses." He waved his hands towards us. "And worse! I took a
prophet--one of your prophets--"

"One of my prophets," said the Lord God.

"And because he would not bow to me, I tortured him for four days and
nights, and in the end he died. I did more, O God, I blasphemed. I
robbed you of your honours--"

"Robbed me of my honours," said the Lord God.

"And caused myself to be worshipped in your stead. No evil was there,
but I practised it; no cruelty wherewith I did not stain my soul. And at
last you smote me, O God!"

God raised his eyebrows slightly.

"And I was slain in battle. And so I stand before you, meet for your
nethermost Hell! Out of your greatness daring no lies, daring no pleas,
but telling the truth of my iniquities before all mankind."

He ceased. His face I saw distinctly, and it seemed to me white and
terrible and proud and strangely noble. I thought of Milton's Satan.

"Most of that is from the Obelisk," said the recording Angel, finger on
page.

"It is," said the Tyrannous Man, with a faint touch of surprise.

Then suddenly God bent forward and took this man in his hand, and held
him up on his palm as if to see him better. He was just a little dark
stroke in the middle of God's palm.

"Did he do all this?" said the Lord God.

The recording angel flattened his book with his hand.

"In a way," said the recording angel, carelessly.

Now when I looked again at the little man his face had changed in a very
curious manner. He was looking at the recording angel with strange
apprehension in his eyes, and one hand fluttered to his mouth. Just the
movement of a muscle or so, and all that dignity of defiance was gone.

"Read," said the Lord God.

And the angel read, explaining very carefully and fully all the
wickedness of the Wicked Man. It was quite a intellectual treat--A
little "daring" in places, I thought, but of course Heaven has its
privileges...


6.

Everybody was laughing. Even the prophet of the Lord whom the Wicked
Man had tortured had a smile on his face. The Wicked Man was really such
a preposterous little fellow.

"And then," reading the recording angel, with a smile that set us all
agog, "one day, when he was a little irascible from over-eating, he--"

"Oh, not that," cried the Wicked Man, "nobody knew of that."

"It didn't happen," screamed the Wicked Man. "I was bad--I was really
bad. Frequently bad, but there was nothing so silly--so absolutely
silly--"

The angel went on reading.

"O God!" cried the Wicked Man. "Don't let them know that! I'll repent!
I'll apologise..."

The Wicked Man on God's hand began to dance and weep. Suddenly shame
overcame him. He made a wild rush to jump off the ball of God's little
finger, but God stopped him by a dexterous turn of the wrist. Then he
made a rush for a gap between hand and thumb, but thumb closed. And all
the while the angel went on reading--reading. The Wicked Man rushed to
and fro across God's palm, and then suddenly turned about and fled up
the sleeve of God.

I expected God would turn him out, but the mercy of God is infinite.

The recording angel paused.

"Eh?" said the recording angel.

"Next," said God, and before the recording angel could call upon the
name, a hairy creature in filthy rags stood upon God's palm.


7.

"Has God got Hell up his sleeve then?" said the little man beside me.

"Is there a Hell?" I asked.

"If you notice," he said--he peered between the feet of the great
angels--"there's no particular indication of the Celestial City."

"Ssh!" said a little woman near us, scowling. "Hear this blessed Saint!"


8.

"He was Lord of the Earth, but I was the prophet of the God of
Heaven," cried the Saint, "and all the people marvelled at the sign. For
I, O God, knew of the glories of thy Paradise. No pain, no hardship,
gashing with knives, splinters thrust under my nails, strips of flesh
flayed off, all for the glory and honour of God."

God smiled.

"And at last I went, I in my rags and sores, smelling of my holy
discomforts--"

Gabriel laughed abruptly.

"And lay outside his gates, as a sign, as a wonder--"

"As a perfect nuisance," said the recording angel, and began to read,
heedless of the fact that the Saint was still speaking of gloriously
unpleasant things he had done that Paradise might be his.

And behold, in that book the record of the Saint also was a revelation,
a marvel.

It seemed not ten seconds before the Saint, also, was rushing to and fro
over the great palm of God. Not ten seconds! And at last he also
shrieked beneath that pitiless and cynical exposition, and fled also,
even as the Wicked Man had fled, into the shadow of the sleeve. And it
was permitted us to see into the shadow of the sleeve. And the two sat
side by side, stark of all delusions, in the shadow of the robe of God's
charity, like brothers.

And thither also I fled in my turn.


9.

"And now," said God, as he shook us out of his sleeve upon the planet
he had given us to live upon, the planet that whirled about green Sirius
for a sun, "now that you understand me and each other a little better...
try again."

Then he and his great angels turned themselves about and suddenly had
vanished.

The Throne had vanished.

All about me was a beautiful land, more beautiful than any I had ever
seen before--waste, austere, and wonderful; and all about me were the
enlightened souls of men in new clean bodies...




THE LAND IRONCLADS (FIRST PUBLISHED IN DECEMBER, 1903.)


1.

The young lieutenant lay beside the war correspondent and admired the
idyllic calm of the enemy's lines through his field-glass.

"So far as I can see," he said at last, "one man."

"What's he doing?" asked the war correspondent.

"Field-glass at us," said the young lieutenant.

"And this is War!"

"No," said the young lieutenant; "it's Bloch."

"The game's a draw."

"No! They've got to win or else they lose. A draw's a win for our side."

They had discussed the political situation fifty times or so, and the
war correspondent was weary of it. He stretched out his limbs. "Aaai
s'pose it is!" he yawned.

Flut!

"What was that?"

"Shot at us."

The war correspondent shifted to a slightly lower position. "No one shot
at him," he complained.

"I wonder if they think we shall get so bored we shall go home?"

The war correspondent made no reply.

"There's the harvest, of course..."

They had been there a month. Since the first brisk movements after the
declaration of war things had gone slower and slower, until it seemed as
though the whole machine of events must have run down. To begin with,
they had, had almost a scampering time; the invader had come across the
frontier on the very dawn of the war in half-a-dozen parallel columns
behind a cloud of cyclists and cavalry, with a general air of coming
straight on the capital, and the defender horsemen had held him up, and
peppered him and forced him to open out to outflank, and had then bolted
to the next position in the most approved style, for a couple of days,
until in the afternoon, bump! They had the invader against their
prepared lines of defence. He did not suffer so much as had been hoped
and expected: he was coming on, it seemed, with his eyes open, his
scouts winded the guns, and down he sat at once without the shadow of an
attack and began grubbing trenches for himself, as though he meant to
sit down there to the very end of time. He was slow, but much more wary
than the world had been led to expect, and he kept convoys tucked in and
shielded his slow-marching infantry sufficiently well to prevent any
heavy adverse scoring.

"But he ought to attack," the young lieutenant had insisted.

"He'll attack us at dawn, somewhere along the lines. You'll get the
bayonets coming into the trenches just about when you see," the war
correspondent had held until a week ago.

The young lieutenant winked when he said that.

When one early morning the men the defenders sent to lie out five
hundred yards before the trenches, with a view to the unexpected
emptying of magazines into any night attack, gave way to causeless panic
and blazed away at nothing for ten minutes, the war correspondent
understood the meaning of that wink.

"What would you do if you were the enemy?" said the war correspondent,
suddenly.

"If I had men like I've got now?"

"Yes."

"Take those trenches."

"How?"

"Oh--dodges! Crawl out halfway at night before moonrise and get into
touch with the chaps we send out. Blaze at 'em if they tried to shift,
and so bag some of 'em in the daylight. Learn that patch of ground by
heart, lie all day in squatty holes, and come on nearer next night.
There's a bit over there, lumpy ground, where they could get across to
rushing distance--easy. In a night or so. It would be a mere game for
our fellows; it's what they're made for... Guns? Shrapnel and stuff
wouldn't stop good men who meant business."

"Why don't they do that?

"Their men aren't brutes enough; that's the trouble. They're a crowd of
devitalised townsmen, and that's the truth of the matter. They're
clerks, they're factory hands, they're students, they're civilised men.
They can write, they can talk, they can make and do all sorts of things,
but they're poor amateurs at war. They've got no physical staying power,
and that's the whole thing. They've never slept in the open one night in
their lives; they've never drunk anything but the purest water-company
water; they've never gone short of three meals a day since they left
their feeding-bottles. Half their cavalry never cocked leg over horse
till it enlisted six months ago. They ride their horses as though they
were bicycles--you watch 'em! They're fools at the game, and they know
it. Our boys of fourteen can give their grown men points... Very well--"

The war correspondent mused on his face with his nose between his
knuckles.

"If a decent civilisation," he said, "cannot produce better men for war
than--"

He stopped with belated politeness. "I mean--"

"Than our open-air life," said the young lieutenant.

"Exactly," said the war correspondent. "The civilisation has to stop."

"It looks like it," the young lieutenant admitted.

"Civilisation has science, you know," said the war correspondent. "It
invented and it makes the rifles and guns and things you use."

"Which our nice healthy hunters and stockmen and so on, rowdy-dowdy
cowpunchers and nigger-whackers, can use ten times better than--What's
that?"

"What?" said the war correspondent, and then seeing his companion busy
with his field-glass he produced his own: "Where?" said the war
correspondent, sweeping the enemy's lines.

"It's nothing," said the young lieutenant, still looking.

"What's nothing?"

The young lieutenant put down his glass and pointed. "I thought I saw
something there, behind the stems of those trees. Something black. What
it was I don't know."

The war correspondent tried to get even by intense scrutiny.

"It wasn't anything," said the young lieutenant, rolling over to regard
the darkling evening sky, and generalised: "There never will be anything
any more for ever. Unless--"

The war correspondent looked inquiry.

"They may get their stomachs wrong, or something--living without proper
drains."

A sound of bugles came from the tents behind. The war correspondent slid
backward down the sand and stood up. "Boom!" came from somewhere far
away to the left. "Halloa!" he said, hesitated, and crawled back to peer
again. "Firing at this time is jolly bad manners."

The young lieutenant was uncommunicative for a space.

Then he pointed to the distant clump of trees again. "One of our big
guns. They were firing at that," he said.

"The thing that wasn't anything?"

"Something over there, anyhow."

Both men were silent, peering through their glasses for a space. "Just
when it's twilight," the lieutenant complained. He stood up.

"I might stay here a bit," said the war correspondent.

The lieutenant shook his head. "There's nothing to see," he apologised,
and then went down to where his little squad of sun-brown, loose-limbed
men had been yarning in the trench. The war correspondent stood up also,
glanced for a moment at the businesslike bustle below him, gave perhaps
twenty seconds to those enigmatical trees again, then turned his face
toward the camp.

He found himself wondering whether his editor would consider the story
of how somebody thought he saw something black behind a clump of trees,
and how a gun was fired at this illusion by somebody else, too trivial
for public consumption.

"It's the only gleam of a shadow of interest," said the war
correspondent, "for ten whole days."

"No," he said presently; "I'll write that other article, 'Is War Played
Out?'"

He surveyed the darkling lines in perspective, the tangle of trenches
one behind another, one commanding another, which the defender had made
ready. The shadows and mists swallowed up their receding contours, and
here and there a lantern gleamed, and here and there knots of men were
busy about small fires. "No troops on earth could do it," he said...

He was depressed. He believed that there were other things in life
better worth having than proficiency in war; he believed that in the
heart of civilisation, for all its stresses, its crushing concentrations
of forces, its injustice and suffering, there lay something that might
be the hope of the world; and the idea that any people, by living in the
open air, hunting perpetually, losing touch with books and art and all
the things that intensify life, might hope to resist and break that
great development to the end of time, jarred on his civilised soul.

Apt to his thought came a file of the defender soldiers, and passed him
in the gleam of a swinging lamp that marked the way.

He glanced at their red-lit faces, and one shone out for a moment, a
common type of face in the defender's ranks: ill-shaped nose, sensuous
lips, bright clear eyes full of alert cunning, slouch hat cocked on one
side and adorned with the peacock's plume of the rustic Don Juan turned
soldier, a hard brown skin, a sinewy frame, an open, tireless stride,
and a master's grip on his rifle.

The war correspondent returned their salutations and went on his way.

"Louts," he whispered. "Cunning, elementary louts. And they are going to
beat the townsmen at the game of war!"

From the red glow among the nearer tents came first one and then
half-a-dozen hearty voices, bawling in a drawling unison the words of a
particularly slab and sentimental patriotic song.

"Oh, go it!" muttered the war correspondent, bitterly.


2.

It was opposite the trenches called after Hackbone's Hut that the
battle began. There the ground stretched broad and level between the
lines, with scarcely shelter for a lizard, and it seemed to the
startled, just-awakened men who came crowding into the trenches that
this was one more proof of that inexperience of the enemy of which they
had heard so much. The war correspondent would not believe his ears at
first, and swore that he and the war artist, who, still imperfectly
roused, was trying to put on his boots by the light of a match held in
his hand, were the victims of a common illusion. Then, after putting his
head in a bucket of cold water, his intelligence came back as he
towelled. He listened. "Gollys!" he said; "that's something more than
scare firing this time. It's like ten thousand carts on a bridge of tin."

There came a sort of enrichment to that steady uproar. "Machine-guns!"

Then, "Guns!"

The artist, with one boot on, thought to look at his watch, and went to
it hopping.

"Half an hour from dawn," he said. "You were right about their
attacking, after all..."

The war correspondent came out of the tent, verifying the presence of
chocolate in his pocket as he did so. He had to halt for a moment or so
until his eyes were toned down to the night a little. "Pitch!" he said.
He stood for a space to season his eyes before he felt justified in
striking out for a black gap among the adjacent tents. The artist coming
out behind him fell over a tent-rope. It was half-past two o'clock in
the morning of the darkest night in time, and against a sky of dull
black silk the enemy was talking search-lights, a wild jabber of
search-lights. "He's trying to blind our riflemen," said the war
correspondent with a flash, and waited for the artist and then set off
with a sort of discreet haste again. "Whoa!" he said, presently.
"Ditches!"

They stopped.

"It's the confounded search-lights," said the war correspondent.

They saw lanterns going to and fro, near by, and men falling in to march
down to the trenches. They were for following them, and then the artist
began to get his night eyes. "If we scramble this," he said, "and it's
only a drain, there's a clear run up to the ridge." And that way they
took. Lights came and went in the tents behind, as the men turned out,
and ever and again they came to broken ground and staggered and
stumbled. But in a little while they drew near the crest. Something that
sounded like the impact of a tremendous railway accident happened in the
air above them, and the shrapnel bullets seethed about them like a
sudden handful of hail. "Right-ho!" said the war correspondent, and soon
they judged they had come to the crest and stood in the midst of a world
of great darkness and frantic glares, whose principal fact was sound.

Right and left of them and all about them was the uproar, an army-full
of magazine fire, at first chaotic and monstrous, and then, eked out by
little flashes and gleams and suggestions, taking the beginnings of a
shape. It looked to the war correspondent as though the enemy must have
attacked in line and with his whole force--in which case he was either
being or was already annihilated.

"Dawn and the dead," he said, with his instinct for headlines. He said
this to himself, but afterwards by means of shouting he conveyed an idea
to the artist, "They must have meant it for a surprise," he said.

It was remarkable how the firing kept on. After a time he began to
perceive a sort of rhythm in this inferno of noise. It would
decline--decline perceptibly, droop towards something that was
comparatively a pause--a pause of inquiry. "Aren't you all dead yet?"
this pause seemed to say. The flickering fringe of rifle-flashes would
become attenuated and broken, and the whack-bang of enemy's big guns two
miles away there would come up out of the deeps. Then suddenly, east or
west of them, something would startle the rifles to a frantic outbreak
again.

The war correspondent taxed his brain for some theory of conflict that
would account for this, and was suddenly aware that the artist and he
were vividly illuminated. He could see the ridge on which they stood,
and before them in black outline a file of riflemen hurrying down
towards the nearer trenches. It became visible that a light rain was
falling, and farther away towards the enemy was a clear space with
men--"our men--?" Running across it in disorder. He saw one of those men
throw up his hands and drop. And something else black and shining loomed
up on the edge of the beam-coruscating flashes; and behind it and far
away a calm, white eye regarded the world. "Whit, whit, whit," sang
something in the air, and then the artist was running for cover, with
the war correspondent behind him. Bang came shrapnel, bursting close at
hand as it seemed, and our two men were lying flat in a dip in the
ground, and the light and everything had gone again, leaving a vast note
of interrogation upon the light.

The war correspondent came within brawling range. "What the deuce was
it? Shooting our men down!"

"Black," said the artist, "and like a fort. Not two hundred yards from
the first trench."

He sought for comparison in his mind. "Something between a big
blockhouse and a giant's dish-cover," he said.

"And they were running!" said the war correspondent.

"You'd run if a thing like that, with a search-light to help it, turned
up like a prowling nightmare in the middle of the night."

They crawled to what they judged the edge of the dip and lay regarding
the unfathomable dark. For a space they could distinguish nothing, and
then a sudden convergence of the search-lights of both sides brought the
strange thing out again.

In that flickering pallor it had the effect of a large and clumsy black
insect, an insect the size of an iron-clad cruiser, crawling obliquely
to the first line of trenches and firing shots out port-holes in its
side. And on its carcass the bullets must have been battering with more
than the passionate violence of hail on a roof of tin.

Then in the twinkling of an eye the curtain of the dark had fallen again
and the monster had vanished, but the crescendo of musketry marked its
approach to the trenches.

They were beginning to talk about the thing to each other, when a flying
bullet kicked dirt into the artist's face, and they decided abruptly to
crawl down into the cover of the trenches. They had got down with an
unobtrusive persistence into the second line, before the dawn had grown
clear enough for anything to be seen. They found themselves in a crowd
of expectant riflemen, all noisily arguing about what would happen next.
The enemy's contrivance had done execution upon the outlying men, it
seemed, but they did not believe it would do any more. "Come the day and
we'll capture the lot of them," said a burly soldier.

"Them?" said the war correspondent.

"They say there's a regular string of 'em, crawling along the front of
our lines... Who cares?"

The darkness filtered away so imperceptibly that at no moment could one
declare decisively that one could see. The search-lights ceased to sweep
hither and thither. The enemy's monsters were dubious patches of
darkness upon the dark, and then no longer dubious, and so they crept
out into distinctness. The war correspondent, munching chocolate
absent-mindedly, beheld at last a spacious picture of battle under the
cheerless sky, whose central focus was an array of fourteen or fifteen
huge clumsy shapes lying in perspective on the very edge of the first
line trenches, at intervals of perhaps three hundred yards, and
evidently firing down upon the crowded riflemen. They were so close in
that the defender's guns had ceased, and only the first line of trenches
was in action.

The second line commanded the first, and as the light grew, the war
correspondent could make out the riflemen who were fighting these
monsters, crouched in knots and crowds behind the transverse banks that
crossed the trenches against the eventuality of an enfilade. The
trenches close to the big machines were empty save for the crumpled
suggestions of dead and wounded men; the defenders had been driven right
and left as soon as the prow of land ironclad had loomed up over the
front of the trench. The war correspondent produced his field-glass, and
was immediately a centre of inquiry from the soldiers about him.

They wanted to look, they asked questions, and after he had announced
that the men across the traverses seemed unable to advance or retreat,
and were crouching under cover rather than fighting, he found it
advisable to loan his glasses to a burly and incredulous corporal. He
heard a strident voice, and found a lean and sallow soldier at his back
talking to the artist.

"There's chaps down there caught" the men was saying. "If they retreat
they got to expose themselves, and the fire's too straight..."

"They aren't firing much, but every shot's a hit."

"Who?"

"The chaps in that thing. The men who're coming up--"

"Coming up where?"

"We're evacuating them trenches where we can. Our chaps are coming back
up the zigzags... No end of 'em hit... But when we get clear our turn'll
come. Rather! Those things won't be able to cross a trench or get into
it; and before they can get back our guns'll smash 'em up. Smash 'em
right up. See?" A brightness came into his eyes. "Then we'll have a go
at the beggars inside," he said.

The war correspondent thought for a moment, trying to realise the idea.
Then he set himself to recover his field-glasses from the burly
corporal.

The daylight was getting clearer now. The clouds were lifting, and a
gleam of lemon-yellow amidst the level masses to the east portended
sunrise. He looked again at the land ironclad. As he saw it in the
bleak, grey dawn, lying obliquely upon the slope and on the very lip of
the foremost trench, the suggestion of a stranded vessel was very strong
indeed. It might have been from eighty to a hundred feet long--it was
about two hundred and fifty yards away--its vertical side was ten feet
high or so, smooth for that height, and then with a complex patterning
under the eaves of its flattish turtle cover. This patterning was a
close interlacing of port-holes, rifle barrels, and telescope
tubes--sham and real--indistinguishable one from the other. The thing
had come into such a position as to enfilade the trench, which was empty
now, so far as he could see, except for two or three crouching knots of
men and the tumbled dead. Behind it, across the plain, it had scored the
grass with a train of linked impressions, like the dotted tracings
sea-things leave in sand. Left and right of that track dead men and
wounded men were scattered--men it had picked off as they fled back from
their advanced positions in the search-light glare from the invader's
lines. And now it lay with its head projecting a little over the trench
it had won, as if it were a single sentient thing planning the next
phase of its attack...

He lowered his glasses and took a more comprehensive view of the
situation. These creatures of night had evidently won the first line of
trenches and the fight had come to a pause. In the increasing light he
could make out by a stray shot or a chance exposure that the defender's
marksmen were lying thick in the second and third line of trenches up
towards the low crest of the position, and in such of the zigzags as
gave them a chance of a converging fire. The men about him were talking
of guns. "We're in the line of big guns at the crest, but they'll soon
shift one to pepper them" the lean man said, reassuringly.

"Whup," said the corporal.

"Bang! Bang! Bang! Whir-r-r-r-r!" it was a sort of nervous jump, and all
the rifles were going off by themselves. The war correspondent found
himself and artist, two idle men crouching behind a line of preoccupied
backs, of industrious men discharging magazines. The monster had moved.
It continued to move regardless of the hail that splashed its skin with
bright new specks of lead. It was singing a mechanical little ditty to
itself, "Tuf-tuf, tuf-tuf, tuf-tuf," and squirting out little jets of
steam behind. It had humped itself up, as a limpet does before it
crawls; it had its skirt and displayed along the length of it--feet!
They were thick, stumpy feet, between knobs and buttons in shape--flat,
broad things, reminding one of the feet of elephants or the legs of
caterpillars; and then, as the skirt rose higher, the war correspondent,
scrutinising the thing through his glasses again, saw that these feet
hung, as it were, on the rims of wheels. His thoughts whirled back to
Victoria Street, Westminster, and he saw himself in the piping times of
peace, seeking matter for an interview.

"Mr.--Mr. Diplock," he said; "and he called them Pedrails... Fancy
meeting them here!"

The marksman beside him raised his head and shoulders in a speculative
mood to fire more certainly--it seemed so natural to assume the
attention of the monster must be distracted by this trench before
it--and was suddenly knocked backwards by a bullet through his neck. His
feet flew up, and he vanished out of the margin of the watcher's field
of vision. The war correspondent grovelled tighter, but after a glance
behind him at a painful little confusion, he resumed his field-glass,
for the thing was putting down its feet one after the other, and
hoisting itself farther and farther over the trench. Only a bullet in
the head could have stopped him looking just then.

The lean man with the strident voice ceased firing to turn and reiterate
his point. "They can't possibly cross," he bawled. "They--"

"Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang--!" Drowned everything.

The lean man continued speaking for a word or so, then gave it up, shook
his head to enforce the impossibility of anything crossing a trench like
the one below, and resumed business once more.

And all the while that great bulk was crossing. When the war
correspondent turned his glass on it again it had bridged the trench,
and its queer feet were rasping away at the farther bank, in the attempt
to get a hold there. It got its hold. It continued to crawl until the
greater bulk of it was over the trench--until it was all over. Then it
paused for a moment, adjusted its skirt a little nearer the ground, gave
an unnerving "toot, toot," and came on abruptly at a pace of, perhaps,
six miles an hour straight up the gentle slope towards our observer.

The war correspondent raised himself on his elbow and looked a natural
inquiry at the artist.

For a moment the men about him stuck to their position and fired
furiously. Then the lean man in a mood of precipitancy slid backwards,
and the war correspondent said "Come along," to the artist, and led the
movement along the trench.

As they dropped down, the vision of a hillside of trench being rushed by
a dozen vast cockroaches disappeared for a space, and instead was one of
a narrow passage, crowded with men, for the most part receding, through
one or two turned or halted. He never turned back to see the nose of the
monster creep over the brow of the trench; he never even troubled to
keep in touch with the artist. He heard the "whit" of bullets about him
soon enough, and saw a man before him stumble and drop, and then he was
one of a furious crowd fighting to get into a transverse zigzag ditch
that enabled the defenders to get under cover up and down the hill. It
was like a theatre panic. He gathered from signs and fragmentary words
that on ahead another of these monsters had also won to the second
trench.

He lost his interest in the general course of the battle for a space
altogether; he became simply a modest egotist, in a mood of hasty
circumspection, seeking the farthest rear, amidst a dispersed multitude
of disconcerted riflemen similarly employed. He scrambled down through
trenches, he took his courage in both hands and sprinted across the
open, he had moments of panic when it seemed madness not to be
quadrupedal, and moments of shame when he stood up and faced about to
see how the fight was going. And he was one of many thousand very
similar men that morning. On the ridge he halted in a knot of scrub, and
was for a few minutes almost minded to stop and see things out.

The day was now fully come. The grey sky had changed to blue, and of all
the cloudy masses of dawn there remained only a few patches of
dissolving fleeciness. The world below was bright and singularly clear.
The ridge was not, perhaps, more than a hundred feet or so above the
general plain, but in this flat region it sufficed to give the effect of
extensive view. Away on the north side of the ridge, little and far,
were the camps, the ordered wagons, all the gear of a big army; with
officers galloping about and men doing aimless things. Here and there
men were falling in, however, and the cavalry was forming up on the
plain beyond the tents. The bulk of men who had been in the trenches
were still on the move to the rear, scattered like sheep without a
shepherd over the farther slopes. Here and there were little rallies and
attempts to wait and do--something vague; but the general drift was away
from any concentration. There on the southern side was the elaborate
lacework of trenches and defences, across which these iron turtles,
fourteen of them spread out over a line of perhaps three miles, were now
advancing as fast as a man could trot, and methodically shooting down
and breaking up any persistent knots of resistance. Here and there stood
little clumps of men, outflanked and unable to get away, showing the
white flag, and the invader's cyclist infantry was advancing now across
the open, in open order, but unmolested, to complete the work of the
machines. Surveyed at large, the defenders already looked a beaten army.
A mechanism that was effectually ironclad against bullets, that could at
a pinch cross a thirty-foot trench, and that seemed able to shoot out
rifle-bullets with unerring precision, was clearly an inevitable victor
against anything but rivers, precipices, and guns.

He looked at his watch. "Half-past four! Lord! What thing can happen in
two hours. Here's the whole blesses army being walked over, and at
half-past two--"

"And even now our blessed louts haven't done a thing with their guns!"

He scanned the ridge right and left of him with his glasses. He turned
again to the nearest land ironclad, advancing now obliquely to him and
not three hundred yards away, and then scanned the ground over which he
must retreat if he was not to be captured.

"They'll do nothing," he said, and glanced at the enemy.

And then from far away to the left came the thud of a gun, followed very
rapidly by a rolling gun-fire.

He hesitated and decided to stay.


3.

The defender had relied chiefly upon his rifles in the event of an
assault. His guns he kept concealed at various points upon and behind
the ridge ready to bring them into action against any artillery
preparations for an attack on the part of his antagonist. The situation
had rushed upon him with the dawn, and by the time the gunners had their
guns ready for motion, the land ironclads were already in among the
foremost trenches. There is a natural reluctance to fire into one's own
broken men, and many of the guns, being intended simply to fight an
advance of the enemy's artillery, were not in positions to hit anything
in the second line of trenches. After that the advance of the land
ironclads was swift. The defender-general found himself suddenly called
upon to invent a new sort of warfare, in which guns were to fight alone
amidst broken and retreating infantry. He had scarcely thirty minutes in
which to think it out. He did not respond to call, and what happened
that morning was that the advance of the land ironclads forced the
fight, and each gun and battery made what play its circumstance
dictated. For the most part it was poor play.

Some of the guns got in two or three shots, some one or two, and the
percentage of misses was unusually high. The howitzers, of course, did
nothing. The land ironclads in each case followed much the same tactics.
As soon as a gun came into play the monster turned itself almost end-on,
so as to minimise the chances of a square hit, and made not for the gun,
but for the nearest point on its flank from which the gunners could be
shot down. Few of the hits scored were very effectual; only one of the
things was disabled, and that was the one that fought the three
batteries attached to the brigade on the left wing. Three that were hit
when close upon the guns were clean shot through without being put out
of action. Our war correspondent did not see that one momentary arrest
of the tide of victory on the left; he saw only the very ineffectual
fight of half-battery 96B close at hand upon his right. This he watched
some time beyond the margin of safety.

Just after he heard the three batteries opening up upon his left he
became aware of the thud of horses' hoofs from the sheltered side of the
slope, and presently saw first one and then two other guns galloping
into position along the north side of the ridge, well out of sight of
the great bulk that was now creeping obliquely towards the crest and
cutting up the lingering infantry beside it and below, as it came.

The half-battery swung round into line--each gun describing its
curve--halted, unlimbered, and prepared for action...

"Bang!"

The land ironclad had become visible over the brow of the hill, and just
visible as a long black back to the gunners. It halted, as though it
hesitated.

The two remaining guns fired, and then their big antagonist had swung
round and was in full view, end-on, against the sky, coming at a rush.

The gunners became frantic in their haste to fire again. They were so
near the war correspondent could see the expression of their excited
faces through his field-glass. As he looked he saw a man drop, and
realised for the first time that the ironclad was shooting.

For a moment the big black monster crawled with an accelerated pace
towards the furiously active gunners. Then, as if moved by a generous
impulse, it turned its full broadside to their attack, and scarcely
forty yards away from them. The war correspondent turned his field-glass
back to the gunners and perceived it was now shooting down the men about
the guns with the most deadly rapidity.

Just for a moment it seemed splendid, and then it seemed horrible. The
gunners were dropping in heaps about their guns. To lay a hand on a gun
was death. "Bang!" went the gun on the left, a hopeless miss, and that
was the only second shot the half-battery fired. In another moment
half-a-dozen surviving artillerymen were holding up their hands amidst a
scattered muddle of dead and wounded men, and the fight was done.

The war correspondent hesitated between stopping in his scrub and
waiting for an opportunity to surrender decently, or taking to an
adjacent gully he had discovered. If he surrendered it was certain he
would get no copy off; while, he escaped, there were all sorts of
chances. He decided to follow the gully, and take the first offer in the
confusion beyond the camp of picking up a horse.


4.

Subsequent authorities have found fault with the first land ironclads
in many particulars, but assuredly they served their purpose on the day
of their appearance. They were essentially long, narrow, and very strong
steel frameworks carrying the engines, and borne upon eight pairs of big
pedrail wheels, each about ten feet in diameter, each a driving wheel
and set upon long axles free to swivel round a common axis. This
arrangement gave them the maximum of adaptability to the contours of the
ground. They crawled level along the ground with one foot high upon a
hillock and another deep in a depression, and they could hold themselves
erect and steady sideways upon even a steep hillside. The engineers
directed the engines under the command of the captain, who had lookout
points at small ports all round the upper edge of the adjustable skirt
of twelve-inch iron-plating which protected the whole affair, and who
could also raise or depress a conning-tower set about the port-holes
through the centre of the iron top cover. The riflemen each occupied a
small cabin of peculiar construction, and these cabins were slung along
the sides of and before and behind the great main framework, in a manner
suggestive of the slinging of the seats of an Irish jaunting-car. Their
rifles, however, were very different pieces of apparatus from the simple
mechanisms in the hands of their adversaries.

These were in the first place automatic, ejected their cartridges and
loaded again from a magazine each time they fired, until the ammunition
store was at an end, and they had the most remarkable sights imaginable,
sights which threw a bright little camera-obscura picture into the
light-tight box in which the riflemen sat below. This camera-obscura
picture was marked with two crossed lines, and whatever was covered by
the intersection of these two lines, that the rifle hit. The sighting
was ingeniously contrived. The rifleman stood at the table with a like
an elaboration of a draughtsman's dividers in his hand, and he opened
and closed these dividers, so that they were always at the apparent
height--if it was an ordinary-sized man--of the man he wanted to kill. A
little twisted strand of wire like an electric-light wire ran from this
implement up to the gun, and as the dividers opened and shut the sights
went up or down. Changes in the clearness of the atmosphere, due to
changes of moisture, were met by an ingenious use of that
meteorologically sensitive substance, catgut, and when the land ironclad
moved forward the sights got a compensatory deflection in the direction
of its motion. The rifleman stood up in his pitch-dark chamber and
watched the little picture before him. One hand held the dividers for
judging distance, and the other grasped a big knob like a door-handle.
As he pushed this knob about the rifle above swung to correspond, and
the picture passed to and fro like an agitated panorama. When he saw a
man he wanted to shoot he brought him up to the cross-lines, and then
pressed a finger upon a little push like an electric bell-push,
conveniently placed in the centre of the knob. Then the man was shot. If
by any chance the rifleman missed his target he moved the knob a trifle,
or readjusted his dividers, pressed the push, and got him the second
time.

This rifle and its sights protruded from a port-hole, exactly like a
great number of other port-holes that ran in a triple row under the
eaves of the cover of the land ironclad. Each port-hole displayed a
rifle and sight in dummy, so that the real ones could only be hit by a
chance shot, and if one was, then the young man below said "Pshaw!"
turned on an electric light, lowered the injured instrument into his
camera, replaced the injured part, or put up a new rifle if the injury
was considerable.

You must conceive these cabins as hung clear above the swing of the
axles, and inside the big wheels upon which the great elephant-like feet
were hung, and behind these cabins along the centre of the monster ran a
central gallery into which they opened, and along which worked the big
compact engines. It was like a long passage into which this throbbing
machinery had been packed, and the captain stood about the middle, close
to the ladder that led to his conning-tower, and directed the silent,
alert engineers--for the most part by signs. The throb and noise of the
engines mingled with the reports of the rifles and the intermittent
clangour of the bullet hail upon the armour. Ever and again he would
touch the wheel that raised his conning-tower, step up his ladder until
his engineers could see nothing of him above the waist, and then come
down again with orders. Two small electric lights were all the
illumination of this space--they were placed to make him most clearly
visible to his subordinates; the air was thick with the smell of oil and
petrol, and had the war correspondent been suddenly transferred from the
spacious dawn outside to the bowels of this apparatus he would have
thought himself fallen into another world.

The captain, of course, saw both sides of the battle. When he raised his
head into his conning-tower there were the dewy sunrise, the amazed and
disordered trenches, the flying and falling soldiers, the
depressed-looking groups of prisoners, the beaten guns; when he bent
down again to signal "half speed," "quarter speed," "half circle, round
toward the right," or what not, he was in the oil-smelling twilight of
the ill-lit engine-room. Close beside him on either side was the
mouth-piece of a speaking-tube, and ever and again he would direct one
side or other of his strange craft to "concentrate fire forward on
gunners," or to "clear out trench about a hundred yards on our right
front."

He was a young man, healthy enough but by no means sun-tanned, and of a
type of feature and expression that prevails in His Majesty's Navy:
alert, intelligent, quiet. He and his engineers and riflemen all went
about their work, calm and reasonable men. They had none of that
flapping strenuousness of the half-wit in a hurry, that excessive strain
upon the blood-vessels, that hysteria of effort which is so frequently
regarded as the proper state of mind for heroic deeds.

For the enemy these young engineers were defeating they felt a certain
qualified pity and a quite unqualified contempt. They regarded these
big, healthy men they were shooting down precisely as these same big,
healthy men might regard some inferior kind of nigger. They despised
them for making war; despised their brawling patriotisms and their
emotionality profoundly; despised them, above all, for the petty cunning
and the almost brutish want of imagination their method of fighting
displayed. "If they must make war," these young men thought, "Why in
thunder don't they do it like sensible men?" They resented the
assumption that their own side was too stupid to do anything more than
play their enemy's game, that they were going to play this costly folly
according to the rules of unimaginative men. They resented being forced
to the trouble of making man-killing machinery; resented the alternative
of having to massacre these people or endure their truculent yappings;
resented the whole unfathomable imbecility of war.

Meanwhile, with something of the mechanical precision of a good clerk
posting a ledger, the rifleman moved their knobs and pressed their
buttons...

The captain of Land Ironclad Number Three had halted on the crest close
to his captured half-battery. His lined up prisoners stood hard by and
waited for the cyclists behind to come for them. He surveyed the
victorious morning through his conning-tower.

He read the general's signals. "Five and Four are to keep among the guns
to the left and prevent any attempt to recover them. Seven and Eleven
and Twelve, stick to the guns you have got; Seven, got into position to
command the guns taken by Three. Then we're to do something else, are
we? Six and One, quicken up to about ten miles an hour and walk round
behind that camp to the levels near the river--we shall bag the whole
crowd of them," interjected the young man. "Ah, here we are! Two and
Three, Eight and Nine, Thirteen and Fourteen, space out to a thousand
yards, wait for the word, and then go slowly to cover the advance of the
cyclist infantry against any change of mounted troops. That's all right.
But where's Ten? Halloa! Ten to repair and get movable as soon as
possible. They've broken up Ten!"

The discipline of the new war machines was business-like rather than
pedantic, and the head of the captain came down out of the conning-tower
to tell his men: "I say, you chaps there. They've broken up Ten. Not
badly, I think; but anyhow, he's stuck."

But that still left thirteen of the monsters in action to finish up the
broken army.

The war correspondent stealing down his gully looked back and saw them
all lying along the crest and talking fluttering congratulatory flags to
one another. Their iron sides were shining golden in the light of the
rising sun.


5.

The private adventures of the war correspondent terminated in
surrender about one o'clock in the afternoon, and by that time he had
stolen a horse, pitched off it, and narrowly escaped being rolled upon;
found the brute had broken its leg, and shot it with his revolver. He
had spent some hours in the company of a squad of dispirited riflemen,
had quarrelled with them about topography at last, and gone off by
himself in a direction that should have brought him to the banks of the
river and didn't. Moreover, he had eaten all his chocolate and found
nothing in the whole world to drink. Also, it had become extremely hot.
From behind a broken, but attractive, stone wall he had seen far away in
the distance the defender-horsemen trying to charge cyclists in open
order, with land ironclads outflanking them on either side. He had
discovered that cyclists could retreat over open turf before horsemen
with a sufficient margin of speed to allow of frequent dismounts and
much terribly effective sharp-shooting, and he had a sufficient
persuasion that those horsemen, having charged their hearts out, had
halted just beyond his range of vision and surrendered. He had been
urged to sudden activity by a forward movement of one of those machines
that had threatened to enfilade his wall. He had discovered a fearful
blister on his heel.

He was now in a scrubby gravelly place, sitting down and meditating on
his pocket-handkerchief, which had in some extraordinary way become in
the last twenty-four hours extremely ambiguous in hue. "It's the whitest
thing I've got," he said.

He had known all along that the enemy was east, west and south of him,
but when he heard land ironclads Number One and Six talking in their
measured, deadly way not half a mile to the north he decided to make his
own little unconditional peace without any further risks. He was for
hoisting his white flag to a brush and taking up a position of modest
obscurity near it until some one came along. He became aware of voices,
clatter, and the distinctive noises of a body of horses, quite near, and
he put his handkerchief in his pocket again and went to see what was
going forward.

The sound of firing ceased, and then as he drew near he heard the deep
sounds of many simple, coarse, but hearty and noble-hearted soldiers of
the old school swearing with vigour.

He emerged from his scrub upon a big level plain, and far away a fringe
of trees marked the banks of the river.

In the centre of the picture was a still intact road bridge, and big
railway bridge a little to the right. Two land ironclads rested, with a
general air of being long, harmless sheds, in a pose of anticipatory
peacefulness right and left of the picture, completely commanding two
miles and more of the river levels. Emerged and halted a few yards from
the scrub was the remainder of the defender's cavalry, dusty, a little
disordered and obviously annoyed, but still a very fine show of men. In
the middle distance three or four men and horses were receiving medical
attendance, and nearer a knot of officers regarded the distant novelties
in mechanism with profound distaste. Every one was very distinctly aware
of the twelve other ironclads, and of the multitude of townsmen
soldiers, on bicycles or afoot, encumbered now by prisoners and captured
war-gear, but otherwise thoroughly effective, who were sweeping like a
great net in their rear.

"Checkmate," said the war correspondent, walking out into the open. "But
I surrender in the best of company. Twenty-four hours ago I thought war
was impossible--and these beggars have captured the whole blessed army!
Well! Well!" He thought of his talk with the young lieutenant. "If
there's no end to the surprises of science, the civilised people have
it, of course. As long as their science keeps going they will
necessarily be ahead of open-country men. Still..." He wondered for a
space what might have happened to the young lieutenant.

The war correspondent was one of those inconsistent people who always
want the beaten side to win. When he saw all these burly, sun-tanned
horsemen, disarmed and dismounted and lined up; when he saw their horses
unskilfully led away by the singularly not equestrian cyclists to whom
they had surrendered; when he saw these truncated Paladins watching this
scandalous sight, he forgot altogether that he had called these men
"cunning louts" and wished them beaten not four-and-twenty hours ago. A
month ago he had seen that regiment in its pride going forth to war, and
had told of its terrible prowess, how it could charge in open order with
each man firing from his saddle, and sweep before it anything else that
ever came out to battle in any sort of order, foot or horse. And it had,
had to fight a few score of young men in atrociously unfair machines!

"Manhood versus Machinery" occurred to him as a suitable headline.
Journalism curdles all one's mind to phrases.

He strolled as near the lined-up prisoners as the sentinels seemed
disposed to permit, and surveyed them and compared their sturdy
proportions with those of their lightly built captors.

"Smart degenerates," he muttered. "Anaemic cockneydom."

The surrendered officers came quite close to him presently, and he could
hear the colonel's high-pitched tenor. The poor gentleman had spent
three years of arduous toil upon the best material in the world
perfecting that shooting from the saddle charge, and he was inquiring
with phrases of blasphemy, natural in the circumstances, what one could
be expected to do against this suitably consigned ironmongery.

"Guns," said some one.

"Big guns they can walk around. You can't shift big guns to keep pace
with them, and little guns in the open they rush. I saw 'em rushed. You
might do a surprised now and then--assassinate the brutes, perhaps--"

"You might make things like 'em."

"What? More ironmongery? Us...?"

"I'll call my article," meditated the war correspondent, "'Mankind
versus Ironmongery,' and quote the old boy at the beginning."

And he was much too good a journalist to spoil his contrast by remarking
that the half-dozen comparatively slender young men in blue pyjamas who
were standing about their victorious land ironclad, drinking coffee and
eating biscuits, had also in their eyes and carriage something not
altogether degraded below the level of a man.




THE BEAUTIFUL SUIT


There was once a little man whose mother made him a beautiful suit of
clothes. It was green and gold, and woven so that I can not describe how
delicate and fine it was, and there was a tie of orange fluffiness that
tied up under his chin. And the buttons in their newness shone like
stars. He was proud and pleased by his suit beyond measure, and stood
before the long looking-glass when first he put it on, so astonished and
delighted with it that he could hardly turn himself away.

He wanted to wear it everywhere, and show it to all sorts of people. He
thought over all the places he had ever visited, and all the scenes he
had ever heard described, and tried to imagine what the feel of it would
be if he were to go now to those scenes and places wearing his shining
suit, and he wanted to go out forthwith into the long grass and hot
sunshine of the meadow wearing it. Just to wear it! But his mother told
him "No," She told him he must take great care of his suit, for never
would he have another nearly so fine; he must save it and save it, and
only wear it on rare great occasions. It was his wedding-suit, she said.
And she took the buttons and twisted them up with tissue paper for fear
their bright newness should be tarnished, and she tacked little guards
over the cuffs and elbows, and wherever the suit was most likely to come
to harm. He hated and resisted these things, but what could he do? And
at last her warnings and persuasions had effect, and he consented to
take off his beautiful suit and fold it into its proper creases, and put
it away. It was almost as though he gave it up again. But he was always
thinking of wearing it, and of the supreme occasions when some day it
might be worn without the guards, without the tissue paper on the
buttons, utterly and delightfully, never caring, beautiful beyond
measure.

One night, when he was dreaming of it after his habit, he dreamt he took
the tissue paper from one of the buttons, and found its brightness a
little faded, and that distressed him mightily in his dream. He polished
the poor faded button and polished it, and if anything, it grew duller.
He woke up and lay awake, thinking of the brightness slightly dulled,
and wondering how he would feel if perhaps when the great occasions
(whatever it might be) should arrive, one button should chance to be
ever so little short of its first glittering freshness, and for days and
days that thought remained with him distressingly. And when next his
mother let him wear his suit, he was tempted and nearly gave way to the
temptation just to fumble off a bit of tissue paper and see if indeed
the buttons were keeping as bright as ever.

He went trimly along on his way to church, full of this wild desire. For
you must know his mother did, with repeated and careful warnings, let
him wear his suit at times, on Sundays, for example, to and fro from
church, when there was no threatening of rain, no dust blowing, nor
anything to injure it, with its buttons covered and its protections
tacked upon it, and a sunshade in his hand to shadow it, if there seemed
too strong a sunlight for its colours. And always, after such occasions,
he brushed it over and folded it exquisitely as she had taught him, and
put it away again.

Now all these restrictions his mother set to the wearing of his suit he
obeyed, always he obeyed them, until one strange night he woke up and
saw the moonlight shining outside his window. It seemed to him the
moonlight was not common moonlight, nor the night a common night, and
for a while he lay quite drowsily, with this odd persuasion in his mind.
Thought joined on to thought like things that whisper warmly in the
shadows. Then he sat up in his little bed suddenly very alert, with his
heart beating very fast, and a quiver in his body from top to toe. He
had made up his mind. He knew that now he was going to wear his suit as
it should be worn. He had no doubt in the matter. He was afraid,
terribly afraid, but glad, glad.

He got out of his bed and stood for a moment by the window looking at
the moonshine-flooded garden, and trembling at the thing he meant to do.
The air was full of a minute clamour of crickets and murmurings, of the
infinitesimal shouting of little living things. He went very gently
across the creaking boards, for fear that he might wake the sleeping
house, to the big dark clothes-press wherein his beautiful suit lay
folded, and he took it out garment by garment, and softly and very
eagerly tore off its tissue-paper covering and its tacked protections
until there it was, perfect and delightful as he had seen it when first
his mother had given it to him--a long time it seemed ago. Not a button
had tarnished, not a thread had faded on this dear suit of his; he was
glad enough for weeping, as in a noiseless hurry he put it on. And then
back he went, soft and quick, to the window that looked out upon the
garden, and stood there for a minute, shining in the moonlight, with his
buttons twinkling like stars, before he got out on the sill, and making
as little of a rustling as he could, clambered down to the garden path
below. He stood before his mother's house, and it was white and nearly
as plain as by day, with every window-blind but his own shut like an eye
that sleeps. The trees cast still shadows like intricate black lace upon
the wall.

The garden in the moonlight was very different from the garden by day;
moonshine was tangled in hedges and stretched in phantom cobwebs from
spray to spray. Every flower was gleaming white or crimson black, and
the air was a-quiver with the thridding of small crickets and
nightingales singing unseen in the depths of the trees.

There was no darkness in the world, but only warm, mysterious shadows,
and all the leaves and spikes were edged and lined with iridescent
jewels of dew. The night was warmer than any other night had ever been;
the heavens by some miracle at once vaster and nearer, and in spite of
the great ivory-tinted moon that ruled the world, the sky was full of
stars.

The little man did not shout nor sing for all his infinite gladness. He
stood for a time like one awe-stricken, and then with a queer small cry
and holding out his arms, he ran out as if he would embrace at once the
whole round immensity of the world. He did not follow the neat set paths
that cut the garden squarely, but thrust across the beds and through the
wet, tall, scented herbs, though the night-stock and the nicotine and
the clusters of phantom white mallow flowers and through the thickets of
southernwood and lavender, and knee-deep across a wide space of
mignonette. He came to the great hedge, and he thrust his way through
it; and though the thorns of the brambles scored him deeply and tore
threads from his wonderful suit, and though burrs and goose-grass and
havers caught and clung to him, he did not care. He did not care, for he
knew it was all part of the wearing for which he had longed. "I am glad
I put on my suit," he said; "I am glad I wore my suit."

Beyond the hedge he came to the duck-pond, or at least to what was the
duck-pond by day. But by night it was a great bowl of silver moonshine
all noisy with singing frogs, of wonderful silver moonshine twisted and
clotted with strange patternings, and the little man ran down into its
waters between the thin black rushes, knee-deep and waist-deep and to
his shoulders, smiting the water to black and shining wavelets with
either hand, swaying and shivering wavelets, amidst which the stars were
netted in the tangled reflections of the brooding trees upon the bank.
He waded until he swam, and so he crossed the pond and came out upon the
other side, trailing, as it seemed to him, not duckweed, but very silver
in long, clinging, dripping masses. And up he went through the
transfigured tangles of the willow-herb and the uncut seeding grasses of
the farther bank. He came glad and breathless into the high road. "I am
glad," he said, "beyond measure, that I had clothes that fitted this
occasion."

The high-road ran straight as an arrow flies, straight into the
deep-blue pit of the sky beneath the moon, a white and shining road
between the singing nightingales, and along it he went, running now and
leaping, and now walking and rejoicing, in the clothes his mother had
made for him with tireless, loving hands. The road was deep in dust, but
that for him was only soft whiteness; and as he went a great dim moth
came fluttering round his wet and shimmering and hastening figure. At
first he did not heed the moth, and then he waved his hands at it, and
made a sort of dance with it, as it circled round his head. "Soft moth!"
he cried, "Dear moth! And wonderful night, wonderful night of the world!
Do you think my clothes are beautiful, dear moth? As beautiful as your
scales and all this silver vesture of the earth and sky?"

And the moth circled closer and closer until at last its velvet wings
just brushed his lips...

And next morning they found him dead, with his neck broken, in the
bottom of the stone pit, with his beautiful clothes a little bloody, and
foul and stained with the duckweed from the pond. But his face was a
face of such happiness that, had you seen it, you would have understood
indeed how that he had died happy, never knowing that cool and streaming
silver for the duckweed in the pond.




THE DOOR IN THE WALL


1.

One confidential evening, not three months ago, Lionel Wallace told
me this story of the Door in the Wall. And at the time I thought that so
far as he was concerned it was a true story.

He told it me with such a direct simplicity of conviction that I could
not do otherwise than believe in him. But in the morning, in my own
flat, I woke to a different atmosphere, and as I lay in bed and recalled
the things he had told me, stripped of the glamour of his earnest slow
voice, denuded of the focused shaded table light, the shadowy atmosphere
that wrapped about him and the pleasant bright things, the dessert and
glasses and napery of the dinner we had shared, making them for the time
a bright little world quite cut off from everyday realities, I saw it
all as frankly incredible. "He was mystifying!" I said, and then: "How
well he did it...! It isn't quite the thing I should have expected him,
of all people, to do well."

Afterwards, as I sat up in bed and sipped my morning tea, I found myself
trying to account for the flavour of reality that perplexed me in his
impossible reminiscences, by supposing they did in some way suggest,
present, convey--I hardly know which word to use--experiences it was
otherwise impossible to tell.

Well I don't resort to that explanation now. I have got over my
intervening doubts. I believe now, as I believed at the moment of
telling, that Wallace did to the very best of his ability strip the
truth of his secret for me. But whether he himself saw, or only thought
he saw, whether he himself was the possessor of an inestimable
privilege, or the victim of a fantastic dream, I cannot pretend to
guess. Even the facts of his death, which ended my doubts forever, throw
no light on that. That much the reader must judge for himself.

I forget now what chance comment or criticism of mine moved so reticent
a man to confide in me. He was I think, defending himself against an
imputation of slackness and unreliability I had made in relation to a
great public movement in which he had disappointed me. But he plunged
suddenly. "I have" he said, "a preoccupation--

"I know," he went on, after a pause that he devoted to the study of his
cigar ash, "I have been negligent. The fact is--it isn't a case of
ghosts or apparitions--but--it's an odd thing to tell of, Redmond--I am
haunted. I am haunted by something--that rather takes the light out of
things, that fills me with longings..."

He paused, checked by that English shyness that so often overcomes us
when we would speak of moving or grave or beautiful things. "You were at
Saint Althelstan's all through," he said, and for a moment that seemed
to me quite irrelevant. "Well--" and he paused. Then very haltingly at
first, but afterwards more easily, he began to tell of the thing that
was hidden in his life, the haunting memory of a beauty and a happiness
that filled his heart with insatiable longings that made all the
interests and spectacle of worldly life seem dull and tedious and vain
to him.

Now that I have the clue to it, the thing seems written visibly in his
face. I have a photograph in which that look of detachment has been
caught and intensified. It reminds me of what a woman once said of
him--a woman who had loved him greatly. "Suddenly," she said, "the
interest goes out of him. He forgets you. He doesn't care a rap for
you--under his very nose..."

Yet the interest was not always out of him, and when he was holding his
attention to a thing Wallace could contrive to be an extremely
successful man. His career, indeed, is set with successes. He left me
behind him long ago; he soared up over my head, and cut a figure in the
world that I couldn't cut--anyhow. He was still a year short of forty,
and they say now that he would have been in office and very probably in
the new Cabinet if he had lived. At school he always beat me without
effort--as it were by nature. We were at school together at Saint
Althelstan's College in West Kensington for almost all our school-time.
He came into the school as my co-equal, but he left far above me, in a
blaze of scholarships and brilliant performance. Yet I think I made a
fair average running. And it was at school I heard first of the "Door in
the Wall--" that I was to hear of a second time only a month before his
death.

To him at least the Door in the Wall was a real door leading through a
real wall to immortal realities. Of that I am now quite assured.

And it came into his life early, when he was a little fellow between
five and six. I remember how, as he sat making his confession to me with
a slow gravity, he reasoned and reckoned the date of it. "There was," he
said, "a crimson Virginia creeper in it--all one bright uniform crimson
in a clear amber sunshine against a white wall. That came into the
impression somehow, though I don't clearly remember how, and there were
horse-chestnut leaves upon the clean pavement outside the green door.
They were blotched yellow and green, you know, not brown nor dirty, so
that they must have been new fallen. I take it that means October. I
look out for horse-chestnut leaves every year, and I ought to know."

"If I'm right in that, I was about five years and four months old."

He was, he said, rather a precocious little boy--he learned to talk at
an abnormally early age, and he was so sane and "old-fashioned," as
people say, that he was permitted an amount of initiative that most
children scarcely attain by seven or eight. His mother died when he was
born, and he was under the less vigilant and authoritative care of a
nursery governess. His father was a stern, preoccupied lawyer, who gave
him little attention, and expected great things of him. For all his
brightness he found life a little grey and dull I think. And one day he
wandered.

He could not recall the particular neglect that enabled him to get away,
nor the course he took among the West Kensington roads. All that had
faded among the incurable blurs of memory. But the white wall and the
green door stood out quite distinctly.

As his memory of that remote childish experience ran, he did at the very
first sight of that door experience a peculiar emotion, an attraction, a
desire to get to the door and open it and walk in.

And at the same time he had the clearest conviction that either it was
unwise or it was wrong of him--he could not tell which--to yield to this
attraction. He insisted upon it as a curious thing that he knew from the
very beginning--unless memory has played him the queerest trick--that
the door was unfastened, and that he could go in as he chose.

I seem to see the figure of that little boy, drawn and repelled. And it
was very clear in his mind too, though why it should be so was never
explained, that his father would be very angry if he went through that
door.

Wallace described all these moments of hesitation to me with the utmost
particularity. He went right past the door, and then with his hands in
his pockets, and making an infantile attempt to whistle, strolled right
along beyond the end of the wall. There he recalls a number of mean,
dirty shops, and particularly that of a plumber and decorator, with a
dusty disorder of earthenware pipes, sheet lead ball taps, pattern books
of wall paper, and tins of enamel. He stood pretending to examine these
things, and coveting, passionately desiring the green door.

Then he said, he had a gust of emotion. He made a run for it, lest
hesitation should grip him again, he went plump with outstretched hand
through the green door and let it slam behind him. And so, in a trice,
he came into the garden that has haunted all his life.

It was very difficult for Wallace to give me his full sense of that
garden into which he came.

There was something in the very air of it that exhilarated, that gave
one a sense of lightness and good happening and well-being; there was
something in the sight of it that made all its colour clean and perfect
and subtly luminous. In the instant of coming into it one was
exquisitely glad--as only in rare moments and when one is young and
joyful one can be glad in this world. And everything was beautiful
there...

Wallace mused before he went on telling me. "You see," he said, with the
doubtful inflection of a man who pauses at incredible things, "there
were two great panthers there... Yes, spotted panthers. And I was not
afraid. There was a long wide path with marble-edged flower borders on
either side, and these two huge velvety beasts were playing there with a
ball. One looked up and came towards me, a little curious as it seemed.
It came right up to me, rubbed its soft round ear very gently against
the small hand I held out and purred. It was I tell you, an enchanted
garden. I know. And the size? Oh! it stretched far and wide, this way
and that. I believe there were hills far away. Heaven knows where West
Kensington had suddenly got to. And somehow it was just like coming
home."

"You know, in the very moment the door swung to behind me, I forgot the
road with its fallen chestnut leaves, its cabs and tradesmen's carts, I
forgot the sort of gravitational pull back to the discipline and
obedience of home, I forgot all hesitations and fear, forgot discretion,
forgot all the intimate realities of this life. I became in a moment a
very glad and wonder-happy little boy--in another world. It was a world
with a different quality, a warmer, more penetrating and mellower light,
with a faint clear gladness in its air, and wisps of sun-touched cloud
in the blueness of its sky. And before me ran this long wide path,
invitingly, with weedless beds on either side, rich with untended
flowers, and these two great panthers. I put my little hands fearlessly
on their soft fur, and caressed their round ears and the sensitive
corners under their ears, and played with them, and it was as though
they welcomed me home. There was a keen sense of home-coming in my mind,
and when presently a tall, fair girl appeared in the pathway and came to
meet me, smiling, and said 'Well?' to me, and lifted me, and kissed me,
and put me down, and led me by the hand, there was no amazement, but
only an impression of delightful rightness, of being reminded of happy
things that had in some strange way been overlooked. There were broad
steps, I remember, that came into view between spikes of delphinium, and
up these we went to a great avenue between very old and shady dark
trees. All down this avenue, you know, between the red chapped stems,
were marble seats of honour and statuary, and very tame and friendly
white doves..."

"And along this avenue my girl-friend led me, looking down--I recall the
pleasant lines, the finely-modelled chin of her sweet kind face--asking
me questions in a soft, agreeable voice, and telling me things, pleasant
things I know, though what they were I was never able to recall... And
presently a little Capuchin monkey, very clean, with a fur of ruddy
brown and kindly hazel eyes, came down a tree to us and ran beside me,
looking up at me and grinning, and presently leapt to my shoulder. So we
went on our way in great happiness..."

He paused.

"Go on," I said.

"I remember little things. We passed an old man musing among laurels, I
remember, and a place gay with paroquets, and came through a broad
shaded colonnade to a spacious cool palace, full of pleasant fountains,
full of beautiful things, full of the quality and promise of heart's
desire. And there were many things and many people, some that still seem
to stand out clearly and some that are a little vague, but all these
people were beautiful and kind. In some way--I don't know how--it was
conveyed to me that they all were kind to me, glad to have me there, and
filling me with gladness by their gestures, by the touch of their hands,
by the welcome and love in their eyes. Yes--"

He mused for awhile. "Playmates I found there. That was very much to me,
because I was a lonely little boy. They played delightful games in a
grass-covered court where there was a sun-dial set about with flowers.
And as one played one loved...

"But--it's odd--there's a gap in my memory. I don't remember the games
we played. I never remembered. Afterwards as a child, I spent long hours
trying, even with tears, to recall the form of that happiness. I wanted
to play it all over again--in my nursery--by myself. No! All I remember
is the happiness and two dear playfellows who were most with me... Then
presently came a sombre dark woman, with a grave, pale face and dreamy
eyes, a sombre woman wearing a soft long robe of pale purple, who
carried a book and beckoned and took me aside with her into a gallery
above a hall--though my playmates were loth to have me go, and ceased
their game and stood watching as I was carried away. 'Come back to us!'
they cried. 'Come back to us soon!' I looked up at her face, but she
heeded them not at all. Her face was very gentle and grave. She took me
to a seat in the gallery, and I stood beside her, ready to look at her
book as she opened it upon her knee. The pages fell open. She pointed,
and I looked, marvelling, for in the living pages of that book I saw
myself; it was a story about myself, and in it were all the things that
had happened to me since ever I was born...

"It was wonderful to me, because the pages of that book were not
pictures, you understand, but realities."

Wallace paused gravely--looked at me doubtfully.

"Go on," I said. "I understand."

"They were realities--yes, they must have been; people moved and things
came and went in them; my dear mother, whom I had near forgotten; then
my father, stern and upright, the servants, the nursery, all the
familiar things of home. Then the front door and the busy streets, with
traffic to and fro: I looked and marvelled, and looked half doubtfully
again into the woman's face and turned the pages over, skipping this and
that, to see more of this book, and more, and so at last I came to
myself hovering and hesitating outside the green door in the long white
wall, and felt again the conflict and the fear.

"'And next?' I cried, and would have turned on, but the cool hand of the
grave woman delayed me.

"'Next?' I insisted, and struggled gently with her hand, pulling up her
fingers with all my childish strength, and as she yielded and the page
came over she bent down upon me like a shadow and kissed my brow.

"But the page did not show the enchanted garden, nor the panthers, nor
the girl who had led me by the hand, nor the playfellows who had been so
loth to let me go. It showed a long grey street in West Kensington, on
that chill hour of afternoon before the lamps are lit, and I was there,
a wretched little figure, weeping aloud, for all that I could do to
restrain myself, and I was weeping because I could not return to my dear
playfellows who had called after me, 'Come back to us! Come back to us
soon!' I was there. This was no page in a book, but harsh reality; that
enchanted place and the restraining hand of the grave mother at whose
knee I stood had gone--whither have they gone?"

He halted again, and remained for a time, staring into the fire.

"Oh! The wretchedness of that return!" he murmured.

"Well?" I said after a minute or so.

"Poor little wretch I was--! Brought back to this grey world again! As I
realised the fulness of what had happened to me, I gave way to quite
ungovernable grief. And the shame and humiliation of that public weeping
and my disgraceful home-coming remain with me still. I see again the
benevolent-looking old gentleman in gold spectacles who stopped and
spoke to me--prodding me first with his umbrella. 'Poor little chap,'
said he; 'and are you lost then--?' And me a London boy of five and
more! And he must needs bring in a kindly young policeman and make a
crowd of me, and so march me home. Sobbing, conspicuous and frightened,
I came from the enchanted garden to the steps of my father's house.

"That is as well as I can remember my vision of that garden--the garden
that haunts me still. Of course, I can convey nothing of that
indescribable quality of translucent unreality, that difference from the
common things of experience that hung about it all; but that--that is
what happened. If it was a dream, I am sure it was a daytime and
altogether extraordinary dream... H'm--! Naturally there followed a
terrible questioning, by my aunt, my father, the nurse, the
governess--everyone...

"I tried to tell them, and my father gave me my first thrashing for
telling lies. When afterwards I tried to tell my aunt, she punished me
again for my wicked persistence. Then as I said, everyone was forbidden
to listen to me, to hear a word about it. Even my fairy tale books were
taken away from me for a time--because I was too 'imaginative.' Eh? Yes,
they did that! My father belonged to the old school... And my story was
driven back upon myself. I whispered it to my pillow--my pillow that was
often damp and salt to my whispering lips with childish tears. And I
added always to my official and less fervent prayers this one heartfelt
request: 'Please God I may dream of the garden. Oh! Take me back to my
garden! Take me back to my garden!'

"I dreamt often of the garden. I may have added to it, I may have
changed it; I do not know... All this you understand is an attempt to
reconstruct from fragmentary memories a very early experience. Between
that and the other consecutive memories of my boyhood there is a gulf. A
time came when it seemed impossible I should ever speak of that wonder
glimpse again."

I asked an obvious question.

"No," he said. "I don't remember that I ever attempted to find my way
back to the garden in those early years. This seems odd to me now, but I
think that very probably a closer watch was kept on my movements after
this misadventure to prevent my going astray. No, it wasn't until you
knew me that I tried for the garden again. And I believe there was a
period--incredible as it seems now--when I forgot the garden
altogether--when I was about eight or nine it may have been. Do you
remember me as a kid at Saint Althelstan's?"

"Rather!"

"I didn't show any signs did I in those days of having a secret dream?"


2.

He looked up with a sudden smile.

"Did you ever play North-West Passage with me...? No, of course you
didn't come my way!

"It was the sort of game," he went on, "that every imaginative child
plays all day. The idea was the discovery of a North-West Passage to
school. The way to school was plain enough; the game consisted in
finding some way that wasn't plain, starting off ten minutes early in
some almost hopeless direction, and working one's way round through
unaccustomed streets to my goal. And one day I got entangled among some
rather low-class streets on the other side of Campden Hill, and I began
to think that for once the game would be against me and that I should
get to school late. I tried rather desperately a street that seemed a
cul de sac, and found a passage at the end. I hurried through that with
renewed hope. 'I shall do it yet,' I said, and passed a row of frowsy
little shops that were inexplicably familiar to me, and behold! There
was my long white wall and the green door that led to the enchanted
garden!

"The thing whacked upon me suddenly. Then after all, that garden, that
wonderful garden, wasn't a dream...!"

He paused.

"I suppose my second experience with the green door marks the world of
difference there is between the busy life of a schoolboy and the
infinite leisure of a child. Anyhow this second time I didn't for a
moment think of going in straight away. You see--For one thing my mind
was full of the idea of getting to school in time--set on not breaking
my record for punctuality. I must surely have felt some little desire at
least to try the door--yes, I must have felt that... But I seem to
remember the attraction of the door mainly as another obstacle to my
overmastering determination to get to school. I was immediately
interested by this discovery I had made, of course--I went on with my
mind full of it--but I went on. It didn't check me. I ran past tugging
out my watch, found I had ten minutes still to spare, and then I was
going downhill into familiar surroundings. I got to school, breathless,
it is true, and wet with perspiration, but in time. I can remember
hanging up my coat and hat... Went right by it and left it behind me.
Odd, eh?"

He looked at me thoughtfully. "Of course, I didn't know then that it
wouldn't always be there. School boys have limited imaginations. I
suppose I thought it was an awfully jolly thing to have it there, to
know my way back to it, but there was the school tugging at me. I expect
I was a good deal distraught and inattentive that morning, recalling
what I could of the beautiful strange people I should presently see
again. Oddly enough I had no doubt in my mind that they would be glad to
see me... Yes, I must have thought of the garden that morning just as a
jolly sort of place to which one might resort in the interludes of a
strenuous scholastic career.

"I didn't go that day at all. The next day was a half holiday, and that
may have weighed with me. Perhaps too, my state of inattention brought
down impositions upon me and docked the margin of time necessary for the
detour. I don't know. What I do know is that in the meantime the
enchanted garden was so much upon my mind that I could not keep it to
myself.

"I told--What was his name--? A ferrety-looking youngster we used to
call Squiff."

"Young Hopkins," said I.

"Hopkins it was. I did not like telling him, I had a feeling that in
some way it was against the rules to tell him, but I did. He was walking
part of the way home with me; he was talkative, and if we had not talked
about the enchanted garden we should have talked of something else, and
it was intolerable to me to think about any other subject. So I blabbed.

"Well, he told my secret. The next day in the play interval I found
myself surrounded by half a dozen bigger boys, half teasing and wholly
curious to hear more of the enchanted garden. There was that big
Fawcett--you remember him--? And Carnaby and Morley Reynolds. You
weren't there by any chance? No, I think I should have remembered if you
were...

"A boy is a creature of odd feelings. I was, I really believe, in spite
of my secret self-disgust, a little flattered to have the attention of
these big fellows. I remember particularly a moment of pleasure caused
by the praise of Crawshaw--you remember Crawshaw major, the son of
Crawshaw the composer--? Who said it was the best lie he had ever heard.
But at the same time there was a really painful undertow of shame at
telling what I felt was indeed a sacred secret. That beast Fawcett made
a joke about the girl in green--"

Wallace's voice sank with the keen memory of that shame. "I pretended
not to hear," he said. "Well, then Carnaby suddenly called me a young
liar and disputed with me when I said the thing was true. I said I knew
where to find the green door, could lead them all there in ten minutes.
Carnaby became outrageously virtuous, and said I'd have to--and bear out
my words or suffer. Did you ever have Carnaby twist your arm? Then
perhaps you'll understand how it went with me. I swore my story was
true. There was nobody in the school then to save a chap from Carnaby
though Crawshaw put in a word or so. Carnaby had got his game. I grew
excited and red-eared, and a little frightened, I behaved altogether
like a silly little chap, and the outcome of it all was that instead of
starting alone for my enchanted garden, I led the way presently--cheeks
flushed, ears hot, eyes smarting, and my soul one burning misery and
shame--for a party of six mocking, curious and threatening
schoolfellows."

"We never found the white wall and the green door..."

"You mean--?"

"I mean I couldn't find it. I would have found it if I could.

"And afterwards when I could go alone I couldn't find it. I never found
it. I seem now to have been always looking for it through my school-boy
days, but I've never come upon it--again."

"Did the fellows--make it disagreeable?"

"Beastly... Carnaby held a council over me for wanton lying. I remember
how I sneaked home and upstairs to hide the marks of my blubbering. But
when I cried myself to sleep at last it wasn't for Carnaby, but for the
garden, for the beautiful afternoon I had hoped for, for the sweet
friendly women and the waiting playfellows and the game I had hoped to
learn again, that beautiful forgotten game...

"I believed firmly that if I had not told--... I had bad times after
that--crying at night and wool-gathering by day. For two terms I
slackened and had bad reports. Do you remember? Of course you would! It
was you--your beating me in mathematics that brought me back to the
grind again."


3.

For a time my friend stared silently into the red heart of the fire.
Then he said: "I never saw it again until I was seventeen."

"It leapt upon me for the third time--as I was driving to Paddington on
my way to Oxford and a scholarship. I had just one momentary glimpse. I
was leaning over the apron of my hansom smoking a cigarette, and no
doubt thinking myself no end of a man of the world, and suddenly there
was the door, the wall, the dear sense of unforgettable and still
attainable things.

"We clattered by--I too taken by surprise to stop my cab until we were
well past and round a corner. Then I had a queer moment, a double and
divergent movement of my will: I tapped the little door in the roof of
the cab, and brought my arm down to pull out my watch. 'Yes, sir!' said
the cabman, smartly. 'Er--well--it's nothing,' I cried. 'My mistake! We
haven't much time! Go on!' And he went on...

"I got my scholarship. And the night after I was told of that I sat over
my fire in my little upper room, my study in my father's house, with his
praise--his rare praise--and his sound counsels ringing in my ears, and
I smoked my favourite pipe--the formidable bulldog of adolescence--and
thought of that door in the long white wall. 'If I had stopped,' I
thought, 'I should have missed my scholarship, I should have missed
Oxford--muddled all the fine career before me! I begin to see things
better!' I fell musing deeply, but I did not doubt then this career of
mine was a thing that merited sacrifice.

"Those dear friends and that clear atmosphere seemed very sweet to me,
very fine, but remote. My grip was fixing now upon the world. I saw
another door opening--the door of my career."

He stared again into the fire. Its red lights picked out a stubborn
strength in his face for just one flickering moment, and then it
vanished again.

"Well", he said and sighed, "I have served that career. I have
done--much work, much hard work. But I have dreamt of the enchanted
garden a thousand dreams, and seen its door, or at least glimpsed its
door, four times since then. Yes--four times. For a while this world was
so bright and interesting, seemed so full of meaning and opportunity
that the half-effaced charm of the garden was by comparison gentle and
remote. Who wants to pat panthers on the way to dinner with pretty women
and distinguished men? I came down to London from Oxford, a man of bold
promise that I have done something to redeem. Something--and yet there
have been disappointments...

"Twice I have been in love--I will not dwell on that--but once, as I
went to someone who, I know, doubted whether I dared to come, I took a
short cut at a venture through an unfrequented road near Earl's Court,
and so happened on a white wall and a familiar green door. 'Odd!' said I
to myself, 'But I thought this place was on Campden Hill. It's the place
I never could find somehow--like counting Stonehenge--the place of that
queer day dream of mine.' And I went by it intent upon my purpose. It
had no appeal to me that afternoon.

"I had just a moment's impulse to try the door, three steps aside were
needed at the most--though I was sure enough in my heart that it would
open to me--and then I thought that doing so might delay me on the way
to that appointment in which I thought my honour was involved.
Afterwards I was sorry for my punctuality--I might at least have peeped
in I thought, and waved a hand to those panthers, but I knew enough by
this time not to seek again belatedly that which is not found by
seeking. Yes, that time made me very sorry...

"Years of hard work after that and never a sight of the door. It's only
recently it has come back to me. With it there has come a sense as
though some thin tarnish had spread itself over my world. I began to
think of it as a sorrowful and bitter thing that I should never see that
door again. Perhaps I was suffering a little from overwork--perhaps it
was what I've heard spoken of as the feeling of forty. I don't know. But
certainly the keen brightness that makes effort easy has gone out of
things recently, and that just at a time--ith all these new political
developments--when I ought to be working. Odd isn't it? But I do begin
to find life toilsome, its rewards, as I come near them, cheap. I began
a little while ago to want the garden quite badly. Yes--and I've seen it
three times."

"The garden?"

"No--The door! And I haven't gone in!"

He leaned over the table to me, with an enormous sorrow in his voice as
he spoke. "Thrice I have had my chance--thrice! If ever that door offers
itself to me again, I swore, I will go in out of this dust and heat, out
of this dry glitter of vanity, out of these toilsome futilities. I will
go and never return. This time I will stay... I swore it and when the
time came--I didn't go.

"Three times in one year have I passed that door and failed to enter.
Three times in the last year."

"The first time was on the night of the snatch division on the Tenants'
Redemption Bill, on which the Government was saved by a majority of
three. You remember? No one on our side--perhaps very few on the
opposite side--expected the end that night. Then the debate collapsed
like eggshells. I and Hotchkiss were dining with his cousin at
Brentford, we were both unpaired, and we were called up by telephone,
and set off at once in his cousin's motor. We got in barely in time, and
on the way we passed my wall and door--livid in the moonlight, blotched
with hot yellow as the glare of our lamps lit it, but unmistakable. 'My
God!' cried I. 'What?' said Hotchkiss. 'Nothing!' I answered, and the
moment passed."

"'I've made a great sacrifice,' I told the whip as I got in. 'They all
have,' he said, and hurried by.

"I do not see how I could have done otherwise then. And the next
occasion was as I rushed to my father's bedside to bid that stern old
man farewell. Then too, the claims of life were imperative. But the
third time was different; it happened a week ago. It fills me with hot
remorse to recall it. I was with Gurker and Ralphs--it's no secret now
you know that I've had my talk with Gurker. We had been dining at
Frobisher's, and the talk had become intimate between us. The question
of my place in the reconstructed ministry lay always just over the
boundary of the discussion. Yes--yes. That's all settled. It needn't be
talked about yet, but there's no reason to keep a secret from you...
Yes--Thanks! Thanks! But let me tell you my story.

"Then, on that night things were very much in the air. My position was a
very delicate one. I was keenly anxious to get some definite word from
Gurker, but was hampered by Ralphs' presence. I was using the best power
of my brain to keep that light and careless talk, not too obviously,
directed to the point that concerns me. I had to. Ralphs' behaviour
since has more than justified my caution... Ralphs I knew, would leave
us beyond the Kensington High Street, and then I could surprise Gurker
by a sudden frankness. One has sometimes to resort to these little
devices... And then it was that in the margin of my field of vision I
became aware once more of the white wall, the green door before us down
the road."

"We passed it talking. I passed it. I can still see the shadow of
Gurker's marked profile, his opera hat tilted forward over his prominent
nose, the many folds of his neck wrap going before my shadow and Ralphs'
as we sauntered past.

"I passed within twenty inches of the door. 'If I say good-night to
them, and go in,' I asked myself, 'what will happen?' And I was all
a-tingle for that word with Gurker.

"I could not answer that question in the tangle of my other problems.
'They will think me mad,' I thought. 'And suppose I vanish now--!
Amazing disappearance of a prominent politician!' That weighed with me.
A thousand inconceivably petty worldlinesses weighed with me in that
crisis."

Then he turned on me with a sorrowful smile, and speaking slowly; "Here
I am!" he said.

"Here I am!" he repeated, "and my chance has gone from me. Three times
in one year the door has been offered me--the door that goes into peace,
into delight, into a beauty beyond dreaming, a kindness no man on earth
can know. And I have rejected it, Redmond, and it has gone--"

"How do you know?"

"I know. I know. I am left now to work it out, to stick to the tasks
that held me so strongly when my moments came. You say, I have
success--this vulgar, tawdry, irksome, envied thing. I have it." He had
a walnut in his big hand. "If that was my success," he said, and crushed
it, and held it out for me to see.

"Let me tell you something, Redmond. This loss is destroying me. For two
months, for ten weeks nearly now, I have done no work at all, except the
most necessary and urgent duties. My soul is full of inappeasable
regrets. At nights--when it is less likely I shall be recognised--I go
out. I wander. Yes. I wonder what people would think of that if they
knew. A Cabinet Minister, the responsible head of that most vital of all
departments, wandering alone--grieving--sometimes near audibly
lamenting--for a door, for a garden!"


4.

I can see now his rather pallid face, and the unfamiliar sombre fire
that had come into his eyes. I see him very vividly to-night. I sit
recalling his words, his tones, and last evening's Westminster Gazette
still lies on my sofa, containing the notice of his death. At lunch
to-day the club was busy with him and the strange riddle of his fate.

They found his body very early yesterday morning in a deep excavation
near East Kensington Station. It is one of two shafts that have been
made in connection with an extension of the railway southward. It is
protected from the intrusion of the public by a hoarding upon the high
road, in which a small doorway has been cut for the convenience of some
of the workmen who live in that direction. The doorway was left
unfastened through a misunderstanding between two gangers, and through
it he made his way...

My mind is darkened with questions and riddles.

It would seem he walked all the way from the House that night--he has
frequently walked home during the past Session--and so it is I figure
his dark form coming along the late and empty streets, wrapped up,
intent. And then did the pale electric lights near the station cheat the
rough planking into a semblance of white? Did that fatal unfastened door
awaken some memory?

Was there, after all, ever any green door in the wall at all?

I do not know. I have told his story as he told it to me. There are
times when I believe that Wallace was no more than the victim of the
coincidence between a rare but not unprecedented type of hallucination
and a careless trap, but that indeed is not my profoundest belief. You
may think me superstitious if you will, and foolish; but indeed, I am
more than half convinced that he had in truth, an abnormal gift, and a
sense, something--I know not what--that in the guise of wall and door
offered him an outlet, a secret and peculiar passage of escape into
another and altogether more beautiful world. At any rate, you will say,
it betrayed him in the end. But did it betray him? There you touch the
inmost mystery of these dreamers, these men of vision and the
imagination.

We see our world fair and common, the hoarding and the pit. By our
daylight standard he walked out of security into darkness, danger and
death. But did he see like that?




THE PEARL OF LOVE


The pearl is lovelier than the most brilliant of crystalline stones, the
moralist declares, because it is made through the suffering of a living
creature. About that I can say nothing because I feel none of the
fascination of pearls. Their cloudy lustre moves me not at all. Nor can
I decide for myself upon that age-long dispute whether the Pearl of Love
is the cruellest of stories or only a gracious fable of the immortality
of beauty.

Both the story and the controversy will be familiar to students of
mediaeval Persian prose. The story is a short one, though the commentary
upon it is a respectable part of the literature of that period. They
have treated it as a poetic invention and they have treated it as an
allegory meaning this, that, or the other thing. Theologians have had
their copious way with it, dealing with it particularly as concerning
the restoration of the body after death, and it has been greatly used as
a parable by those who write about aesthetics. And many have held it to
be the statement of a fact, simply and baldly true.

The story is laid in North India, which is the most fruitful soil for
sublime love stories of all the lands in the world. It was in a country
of sunshine and lakes and rich forests and hills and fertile valleys;
and far away the great mountains hung in the sky, peaks, crests, ridges
of inaccessible and eternal snow. There was a young prince, lord of all
the land; and he found a maiden of indescribable beauty and
delightfulness and he made her his queen and laid his heart at her feet.
Love was theirs, full of joys and sweetness, full of hope, exquisite,
brave and marvellous love, beyond anything you have ever dreamt of love.
It was theirs for a year and part of a year, and then suddenly, because
of some venomous sting that came to her in a thicket, she died.

She died and for a while the prince was utterly prostrated. He was
silent and motionless with grief. They feared he might kill himself, and
he had neither sons nor brothers to succeed him. For two days and nights
he lay upon his face, fasting, across the foot of the couch which bore
her calm and lovely body. Then he arose and ate, and went about very
quietly like one who has taken a great resolution. He caused her body to
be put in a coffin of lead mixed with silver, and for that he had an
outer coffin made of the most precious and scented woods wrought with
gold, and about that there was to be a sarcophagus of alabaster, inlaid
with precious stones. And while these things were being done he spent
his time for the most part by the pools and in the garden-houses and
pavilions and groves and in those chambers in the palace where they two
had been most together, brooding upon her loveliness. He did not rend
his garments nor defile himself with ashes and sackcloth as the custom
was, for his love was too great for such extravagances. At last he came
forth again among his councillors and before the people, and told them
what he had a mind to do.

He said he could never more touch woman, he could never more think of
them, and so he would find a seemly youth to adopt for his heir and
train him to his task, and that he would do his princely duties as
became him; but that for the rest of it, he would give himself with all
his power and all his strength and all his wealth, all that he could
command, to make a monument worthy of his incomparable, dear, lost
mistress. A building it should be of perfect grace and beauty, more
marvellous than any other building had ever been or could ever be, so
that to the end of time it should be a wonder, and men would treasure it
and speak of it and desire to see it and come from all lands of the
earth to visit and recall the name and memory of his queen. And this
building he said was to be called the Pearl of Love.

And this his councillors and people permitted him to do, and so he did.

Year followed year, and all the years he devoted himself to building and
adorning the Pearl of Love. A great foundation was hewn out of the
living rock in a place whence one seemed to be looking at the snowy
wilderness of the great mountains across the valley of the world.
Villages and hills there were, a winding river, and very far away three
great cities. Here they put the sarcophagus of alabaster beneath a
pavilion of cunning workmanship; and about it there were set pillars of
strange and lovely stone and wrought and fretted walls, and a great
casket of masonry bearing a dome and pinnacles and cupolas, as exquisite
as a jewel. At first the design of Pearl of Love was less bold and
subtle than it became later. At first it was smaller and more wrought
and encrusted; there were many pierced screens and delicate clusters of
rosy-hued pillars, and the sarcophagus lay like a child that sleeps
among flowers. The first dome was covered with green tiles, framed and
held together by silver, but this was taken away again because it seemed
close, because it did not soar grandly enough for the broadening
imagination of the prince.

For by this time he was no longer the graceful youth who had loved the
girl queen. He was now a man, grave and intent, wholly set upon the
building of the Pearl of Love. With every year of effort he had learnt
new possibilities in arch and wall and buttress; he had acquired greater
power over the material he had to use and he had learnt of a hundred
stones and hues and effects that he could never have thought of in the
beginning. His sense of colour had grown finer and colder; he cared no
more for the enamelled gold-lined brightness that had pleased him first,
the brightness of an illuminated missal; he sought now for blue
colouring like the sky and for the subtle hues of great distances, for
recondite shadows and sudden broads floods of purple opalescence and for
grandeur and space. He wearied altogether of carvings and pictures and
inlaid ornamentation and all the little careful work of men. "Those were
pretty things," he said of his earlier decorations; and had them put
aside into subordinate buildings where they would not hamper his main
design. Greater and greater grew his artistry. With awe and amazement
people saw the Pearl of Love sweeping up from its first beginnings to a
superhuman breadth and height and magnificence. They did not know
clearly what they had expected, but never had they expected so sublime a
thing as this. "Wonderful are the miracles," they whispered, "that love
can do," and all the women in the world, whatever other loves they had,
loved the prince for the splendour of his devotion.

Through the middle of the building ran a great aisle, a vista, that the
prince came to care for more and more. From the inner entrance of the
building he looked along the length of an immense pillared gallery and
across the central area from which the rose-hued columns had long since
vanished, over the top the pavilion under which lay the sarcophagus,
through a marvellously designed opening, to the snowy wilderness of the
great mountain, the lord of all mountains, two hundred miles away. The
pillars and arches and buttresses and galleries soared and floated on
either side, perfect yet unobtrusive, like great archangels waiting in
the shadows about the presence of God. When men saw that austere beauty
for the first time they were exalted, and then they shivered and their
hearts bowed down. Very often would the prince come to stand there and
look at that vista, deeply moved and not yet fully satisfied. The Pearl
of Love had still something for him to do, he felt, before his task was
done. Always he would order some little alteration to be made or some
recent alteration to be put back again. And one day he said that the
sarcophagus would be clearer and simpler without the pavilion; and after
regarding it very steadfastly for a long time, he had the pavilion
dismantled and removed.

The next day he came and said nothing, and the next day and the next.
Then for two days he stayed away altogether. Then he returned, bringing
with him an architect and two master craftsmen and a small retinue.

All looked, standing together silently in a little group, amidst the
serene vastness of their achievement. No trace of toil remained in its
perfection. It was as if God of nature's beauty had taken over their
offspring to himself.

Only one thing there was to mar the absolute harmony. There was a
certain disproportion about the sarcophagus. It had never been enlarged,
and indeed how could it have been enlarged since the early days? It
challenged the eye; it nicked the streaming lines. In that sarcophagus
was the casket of lead and silver, and in the casket of lead and silver
was the queen, the dear immortal cause of all this beauty. But now that
sarcophagus seemed no more than a little dark oblong that lay
incongruously in the great vista of the Pearl of Love. It was as if
someone had dropped a small valise upon the crystal sea of heaven.

Long the prince mused, but no one knew the thoughts that passed through
his mind.

At last he spoke. He pointed.

"Take that thing away," he said.




THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND


Three hundred miles and more from Chimborazo, one hundred from the snows
of Cotopaxi, in the wildest wastes of Ecuador's Andes, there lies that
mysterious mountain valley, cut off from all the world of men, the
Country of the Blind. Long years ago that valley lay so far open to the
world that men might come at last through frightful gorges and over an
icy pass into its equable meadows, and thither indeed men came, a family
or so of Peruvian half-breeds fleeing from the lust and tyranny of an
evil Spanish ruler. Then came the stupendous outbreak of Mindobamba,
when it was night in Quito for seventeen days, and the water was boiling
at Yaguachi and all the fish floating dying even as far as Guayaquil;
everywhere along the Pacific slopes there were landslips and swift
thawings and sudden floods, and one whole side of the old Arauca crest
slipped and came down in thunder, and cut off the Country of the Blind
for ever from the exploring feet of men. But one of these early settlers
had chanced to be on the hither side of the gorges when the world had so
terribly shaken itself, and he perforce had to forget his wife and his
child and all the friends and possessions he had left up there, and
start life over again in the lower world. He started it again but ill,
blindness overtook him, and he died of punishment in the mines; but the
story he told begot a legend that lingers along the length of the
Cordilleras of the Andes to this day.

He told of his reason for venturing back from that fastness, into which
he had first been carried lashed to a llama, beside a vast bale of gear,
when he was a child. The valley, he said, had in it all that the heart
of man could desire--sweet water, pasture, an even climate, slopes of
rich brown soil with tangles of a shrub that bore an excellent fruit,
and on one side great hanging forests of pine that held the avalanches
high. Far overhead, on three sides, vast cliffs of grey-green rock were
capped by cliffs of ice; but the glacier stream came not to them, but
flowed away by the farther slopes, and only now and then huge ice masses
fell on the valley side. In this valley it neither rained nor snowed,
but the abundant springs gave a rich green pasture, that irrigation
would spread over all the valley space. The settlers did well indeed
there. Their beasts did well and multiplied, and but one thing marred
their happiness. Yet it was enough to mar it greatly. A strange disease
had come upon them and had made all the children born to them there--and
indeed, several older children also--blind. It was to seek some charm or
antidote against this plague of blindness that he had with fatigue and
danger and difficulty returned down the gorge. In those days, in such
cases, men did not think of germs and infections, but of sins, and it
seemed to him that the reason of this affliction must he in the
negligence of these priestless immigrants to set up a shrine so soon as
they entered the valley. He wanted a shrine--a handsome, cheap,
effectual shrine--to be erected in the valley; he wanted relics and
suchlike potent things of faith, blessed objects and mysterious medals
and prayers. In his wallet he had a bar of native silver for which he
would not account; he insisted there was none in the valley with
something of the insistence of an inexpert liar. They had all clubbed
their money and ornaments together, having little need for such treasure
up there, he said, to buy them holy help against their ill. I figure
this dim-eyed young mountaineer, sunburnt, gaunt, and anxious, hat brim
clutched feverishly, a man all unused to the ways of the lower world,
telling this story to some keen-eyed, attentive priest before the great
convulsion; I can picture him presently seeking to return with pious and
infallible remedies against that trouble, and the infinite dismay with
which he must have faced the tumbled vastness where the gorge had once
come out. But the rest of his story of mischances is lost to me, save
that I know of his evil death after several years. Poor stray from that
remoteness! The stream that had once made the gorge now bursts from the
mouth of a rocky cave, and the legend his poor, ill-told story set going
developed into the legend of a race of blind men somewhere "over there"
one may still hear to-day.

And amidst the little population of that now isolated and forgotten
valley the disease ran its course. The old became groping, the young saw
but dimly, and the children that were born to them never saw at all. But
life was very easy in that snow-rimmed basin, lost to all the world,
with neither thorns nor briers, with no evil insects nor any beasts save
the gentle breed of llamas they had lugged and thrust and followed up
the beds of the shrunken rivers in the gorges up which they had come.
The seeing had become purblind so gradually that they scarcely noticed
their loss. They guided the sightless youngsters hither and thither
until they knew the whole valley marvellously, and when at last sight
died out among them the race lived on. They had even time to adapt
themselves to the blind control of fire, which they made carefully in
stoves of stone. They were a simple strain of people at the first,
unlettered, only slightly touched with the Spanish civilisation, but
with something of a tradition of the arts of old Peru and of its lost
philosophy. Generation followed generation. They forgot many things;
they devised many things. Their tradition of the greater world they came
from became mythical in colour and uncertain. In all things save sight
they were strong and able, and presently chance sent one who had an
original mind and who could talk and persuade among them, and then
afterwards another. These two passed, leaving their effects, and the
little community grew in numbers and in understanding, and met and
settled social and economic problems that arose. Generation followed
generation. Generation followed generation. There came a time when a
child was born who was fifteen generations from that ancestor who went
out of the valley with a bar of silver to seek God's aid, and who never
returned. There about it chanced that a man came into this community
from the outer world. And this is the story of that man.


He was a mountaineer from the country near Quito, a man who had been
down to the sea and had seen the world, a reader of books in an original
way, an acute and enterprising man, and he was taken on by a party of
Englishmen who had come out to Ecuador to climb mountains, to replace
one of their three Swiss guides who had fallen ill. He climbed here and
he climbed there, and then came the attempt on Parascotopetl, the
Matterhorn of the Andes, in which he was lost to the outer world. The
story of that accident has been written a dozen times. Pointer's
narrative is the best. He tells how the little party worked their
difficult and almost vertical way up to the very foot of the last and
greatest precipice, and how they built a night shelter amidst the snow
upon a little shelf of rock, and with a touch of real dramatic power,
how presently they found Nunez had gone from them. They shouted, and
there was no reply; shouted and whistled, and for the rest of that night
they slept no more.

As the morning broke they saw the traces of his fall. It seems
impossible he could have uttered a sound. He had slipped eastward
towards the unknown side of the mountain; far below he had struck a
steep slope of snow, and ploughed his way down it in the midst of a snow
avalanche. His track went straight to the edge of a frightful precipice,
and beyond that everything was hidden. Far, far below, and hazy with
distance, they could see trees rising out of a narrow, shut-in
valley--the lost Country of the Blind. But they did not know it was the
lost Country of the Blind, nor distinguish it in any way from any other
narrow streak of upland valley. Unnerved by this disaster, they
abandoned their attempt in the afternoon, and Pointer was called away to
the war before he could make another attack. To this day Parascotopetl
lifts an unconquered crest, and Pointer's shelter crumbles unvisited
amidst the snows.

And the man who fell survived.

At the end of the slope he fell a thousand feet, and came down in the
midst of a cloud of snow upon a snow slope even steeper than the one
above. Down this he was whirled, stunned and insensible, but without a
bone broken in his body; and then at last came to gentler slopes, and at
last rolled out and lay still, buried amidst a softening heap of the
white masses that had accompanied and saved him. He came to himself with
a dim fancy that he was ill in bed; then realized his position with a
mountaineer's intelligence and worked himself loose and, after a rest or
so, out until he saw the stars. He rested flat upon his chest for a
space, wondering where he was and what had happened to him. He explored
his limbs, and discovered that several of his buttons were gone and his
coat turned over his head. His knife had gone from his pocket and his
hat was lost, though he had tied it under his chin. He recalled that he
had been looking for loose stones to raise his piece of the shelter
wall. His ice-axe had disappeared.

He decided he must have fallen, and looked up to see, exaggerated by the
ghastly light of the rising moon, the tremendous flight he had taken.
For a while he lay, gazing blankly at the vast, pale cliff towering
above, rising moment by moment out of a subsiding tide of darkness. Its
phantasmal, mysterious beauty held him for a space, and then he was
seized with a paroxysm of sobbing laughter...

After a great interval of time he became aware that he was near the
lower edge of the snow. Below, down what was now a moonlit and
practicable slope, he saw the dark and broken appearance of rock-strewn
turf. He struggled to his feet, aching in every joint and limb, got down
painfully from the heaped loose snow about him, went downward until he
was on the turf, and there dropped rather than lay beside a boulder,
drank deep from the flask in his inner pocket, and instantly fell
asleep...

He was awakened by the singing of birds in the trees far below.

He sat up and perceived he was on a little alp at the foot of a vast
precipice that sloped only a little in the gully down which he and his
snow had come. Over against him another wall of rock reared itself
against the sky. The gorge between these precipices ran east and west
and was full of the morning sunlight, which lit to the westward the mass
of fallen mountain that closed the descending gorge. Below him it seemed
there was a precipice equally steep, but behind the snow in the gully he
found a sort of chimney-cleft dripping with snow-water, down which a
desperate man might venture. He found it easier than it seemed, and came
at last to another desolate alp, and then after a rock climb of no
particular difficulty, to a steep slope of trees. He took his bearings
and turned his face up the gorge, for he saw it opened out above upon
green meadows, among which he now glimpsed quite distinctly a cluster of
stone huts of unfamiliar fashion. At times his progress was like
clambering along the face of a wall, and after a time the rising sun
ceased to strike along the gorge, the voices of the singing birds died
away, and the air grew cold and dark about him. But the distant valley
with its houses was all the brighter for that. He came presently to
talus, and among the rocks he noted--for he was an observant man--an
unfamiliar fern that seemed to clutch out of the crevices with intense
green hands. He picked a frond or so and gnawed its stalk, and found it
helpful.

About midday he came at last out of the throat of the gorge into the
plain and the sunlight. He was stiff and weary; he sat down in the
shadow of a rock, filled up his flask with water from a spring and drank
it down, and remained for a time, resting before he went on to the
houses.

They were very strange to his eyes, and indeed the whole aspect of that
valley became, as he regarded it, queerer and more unfamiliar. The
greater part of its surface was lush green meadow, starred with many
beautiful flowers, irrigated with extraordinary care, and bearing
evidence of systematic cropping piece by piece. High up and ringing the
valley about was a wall, and what appeared to be a circumferential
water-channel, from which the little trickles of water that fed the
meadow plants came, and on the higher slopes above this flocks of llamas
cropped the scanty herbage. Sheds, apparently shelters or feeding-places
for the llamas, stood against the boundary wall here and there. The
irrigation streams ran together into a main channel down the centre of
the valley, and this was enclosed on either side by a wall breast high.
This gave a singularly urban quality to this secluded place, a quality
that was greatly enhanced by the fact that a number of paths paved with
black and white stones, and each with a curious little kerb at the side,
ran hither and thither in an orderly manner. The houses of the central
village were quite unlike the casual and higgledy-piggledy agglomeration
of the mountain villages he knew; they stood in a continuous row on
either side of a central street of astonishing cleanness, here and there
their parti-coloured facade was pierced by a door, and not a solitary
window broke their even frontage. They were parti-coloured with
extraordinary irregularity, smeared with a sort of plaster that was
sometimes grey, sometimes drab, sometimes slate-coloured or dark brown;
and it was the sight of this wild plastering first brought the word
"blind" into the thoughts of the explorer. "The good man who did that,"
he thought, "must have been as blind as a bat."

He descended a steep place, and so came to the wall and channel that ran
about the valley, near where the latter spouted out its surplus contents
into the deeps of the gorge in a thin and wavering thread of cascade. He
could now see a number of men and women resting on piled heaps of grass,
as if taking a siesta, in the remoter part of the meadow, and nearer the
village a number of recumbent children, and then nearer at hand three
men carrying pails on yokes along a little path that ran from the
encircling wall towards the houses. These latter were clad in garments
of llama cloth and boots and belts of leather, and they wore caps of
cloth with back and ear flaps. They followed one another in single file,
walking slowly and yawning as they walked, like men who have been up all
night. There was something so reassuringly prosperous and respectable in
their bearing that after a moment's hesitation Nunez stood forward as
conspicuously as possible upon his rock, and gave vent to a mighty shout
that echoed round the valley.

The three men stopped, and moved their heads as though they were looking
about them. They turned their faces this way and that, and Nunez
gesticulated with freedom. But they did not appear to see him for all
his gestures, and after a time, directing themselves towards the
mountains far away to the right, they shouted as if in answer. Nunez
bawled again, and then once more, and as he gestured ineffectually the
word "blind" came up to the top of his thoughts. "The fools must be
blind," he said.

When at last, after much shouting and wrath, Nunez crossed the stream by
a little bridge, came through a gate in the wall, and approached them,
he was sure that they were blind. He was sure that this was the Country
of the Blind of which the legends told. Conviction had sprung upon him,
and a sense of great and rather enviable adventure. The three stood side
by side, not looking at him, but with their ears directed towards him,
judging him by his unfamiliar steps. They stood close together like men
a little afraid, and he could see their eyelids closed and sunken, as
though the very balls beneath had shrunk away. There was an expression
near awe on their faces.

"A man," one said, in hardly recognisable Spanish--"A man it is--a man
or a spirit--coming down from the rocks."

But Nunez advanced with the confident steps of a youth who enters upon
life. All the old stories of the lost valley and the Country of the
Blind had come back to his mind, and through his thoughts ran this old
proverb, as if it were a refrain--

"In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King."

"In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King."

And very civilly he gave them greeting. He talked to them and used his
eyes.

"Where does he come from, brother Pedro?" asked one.

"Down out of the rocks."

"Over the mountains I come," said Nunez, "out of the country beyond
there--where men can see. From near Bogota, where there are a hundred
thousands of people, and where the city passes out of sight."

"Sight?" muttered Pedro. "Sight?"

"He comes," said the second blind man, "out of the rocks."

The cloth of their coats, Nunez saw was curious fashioned, each with a
different sort of stitching.

They startled him by a simultaneous movement towards him, each with a
hand outstretched. He stepped back from the advance of these spread
fingers.

"Come hither," said the third blind man, following his motion and
clutching him neatly.

And they held Nunez and felt him over, saying no word further until they
had done so.

"Carefully," he cried, with a finger in his eye, and found they thought
that organ, with its fluttering lids, a queer thing in him. They went
over it again.

"A strange creature, Correa," said the one called Pedro. "Feel the
coarseness of his hair. Like a llama's hair."

"Rough he is as the rocks that begot him," said Correa, investigating
Nunez's unshaven chin with a soft and slightly moist hand. "Perhaps he
will grow finer."

Nunez struggled a little under their examination, but they gripped him
firm.

"Carefully," he said again.

"He speaks," said the third man. "Certainly he is a man."

"Ugh!" said Pedro, at the roughness of his coat.

"And you have come into the world?" asked Pedro.

"Out of the world. Over mountains and glaciers; right over above there,
halfway to the sun. Out of the great, big world that goes down, twelve
days' journey to the sea."

They scarcely seemed to heed him. "Our fathers have told us men may be
made by the forces of Nature," said Correa. "It is the warmth of things,
and moisture, and rottenness--rottenness."

"Let us lead him to the elders," said Pedro.

"Shout first," said Correa, "lest the children be afraid. This is a
marvellous occasion."

So they shouted, and Pedro went first and took Nunez by the hand to lead
him to the houses.

He drew his hand away. "I can see," he said.

"See?" said Correa.

"Yes; see," said Nunez, turning towards him, and stumbled against
Pedro's pail.

"His senses are still imperfect," said the third blind man. "He
stumbles, and talks unmeaning words. Lead him by the hand."

"As you will," said Nunez, and was led along laughing.

It seemed they knew nothing of sight.

Well, all in good time he would teach them.

He heard people shouting, and saw a number of figures gathering together
in the middle roadway of the village.

He found it tax his nerve and patience more than he had anticipated,
that first encounter with the population of the Country of the Blind.
The place seemed larger as he drew near to it, and the smeared
plasterings queerer, and a crowd of children and men and women (the
women and girls he was pleased to note had, some of them, quite sweet
faces, for all that their eyes were shut and sunken) came about him,
holding on to him, touching him with soft, sensitive hands, smelling at
him, and listening at every word he spoke. Some of the maidens and
children, however, kept aloof as if afraid, and indeed his voice seemed
coarse and rude beside their softer notes. They mobbed him. His three
guides kept close to him with an effect of proprietorship, and said
again and again, "A wild man out of the rocks."

"Bogota," he said. "Bogota. Over the mountain crests."

"A wild man--using wild words," said Pedro. "Did you hear that--Bogota?
His mind has hardly formed yet. He has only the beginnings of speech."

A little boy nipped his hand. "Bogota!" he said mockingly.

"Aye! A city to your village. I come from the great world--where men
have eyes and see."

"His name's Bogota," they said.

"He stumbled," said Correa, "stumbled twice as we came hither."

"Bring him in to the elders."

And they thrust him suddenly through a doorway into a room as black as
pitch, save at the end there faintly glowed a fire. The crowd closed in
behind him and shut out all but the faintest glimmer of day, and before
he could arrest himself he had fallen headlong over the feet of a seated
man. His arm, outflung, struck the face of someone else as he went down;
he felt the soft impact of features and heard a cry of anger, and for a
moment he struggled against a number of hands that clutched him. It was
a one-sided fight. An inkling of the situation came to him and he lay
quiet.

"I fell down," he said; "I couldn't see in this pitchy darkness."

There was a pause as if the unseen persons about him tried to understand
his words. Then the voice of Correa said: "He is but newly formed. He
stumbles as he walks and mingles words that mean nothing with his
speech."

Others also said things about him that he heard or understood
imperfectly.

"May I sit up?" he asked, in a pause. "I will not struggle against you
again."

They consulted and let him rise.

The voice of an older man began to question him, and Nunez found himself
trying to explain the great world out of which he had fallen, and the
sky and mountains and suchlike marvels, to these elders who sat in
darkness in the Country of the Blind. And they would believe and
understand nothing whatever that he told them, a thing quite outside his
expectation. They would not even understand many of his words. For
fourteen generations these people had been blind and cut off from all
the seeing world; the names for all the things of sight had faded and
changed; the story of the outer world was faded and changed to a child's
story; and they had ceased to concern themselves with anything beyond
the rocky slopes above their circling wall. Blind men of genius had
arisen among them and questioned the shreds of belief and tradition they
had brought with them from their seeing days, and had dismissed all
these things as idle fancies and replaced them with new and saner
explanations. Much of their imagination had shrivelled with their eyes,
and they had made for themselves new imaginations with their ever more
sensitive ears and finger-tips. Slowly Nunez realised this: that his
expectation of wonder and reverence at his origin and his gifts was not
to be borne out; and after his poor attempt to explain sight to them had
been set aside as the confused version of a new-made being describing
the marvels of his incoherent sensations, he subsided, a little dashed,
into listening to their instruction. And the eldest of the blind men
explained to him life and philosophy and religion, how that the world
(meaning their valley) had been first an empty hollow in the rocks, and
then had come first inanimate things without the gift of touch, and
llamas and a few other creatures that had little sense, and then men,
and at last angels, whom one could hear singing and making fluttering
sounds, but whom no one could touch at all, which puzzled Nunez greatly
until he thought of the birds.

He went on to tell Nunez how this time had been divided into the warm
and the cold, which are the blind equivalents of day and night, and how
it was good to sleep in the warm and work during the cold, so that now,
but for his advent, the whole town of the blind would have been asleep.
He said Nunez must have been specially created to learn and serve the
wisdom they had acquired, and that for all his mental incoherency and
stumbling behaviour he must have courage and do his best to learn, and
at that all the people in the doorway murmured encouragingly. He said
the night--for the blind call their day night--was now far gone, and it
behooved everyone to go back to sleep. He asked Nunez if he knew how to
sleep, and Nunez said he did, but that before sleep he wanted food.

They brought him food--llama's milk in a bowl and rough salted
bread--and led him into a lonely place to eat out of their hearing, and
afterwards to slumber until the chill of the mountain evening roused
them to begin their day again. But Nunez slumbered not at all.

Instead, he sat up in the place where they had left him, resting his
limbs and turning the unanticipated circumstances of his arrival over
and over in his mind.

Every now and then he laughed, sometimes with amusement and sometimes
with indignation.

"Unformed mind!" he said. "Got no senses yet! They little know they've
been insulting their heaven-sent king and master. I see I must bring
them to reason. Let me think--Let me think."

He was still thinking when the sun set.

Nunez had an eye for all beautiful things, and it seemed to him that the
glow upon the snowfields and glaciers that rose about the valley on
every side was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. His eyes went
from that inaccessible glory to the village and irrigated fields, fast
sinking into the twilight, and suddenly a wave of emotion took him, and
he thanked God from the bottom of his heart that the power of sight had
been given him.

He heard a voice calling to him from out of the village.

"Ya ho there, Bogota! Come hither!"

At that he stood up, smiling. He would show these people once and for
all what sight would do for a man. They would seek him, but not find
him.

"You move not, Bogota," said the voice.

He laughed noiselessly and made two stealthy steps aside from the path.

"Trample not on the grass, Bogota; that is not allowed."

Nunez had scarcely heard the sound he made himself. He stopped, amazed.

The owner of the voice came running up the piebald path towards him.

He stepped back into the pathway. "Here I am," he said.

"Why did you not come when I called you?" said the blind man. "Must you
be led like a child? Cannot you hear the path as you walk?"

Nunez laughed. "I can see it," he said.

"There is no such word as see," said the blind man, after a pause.
"Cease this folly and follow the sound of my feet."

Nunez followed, a little annoyed.

"My time will come," he said.

"You'll learn," the blind man answered. "There is much to learn in the
world."

"Has no one told you, 'In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is
King'?"

"What is blind?" asked the blind man, carelessly, over his shoulder.

Four days passed and the fifth found the King of the Blind still
incognito, as a clumsy and useless stranger among his subjects.

It was, he found, much more difficult to proclaim himself than he had
supposed, and in the meantime, while he meditated his coup d'etat, he
did what he was told and learnt the manners and customs of the Country
of the Blind. He found working and going about at night a particularly
irksome thing, and he decided that, that should be the first thing he
would change.

They led a simple, laborious life, these people, with all the elements
of virtue and happiness as these things can be understood by men. They
toiled, but not oppressively; they had food and clothing sufficient for
their needs; they had days and seasons of rest; they made much of music
and singing, and there was love among them and little children.

It was marvellous with what confidence and precision they went about
their ordered world. Everything, you see, had been made to fit their
needs; each of the radiating paths of the valley area had a constant
angle to the others, and was distinguished by a special notch upon its
kerbing; all obstacles and irregularities of path or meadow had long
since been cleared away; all their methods and procedure arose naturally
from their special needs. Their senses had become marvellously acute;
they could hear and judge the slightest gesture of a man a dozen paces
away--could hear the very beating of his heart. Intonation had long
replaced expression with them, and touches gesture, and their work with
hoe and spade and fork was as free and confident as garden work can be.
Their sense of smell was extraordinarily fine; they could distinguish
individual differences as readily as a dog can, and they went about the
tending of llamas, who lived among the rocks above and came to the wall
for food and shelter, with ease and confidence. It was only when at last
Nunez sought to assert himself that he found how easy and confident
their movements could be.

He rebelled only after he had tried persuasion.

He tried at first on several occasions to tell them of sight. "Look you
here, you people," he said. "There are things you do not understand in
me."

Once or twice one or two of them attended to him; they sat with faces
downcast and ears turned intelligently towards him, and he did his best
to tell them what it was to see. Among his hearers was a girl, with
eyelids less red and sunken than the others, so that one could almost
fancy she was hiding eyes, whom especially he hoped to persuade. He
spoke of the beauties of sight, of watching the mountains, of the sky
and the sunrise, and they heard him with amused incredulity that
presently became condemnatory. They told him there were indeed no
mountains at all, but that the end of the rocks where the llamas grazed
was indeed the end of the world; thence sprang a cavernous roof of the
universe, from which the dew and the avalanches fell; and when he
maintained stoutly the world had neither end nor roof such as they
supposed, they said his thoughts were wicked. So far as he could
describe sky and clouds and stars to them it seemed to them a hideous
void, a terrible blankness in the place of the smooth roof to things in
which they believed--it was an article of faith with them that the
cavern roof was exquisitely smooth to the touch. He saw that in some
manner he shocked them, and gave up that aspect of the matter
altogether, and tried to show them the practical value of sight. One
morning he saw Pedro in the path called Seventeen and coming towards the
central houses, but still too far off for hearing or scent, and he told
them as much. "In a little while," he prophesied, "Pedro will be here."
An old man remarked that Pedro had no business on path Seventeen, and
then, as if in confirmation, that individual as he drew near turned and
went transversely into path Ten, and so back with nimble paces towards
the outer wall. They mocked Nunez when Pedro did not arrive, and
afterwards, when he asked Pedro questions to clear his character, Pedro
denied and outfaced him, and was afterwards hostile to him.

Then he induced them to let him go a long way up the sloping meadows
towards the wall with one complaisant individual, and to him he promised
to describe all that happened among the houses. He noted certain goings
and comings, but the things that really seemed to signify to these
people happened inside of or behind the windowless houses--the only
things they took note of to test him by--and of those he could see or
tell nothing; and it was after the failure of this attempt, and the
ridicule they could not repress, that he resorted to force. He thought
of seizing a spade and suddenly smiting one or two of them to earth, and
so in fair combat showing the advantage of eyes. He went so far with
that resolution as to seize his spade, and then he discovered a new
thing about himself, and that was that it was impossible for him to hit
a blind man in cold blood.

He hesitated, and found them all aware that he had snatched up the
spade. They stood all alert, with their heads on one side, and bent ears
towards him for what he would do next.

"Put that spade down," said one, and he felt a sort of helpless horror.
He came near obedience.

Then he had thrust one backwards against a house wall, and fled past him
and out of the village.

He went athwart one of their meadows, leaving a track of trampled grass
behind his feet, and presently sat down by the side of one of their
ways. He felt something of the buoyancy that comes to all men in the
beginning of a fight, but more perplexity. He began to realise that you
cannot even fight happily with creatures who stand upon a different
mental basis to yourself. Far away he saw a number of men carrying
spades and sticks come out of the street of houses and advance in a
spreading line along the several paths towards him. They advanced
slowly, speaking frequently to one another, and ever and again the whole
cordon would halt and sniff the air and listen.

The first time they did this Nunez laughed. But afterwards he did not
laugh.

One struck his trail in the meadow grass and came stooping and feeling
his way along it.

For five minutes he watched the slow extension of the cordon, and then
his vague disposition to do something forthwith became frantic. He stood
up, went a pace or so towards the circumferential wall, turned, and went
back a little way. There they all stood in a crescent, still and
listening.

He also stood still, gripping his spade very tightly in both hands.
Should he charge them?

The pulse in his ears ran into the rhythm of "In the Country of the
Blind the One-Eyed Man is King."

Should he charge them?

He looked back at the high and unclimbable wall behind--unclimbable
because of its smooth plastering, but withal pierced with many little
doors and at the approaching line of seekers. Behind these others were
now coming out of the street of houses.

Should he charge them?

"Bogota!" called one. "Bogota! Where are you?"

He gripped his spade still tighter and advanced down the meadows towards
the place of habitations, and directly he moved they converged upon him.
"I'll hit them if they touch me," he swore; "by Heaven, I will. I'll
hit." He called aloud, "Look here, I'm going to do what I like in this
valley! Do you hear? I'm going to do what I like and go where I like."

They were moving in upon him quickly, groping, yet moving rapidly. It
was like playing blind man's buff with everyone blindfolded except one.
"Get hold of him!" cried one. He found himself in the arc of a loose
curve of pursuers. He felt suddenly he must be active and resolute.

"You don't understand," he cried, in a voice that was meant to be great
and resolute, and which broke. "You are blind and I can see. Leave me
alone!"

"Bogota! Put down that spade and come off the grass!"

The last order, grotesque in its urban familiarity, produced a gust of
anger. "I'll hurt you," he said, sobbing with emotion. "By Heaven, I'll
hurt you! Leave me alone!"

He began to run, not knowing clearly where to run. He ran from the
nearest blind man, because it was a horror to hit him. He stopped, and
then made a dash to escape from their closing ranks. He made for where a
gap was wide, and the men on either side, with a quick perception of the
approach of his paces, rushed in on one another. He sprang forward, and
then saw he must be caught, and Swish! The spade had struck. He felt the
soft thud of hand and arm, and the man was down with a yell of pain, and
he was through.

Through! And then he was close to the street of houses again, and blind
men, whirling spades and stakes, were running with a reasoned swiftness
hither and thither.

He heard steps behind him just in time, and found a tall man rushing
forward and swiping at the sound of him. He lost his nerve, hurled his
spade a yard wide of this antagonist, and whirled about and fled, fairly
yelling as he dodged another.

He was panic-stricken. He ran furiously to and fro, dodging when there
was no need to dodge, and in his anxiety to see on every side of him at
once, stumbling. For a moment he was down and they heard his fall. Far
away in the circumferential wall a little doorway looked like Heaven,
and he set off in a wild rush for it. He did not even look round at his
pursuers until it was gained, and he had stumbled across the bridge,
clambered a little way among the rocks, to the surprise and dismay of a
young llama, who went leaping out of sight, and lay down sobbing for
breath.

And so his coup d'etat came to an end.

He stayed outside the wall of the valley of the blind for two nights and
days without food or shelter, and meditated upon the unexpected. During
these meditations he repeated very frequently and always with a
profounder note of derision the exploded proverb: "In the Country of the
Blind the One-Eyed Man is King." He thought chiefly of ways of fighting
and conquering these people, and it grew clear that for him no
practicable way was possible. He had no weapons, and now it would be
hard to get one.

The canker of civilisation had got to him even in Bogota, and he could
not find it in himself to go down and assassinate a blind man. Of
course, if he did that, he might then dictate terms on the threat of
assassinating them all. But--Sooner or later he must sleep...!

He tried also to find food among the pine trees, to be comfortable under
pine boughs while the frost fell at night, and--with less confidence--to
catch a llama by artifice in order to try to kill it--perhaps by
hammering it with a stone--and so finally, perhaps, to eat some of it.
But the llamas had a doubt of him and regarded him with distrustful
brown eyes and spat when he drew near. Fear came on him the second day
and fits of shivering. Finally he crawled down to the wall of the
Country of the Blind and tried to make his terms. He crawled along by
the stream, shouting, until two blind men came out to the gate and
talked to him.

"I was mad," he said. "But I was only newly made."

They said that was better.

He told them he was wiser now, and repented of all he had done.

Then he wept without intention, for he was very weak and ill now, and
they took that as a favourable sign.

They asked him if he still thought he could see."

"No," he said. "That was folly. The word means nothing--less than
nothing!"

They asked him what was overhead.

"About ten times ten the height of a man there is a roof above the
world--of rock--and very, very smooth..." He burst again into hysterical
tears. "Before you ask me any more, give me some food or I shall die!"

He expected dire punishments, but these blind people were capable of
toleration. They regarded his rebellion as but one more proof of his
general idiocy and inferiority, and after they had whipped him they
appointed him to do the simplest and heaviest work they had for anyone
to do, and he, seeing no other way of living, did submissively what he
was told.

He was ill for some days and they nursed him kindly. That refined his
submission. But they insisted on his lying in the dark, and that was a
great misery. And blind philosophers came and talked to him of the
wicked levity of his mind, and reproved him so impressively for his
doubts about the lid of rock that covered their cosmic casserole that he
almost doubted whether indeed he was not the victim of hallucination in
not seeing it overhead.

So Nunez became a citizen of the Country of the Blind, and these people
ceased to be a generalised people and became individualities to him, and
familiar to him, while the world beyond the mountains became more and
more remote and unreal. There was Yacob, his master, a kindly man when
not annoyed; there was Pedro, Yacob's nephew; and there was
Medina-sarote, who was the youngest daughter of Yacob. She was little
esteemed in the world of the blind, because she had a clear-cut face and
lacked that satisfying, glossy smoothness that is the blind man's ideal
of feminine beauty, but Nunez thought her beautiful at first, and
presently the most beautiful thing in the whole creation. Her closed
eyelids were not sunken and red after the common way of the valley, but
lay as though they might open again at any moment; and she had long
eyelashes, which were considered a grave disfigurement. And her voice
was weak and did not satisfy the acute hearing of the valley swains. So
that she had no lover.

There came a time when Nunez thought that, could he win her, he would be
resigned to live in the valley for all the rest of his days.

He watched her; he sought opportunities of doing her little services and
presently he found that she observed him. Once at a rest-day gathering
they sat side by side in the dim starlight, and the music was sweet. His
hand came upon hers and he dared to clasp it. Then very tenderly she
returned his pressure. And one day, as they were at their meal in the
darkness, he felt her hand very softly seeking him, and as it chanced
the fire leapt then, and he saw the tenderness of her face.

He sought to speak to her.

He went to her one day when she was sitting in the summer moonlight
spinning. The light made her a thing of silver and mystery. He sat down
at her feet and told her he loved her, and told her how beautiful she
seemed to him. He had a lover's voice, he spoke with a tender reverence
that came near to awe, and she had never before been touched by
adoration. She made him no definite answer, but it was clear his words
pleased her.

After that he talked to her whenever he could take an opportunity. The
valley became the world for him, and the world beyond the mountains
where men lived by day seemed no more than a fairy tale he would some
day pour into her ears. Very tentatively and timidly he spoke to her of
sight.

Sight seemed to her the most poetical of fancies, and she listened to
his description of the stars and the mountains and her own sweet
white-lit beauty as though it was a guilty indulgence. She did not
believe, she could only half understand, but she was mysteriously
delighted, and it seemed to him that she completely understood.

His love lost its awe and took courage. Presently he was for demanding
her of Yacob and the elders in marriage, but she became fearful and
delayed. And it was one of her elder sisters who first told Yacob that
Medina-sarote and Nunez were in love.

There was from the first very great opposition to the marriage of Nunez
and Medina-sarote; not so much because they valued her as because they
held him as a being apart, an idiot, incompetent thing below the
permissible level of a man. Her sisters opposed it bitterly as bringing
discredit on them all; and old Yacob, though he had formed a sort of
liking for his clumsy, obedient serf, shook his head and said the thing
could not be. The young men were all angry at the idea of corrupting the
race, and one went so far as to revile and strike Nunez. He struck back.
Then for the first time he found an advantage in seeing, even by
twilight, and after that fight was over no one was disposed to raise a
hand against him. But they still found his marriage impossible.

Old Yacob had a tenderness for his last little daughter, and was grieved
to have her weep upon his shoulder.

"You see, my dear, he's an idiot. He has delusions; he can't do anything
right."

"I know," wept Medina-sarote. "But he's better than he was. He's getting
better. And he's strong, dear father, and kind--stronger and kinder than
any other man in the world. And he loves me--and father, I love him."

Old Yacob was greatly distressed to find her inconsolable, and
besides--what made it more distressing--he liked Nunez for many things.
So he went and sat in the windowless council-chamber with the other
elders and watched the trend of the talk, and said, at the proper time,
"He's better than he was. Very likely, some day, we shall find him as
sane as ourselves."

Then afterwards one of the elders, who thought deeply, had an idea. He
was a great doctor among these people, their medicine-man, and he had a
very philosophical and inventive mind, and the idea of curing Nunez of
his peculiarities appealed to him. One day when Yacob was present he
returned to the topic of Nunez. "I have examined Nunez," he said, "and
the case is clearer to me. I think very probably he might be cured."

"This is what I have always hoped," said old Yacob.

"His brain is affected," said the blind doctor.

The elders murmured assent.

"Now, what affects it?"

"Ah!" said old Yacob.

"This," said the doctor, answering his own question. "Those queer things
that are called the eyes, and which exist to make an agreeable
depression in the face, are diseased, in the case of Nunez, in such a
way as to affect his brain. They are greatly distended, he has
eyelashes, and his eyelids move, and consequently his brain is in a
state of constant irritation and distraction."

"Yes?" said old Yacob. "Yes?"

"And I think I may say with reasonable certainty that, in order to cure
him complete, all that we need to do is a simple and easy surgical
operation--namely, to remove these irritant bodies."

"And then he will be sane?"

"Then he will be perfectly sane, and a quite admirable citizen."

"Thank Heaven for science!" said old Yacob, and went forth at once to
tell Nunez of his happy hopes.

But Nunez's manner of receiving the good news struck him as being cold
and disappointing.

"One might think," he said, "from the tone you take that you did not
care for my daughter."

It was Medina-sarote who persuaded Nunez to face the blind surgeons.

"You do not want me," he said, "to lose my gift of sight?"

She shook her head.

"My world is sight."

Her head drooped lower.

"There are the beautiful things, the beautiful little things--the
flowers, the lichens amidst the rocks, the light and softness on a piece
of fur, the far sky with its drifting dawn of clouds, the sunsets and
the stars. And there is you. For you alone it is good to have sight, to
see your sweet, serene face, your kindly lips, your dear, beautiful
hands folded together... It is these eyes of mine you won, these eyes
that hold me to you, that these idiots seek. Instead, I must touch you,
hear you, and never see you again. I must come under that roof of rock
and stone and darkness, that horrible roof under which your imaginations
stoop... No; you would not have me do that?"

A disagreeable doubt had arisen in him. He stopped and left the thing a
question.

"I wish," she said, "sometimes--" She paused.

"Yes?" he said, a little apprehensively.

"I wish sometimes--you would not talk like that."

"Like what?"

"I know it's pretty--it's your imagination. I love it, but now--"

He felt cold. "Now?" he said, faintly.

She sat quite still.

"You mean--you think--I should be better, better perhaps--"

He was realising things very swiftly. He felt anger perhaps, anger at
the dull course of fate, but also sympathy for her lack of
understanding--a sympathy near akin to pity.

"Dear," he said, and he could see by her whiteness how tensely her
spirit pressed against the things she could not say. He put his arms
about her, he kissed her ear, and they sat for a time in silence.

"If I were to consent to this?" he said at last, in a voice that was
very gentle.

She flung her arms about him, weeping wildly. "Oh, if you would," she
sobbed, "if only you would!"

For a week before the operation that was to raise him from his servitude
and inferiority to the level of a blind citizen Nunez knew nothing of
sleep, and all through the warm, sunlit hours, while the others
slumbered happily, he sat brooding or wandered aimlessly, trying to
bring his mind to bear on his dilemma. He had given his answer, he had
given his consent, and still he was not sure. And at last work-time was
over, the sun rose in splendour over the golden crests, and his last day
of vision began for him. He had a few minutes with Medina-sarote before
she went apart to sleep.

"To-morrow," he said, "I shall see no more."

"Dear heart!" she answered, and pressed his hands with all her strength.

"They will hurt you but little," she said; "and you are going through
this pain--you are going through it, dear lover, for me... Dear, if a
woman's heart and life can do it, I will repay you. My dearest one, my
dearest with the tender voice, I will repay."

He was drenched in pity for himself and her.

He held her in his arms, and pressed his lips to hers and looked on her
sweet face for the last time. "Good-bye!" he whispered to that dear
sight, "Good-bye!"

And then in silence he turned away from her.

She could hear his slow retreating footsteps, and something in the
rhythm of them threw her into a passion of weeping.

He walked away.

He had fully meant to go to a lonely place where the meadows were
beautiful with white narcissus, and there remain until the hour of his
sacrifice should come, but as he walked he lifted up his eyes and saw
the morning, the morning like an angel in golden armour, marching down
the steeps...

It seemed to him that before this splendour he and this blind world in
the valley, and his love and all, were no more than a pit of sin.

He did not turn aside as he had meant to do, but went on and passed
through the wall of the circumference and out upon the rocks, and his
eyes were always upon the sunlit ice and snow.

He saw their infinite beauty, and his imagination soared over them to
the things beyond he was now to resign for ever!

He thought of that great free world that he was parted from, the world
that was his own, and he had a vision of those further slopes, distance
beyond distance, with Bogota, a place of multitudinous stirring beauty,
a glory by day, a luminous mystery by night, a place of palaces and
fountains and statues and white houses, lying beautifully in the middle
distance. He thought how for a day or so one might come down through
passes drawing ever nearer and nearer to its busy streets and ways. He
thought of the river journey, day by day, from great Bogota to the still
vaster world beyond, through towns and villages, forest and desert
places, the rushing river day by day, until its banks receded, and the
big steamers came splashing by and one had reached the sea--the
limitless sea, with its thousand islands, its thousands of islands, and
its ships seen dimly far away in their incessant journeyings round and
about that greater world. And there, unpent by mountains, one saw the
sky--the sky, not such a disc as one saw it here, but an arch of
immeasurable blue, a deep of deeps in which the circling stars were
floating...

His eyes scrutinised the great curtain of the mountains with a keener
inquiry.

For example; if one went so, up that gully and to that chimney there,
then one might come out high among those stunted pines that ran round in
a sort of shelf and rose still higher and higher as it passed above the
gorge. And then? That talus might be managed. Thence perhaps a climb
might be found to take him up to the precipice that came below the snow;
and if that chimney failed, then another farther to the east might serve
his purpose better. And then? Then one would be out upon the amber-lit
snow there, and halfway up to the crest of those beautiful desolations.
And suppose one had good fortune!

He glanced back at the village, then turned right round and regarded it
with folded arms.

He thought of Medina-sarote, and she had become small and remote.

He turned again towards the mountain wall down which the day had come to
him.

Then very circumspectly he began his climb.

When sunset came he was no longer climbing, but he was far and high. His
clothes were torn, his limbs were blood-stained, he was bruised in many
places, but he lay as if he were at his ease, and there was a smile on
his face.

From where he rested the valley seemed as if it were in a pit and nearly
a mile below. Already it was dim with haze and shadow, though the
mountain summits around him were things of light and fire. The mountain
summits around him were things of light and fire, and the little things
in the rocks near at hand were drenched with light and beauty, a vein of
green mineral piercing the grey, a flash of small crystal here and
there, a minute, minutely beautiful orange lichen close beside his face.
There were deep, mysterious shadows in the gorge, blue deepening into
purple, and purple into a luminous darkness, and overhead was the
illimitable vastness of the sky. But he heeded these things no longer,
but lay quite still there, smiling as if he were content now merely to
have escaped from the Valley of the Blind, in which he had thought to be
King. And the glow of the sunset passed, and the night came, and still
he lay there, under the cold, clear stars.




THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER STORIES--



THE STOLEN BACILLUS


"This again," said the Bacteriologist, slipping a glass slide under the
microscope, "is a preparation of the celebrated Bacillus of cholera--the
cholera germ."

The pale-faced man peered down the microscope. He was evidently not
accustomed to that kind of thing, and held a limp white hand over his
disengaged eye. "I see very little," he said.

"Touch this screw," said the Bacteriologist; "perhaps the microscope is
out of focus for you. Eyes vary so much. Just the fraction of a turn
this way or that."

"Ah! Now I see," said the visitor. "Not so very much to see after all.
Little streaks and shreds of pink. And yet those little particles, those
mere atomies, might multiply and devastate a city! Wonderful!"

He stood up, and releasing the glass slip from the microscope, held it
in his hand towards the window. "Scarcely visible," he said,
scrutinising the preparation. He hesitated. "Are these--alive? Are they
dangerous now?"

"Those have been stained and killed," said the Bacteriologist. "I wish,
for my own part, we could kill and stain every one of them in the
universe."

"I suppose," the pale man said with a slight smile, "that you scarcely
care to have such things about you in the living--in the active state?"

"On the contrary, we are obliged to," said the Bacteriologist. "Here,
for instance--" He walked across the room and took up one of several
sealed tubes. "Here is the living thing. This is a cultivation of the
actual living disease bacteria." He hesitated. "Bottled cholera, so to
speak."

A slight gleam of satisfaction appeared momentarily in the face of the
pale man.

"It's a deadly thing to have in your possession," he said, devouring the
little tube with his eyes. The Bacteriologist watched the morbid
pleasure in his visitor's expression. This man, who had visited him that
afternoon with a note of introduction from an old friend, interested him
from the very contrast of their dispositions. The lank black hair and
deep grey eyes, the haggard expression and nervous manner, the fitful
yet keen interest of his visitor were a novel change from the phlegmatic
deliberations of the ordinary scientific worker with whom the
Bacteriologist chiefly associated. It was perhaps natural, with a hearer
evidently so impressionable to the lethal nature of his topic, to take
the most effective aspect of the matter.

He held the tube in his hand thoughtfully. "Yes, here is the pestilence
imprisoned. Only break such a little tube as this into a supply of
drinking-water, say to these minute particles of life that one must
needs stain and examine with the highest powers of the microscope even
to see, and that one can neither smell nor taste--say to them, 'Go
forth, increase and multiply, and replenish the cisterns,' and
death--mysterious, untraceable death, death swift and terrible, death
full of pain and indignity--would be released upon this city, and go
hither and thither seeking his victims. Here he would take the husband
from the wife, here the child from its mother, here the statesman from
his duty, and here the toiler from his trouble. He would follow the
water-mains, creeping along streets, picking out and punishing a house
here and a house there where they did not boil their drinking-water,
creeping into the wells of the mineral-water makers, getting washed into
salad, and lying dormant in ices. He would wait ready to be drunk in the
horse-troughs, and by unwary children in the public fountains. He would
soak into the soil, to reappear in springs and wells at a thousand
unexpected places. Once start him at the water supply, and before we
could ring him in, and catch him again, he would have decimated the
metropolis."

He stopped abruptly. He had been told rhetoric was his weakness.

"But he is quite safe here, you know--quite safe."

The pale-faced man nodded. His eyes shone. He cleared his throat. "These
Anarchist--rascals," said he, "are fools, blind fools--to use bombs when
this kind of thing is attainable. I think--"

A gentle rap, a mere light touch of the finger-nails was heard at the
door. The Bacteriologist opened it. "Just a minute, dear," whispered his
wife.

When he re-entered the laboratory his visitor was looking at his watch.
"I had no idea I had wasted an hour of your time," he said. "Twelve
minutes to four. I ought to have left here by half-past three. But your
things were really too interesting. No, positively I cannot stop a
moment longer. I have an engagement at four."

He passed out of the room reiterating his thanks, and the Bacteriologist
accompanied him to the door, and then returned thoughtfully along the
passage to his laboratory. He was musing on the ethnology of his
visitor. Certainly the man was not a Teutonic type nor a common Latin
one. "A morbid product, anyhow, I am afraid," said the Bacteriologist to
himself. "How he gloated on those cultivations of disease-germs!" A
disturbing thought struck him. He turned to the bench by the
vapour-bath, and then very quickly to his writing-table. Then he felt
hastily in his pockets, and then rushed to the door. "I may have put it
down on the hall table," he said.

"Minnie!" he shouted hoarsely in the hall.

"Yes, dear," came a remote voice.

"Had I anything in my hand when I spoke to you, dear, just now?"

Pause.

"Nothing, dear, because I remember--"

"Blue ruin!" cried the Bacteriologist, and incontinently ran to the
front door and down the steps of his house to the street.

Minnie, hearing the door slam violently, ran in alarm to the window.
Down the street a slender man was getting into a cab. The
Bacteriologist, hatless, and in his carpet slippers, was running and
gesticulating wildly towards this group. One slipper came off, but he
did not wait for it. "He has gone mad!" said Minnie; "It's that horrid
science of his"; and opening the window, would have called after him.
The slender man, suddenly glancing round, seemed struck with the same
idea of mental disorder. He pointed hastily to the Bacteriologist, said
something to the cabman, the apron of the cab slammed, the whip swished,
the horse's feet clattered, and in a moment cab, and Bacteriologist
hotly in pursuit, had receded up the vista of the roadway and
disappeared round the corner.

Minnie remained straining out of the window for a minute. Then she drew
her head back into the room again. She was dumbfounded. "Of course he is
eccentric," she meditated. "But running about London--in the height of
the season, too--in his socks!" A happy thought struck her. She hastily
put her bonnet on, seized his shoes, went into the hall, took down his
hat and light overcoat from the pegs, emerged upon the doorstep, and
hailed a cab that opportunely crawled by. "Drive me up the road and
round Havelock Crescent, and see if we can find a gentleman running
about in a velveteen coat and no hat."

"Velveteen coat, ma'am, and no 'at. Very good, ma'am." And the cabman
whipped up at once in the most matter-of-fact way, as if he drove to
this address every day in his life.

Some few minutes later the little group of cabmen and loafers that
collects round the cabmen's shelter at Haverstock Hill were startled by
the passing of a cab with a ginger-coloured screw of a horse, driven
furiously.

They were silent as it went by, and then as it receded--"That's 'Arry
'Icks. Wot's he got?" said the stout gentleman known as old Tootles.

"He's a-using his whip, he is, to rights," said the ostler boy.

"Hullo!" said poor old Tommy Byles; "here's another bloomin' loonatic.
Blowed if there ain't."

"It's old George," said old Tootles, "and he's drivin' a loonatic, as
you say. Ain't he a-clawin' out of the keb? Wonder if he's after 'Arry
'Icks?"

The group round the cabmen's shelter became animated. Chorus: "Go it,
George!" "It's a race." "You'll ketch 'em!" "Whip up!"

"She's a goer, she is!" said the ostler boy.

"Strike me giddy!" cried old Tootles. "Here! I'm a-goin' to begin in a
minute. Here's another comin'. If all the kebs in Hampstead ain't gone
mad this morning!"

"It's a fieldmale this time," said the ostler boy.

"She's a followin' him," said old Tootles. "Usually the other way
about."

"What's she got in her 'and?"

"Looks like a 'igh 'at."

"What a bloomin' lark it is! Three to one on old George," said the
ostler boy. "Nexst!"

Minnie went by in a perfect roar of applause. She did not like it but
she felt that she was doing her duty, and whirled on down Haverstock
Hill and Camden Town High Street with her eyes ever intent on the
animated back view of old George, who was driving her vagrant husband so
incomprehensibly away from her.

The man in the foremost cab sat crouched in the corner, his arms tightly
folded, and the little tube that contained such vast possibilities of
destruction gripped in his hand. His mood was a singular mixture of fear
and exultation. Chiefly he was afraid of being caught before he could
accomplish his purpose, but behind this was a vaguer but larger fear of
the awfulness of his crime. But his exultation far exceeded his fear. No
Anarchist before him had ever approached this conception of his.
Ravachol, Vaillant, all those distinguished persons whose fame he had
envied dwindled into insignificance beside him. He had only to make sure
of the water supply, and break the little tube into a reservoir. How
brilliantly he had planned it, forged the letter of introduction and got
into the laboratory, and how brilliantly he had seized his opportunity!
The world should hear of him at last. All those people who had sneered
at him, neglected him, preferred other people to him, found his company
undesirable, should consider him at last. Death, death, death! They had
always treated him as a man of no importance. All the world had been in
a conspiracy to keep him under. He would teach them yet, what it is to
isolate a man. What was this familiar street? Great Saint Andrew's
Street, of course! How fared the chase? He craned out of the cab. The
Bacteriologist was scarcely fifty yards behind. That was bad. He would
be caught and stopped yet. He felt in his pocket for money, and found
half-a-sovereign. This he thrust up through the trap in the top of the
cab into the man's face. "More," he shouted, "if only we get away."

The money was snatched out of his hand. "Right you are," said the
cabman, and the trap slammed, and the lash lay along the glistening side
of the horse. The cab swayed, and the Anarchist, half-standing under the
trap, put the hand containing the little glass tube upon the apron to
preserve his balance. He felt the brittle thing crack, and the broken
half of it rang upon the floor of the cab. He fell back into the seat
with a curse, and stared dismally at the two or three drops of moisture
on the apron.

He shuddered.

"Well! I suppose I shall be the first. Phew! Anyhow, I shall be a
Martyr. That's something. But it is a filthy death, nevertheless. I
wonder if it hurts as much as they say."

Presently a thought occurred to him--he groped between his feet. A
little drop was still in the broken end of the tube, and he drank that
to make sure. It was better to make sure. At any rate, he would not
fail.

Then it dawned upon him that there was no further need to escape the
Bacteriologist. In Wellington Street he told the cabman to stop, and got
out. He slipped on the step, and his head felt queer. It was rapid stuff
this cholera poison. He waved his cabman out of existence, so to speak,
and stood on the pavement with his arms folded upon his breast awaiting
the arrival of the Bacteriologist. There was something tragic in his
pose. The sense of imminent death gave him a certain dignity. He greeted
his pursuer with a defiant laugh.

"Vive l'Anarchie! You are too late, my friend. I have drunk it. The
cholera is abroad!"

The Bacteriologist from his cab beamed curiously at him through his
spectacles. "You have drunk it! An Anarchist! I see now." He was about
to say something more, and then checked himself. A smile hung in the
corner of his mouth. He opened the apron of his cab as if to descend, at
which the Anarchist waved him a dramatic farewell and strode off towards
Waterloo Bridge, carefully jostling his infected body against as many
people as possible. The Bacteriologist was so preoccupied with the
vision of him that he scarcely manifested the slightest surprise at the
appearance of Minnie upon the pavement with his hat and shoes and
overcoat. "Very good of you to bring my things," he said, and remained
lost in contemplation of the receding figure of the Anarchist.

"You had better get in," he said, still staring. Minnie felt absolutely
convinced now that he was mad, and directed the cabman home on her own
responsibility. "Put on my shoes? Certainly dear," said he, as the cab
began to turn, and hid the strutting black figure, now small in the
distance, from his eyes. Then suddenly something grotesque struck him,
and he laughed. Then he remarked, "It is really very serious, though.

"You see, that man came to my house to see me, and he is an Anarchist.
No--don't faint, or I cannot possibly tell you the rest. And I wanted to
astonish him, not knowing he was an Anarchist, and took up a cultivation
of that new species of Bacterium I was telling you of, that infest, and
I think cause, the blue patches upon various monkeys; and like a fool, I
said it was Asiatic cholera. And he ran away with it to poison the water
of London, and he certainly might have made things look blue for this
civilised city. And now he has swallowed it. Of course, I cannot say
what will happen, but you know it turned that kitten blue, and the three
puppies--in patches, and the sparrow--bright blue. But the bother is, I
shall have all the trouble and expense of preparing some more.

"Put on my coat on this hot day! Why? Because we might meet Mrs. Jabber.
My dear, Mrs. Jabber is not a draught. But why should I wear a coat on a
hot day because of Mrs. ----? Oh! Very well."




THE FLOWERING OF THE STRANGE ORCHID


The buying of orchids always has in it a certain speculative flavour.
You have before you the brown shrivelled lump of tissue, and for the
rest you must trust your judgment, or the auctioneer, or your good-luck,
as your taste may incline. The plant may be moribund or dead, or it may
be just a respectable purchase, fair value for your money, or
perhaps--for the thing has happened again and again--there slowly
unfolds before the delighted eyes of the happy purchaser, day after day,
some new variety, some novel richness, a strange twist of the labellum,
or some subtler coloration or unexpected mimicry. Pride, beauty, and
profit blossom together on one delicate green spike, and it may be, even
immortality. For the new miracle of Nature may stand in need of a new
specific name, and what so convenient, as that of its discoverer?
"Johnsmithia!" There have been worse names.

It was perhaps the hope of some such happy discovery that made
Winter-Wedderburn such a frequent attendant at these sales--that hope,
and also, maybe, the fact that he had nothing else of the slightest
interest to do in the world. He was a shy, lonely, rather ineffectual
man, provided with just enough income to keep off the spur of necessity,
and not enough nervous energy to make him seek any exacting employments.
He might have collected stamps or coins, or translated Horace, or bound
books, or invented new species of diatoms. But, as it happened, he grew
orchids, and had one ambitious little hothouse.

"I have a fancy," he said over his coffee, "that something is going to
happen to me to-day." He spoke--as he moved and thought--slowly.

"Oh, don't say that!" said his housekeeper--who was also his remote
cousin. For "something happening" was a euphemism that meant only one
thing to her.

"You misunderstand me. I mean nothing unpleasant, though what I do mean
I scarcely know.

"To-day," he continued, after a pause, "Peters' are going to sell a
batch of plants from the Andamans and the Indies. I shall go up and see
what they have. It may be I shall buy something good, unawares. That may
be it."

He passed his cup for his second cupful of coffee.

"Are these the things collected by that poor young fellow you told me of
the other day?" asked his cousin as she filled his cup.

"Yes," he said, and became meditative over a piece of toast.

"Nothing ever does happen to me," he remarked presently, beginning to
think aloud. "I wonder why? Things enough happen to other people. There
is Harvey. Only the other week--on Monday he picked up sixpence, on
Wednesday his chicks all had the staggers, on Friday his cousin came
home from Australia, and on Saturday he broke his ankle. What a whirl of
excitement--! Compared to me."

"I think I would rather be without so much excitement," said his
housekeeper. "It can't be good for you."

"I suppose it's troublesome. Still... you see, nothing ever happens to
me. When I was a little boy I never had accidents. I never fell in love
as I grew up. Never married... I wonder how it feels to have something
happen to you, something really remarkable.

"That orchid-collector was only thirty-six--twenty years younger than
myself--when he died. And he had been married twice, and divorced once;
he had, had malarial fever four times, and once he broke his thigh. He
killed a Malay once, and once he was wounded by a poisoned dart. And in
the end he was killed by jungle-leeches. It must have all been very
trouble-some, but then it must have been very interesting, you
know--except, perhaps, the leeches."

"I am sure it was not good for him," said the lady, with conviction.

"Perhaps not." And then Wedderburn looked at his watch. "Twenty-three
minutes past eight. I am going up by the quarter to twelve train, so
that there is plenty of time. I think I shall wear my alpaca jacket--it
is quite warm enough--and my grey felt hat and brown shoes. I suppose--"

He glanced out of the window at the serene sky and sunlit garden, and
then nervously at his cousin's face.

"I think you had better take an umbrella if you are going to London,"
she said, in a voice that admitted of no denial. "There's all between
here and the station coming back."

When he returned he was in a state of mild excitement. He had made a
purchase. It was rare that he could make up his mind quickly enough to
buy, but this time he had done so.

"These are Vandas," he said, "and a Dendrobe and some Palaeonopsis." He
surveyed his purchases lovingly as he consumed his soup. They were laid
out on the spotless tablecloth before him, and he was telling his cousin
all about them as he slowly meandered through his dinner. It was his
custom to live all his visits to London over again in the evening for
her and his own entertainment.

"I knew something would happen to-day. And I have bought all these. Some
of them--some of them--I feel sure, do you know, that some of them will
be remarkable. I don't know how it is, but I feel just as sure as if
someone had told me that some of these will turn out remarkable.

"That one--" he pointed to a shrivelled rhizome--"was not identified. It
may be a Palaeonopsis or it may not. It may be a new species, or even a
new genus. And it was the last that poor Batten ever collected."

"I don't like the look of it," said his housekeeper. "It's such an ugly
shape."

"To me it scarcely seems to have a shape."

"I don't like those things that stick out," said his housekeeper.

"It shall be put away in a pot to-morrow."

"It looks," said the housekeeper, "like a spider shamming dead."

Wedderburn smiled and surveyed the root with his head on one side. "It
is certainly not a pretty lump of stuff. But you can never judge of
these things from their dry appearance. It may turn out to be a very
beautiful orchid indeed. How busy I shall be to-morrow! I must see
to-night, just exactly what to do with these things, and to-morrow I
shall set to work.

"They found poor Batten lying dead, or dying, in a mangrove swamp--I
forget which," he began again presently, "with one of these very orchids
crushed up under his body. He had been unwell for some days with some
kind of native fever, and I suppose he fainted. These mangrove swamps
are very unwholesome. Every drop of blood, they say, was taken out of
him by the jungle-leeches. It may be that very plant that cost him his
life to obtain."

"I think none the better of it for that."

"Men must work, though women may weep," said Wedderburn, with profound
gravity.

"Fancy dying away from every comfort in a nasty swamp! Fancy being ill
of fever with nothing to take but chlorodyne and quinine--if men were
left to themselves they would live on chlorodyne and quinine--and no one
round you but horrible natives! They say the Andaman islanders are most
disgusting wretches--and anyhow, they can scarcely make good nurses, not
having the necessary training. And just for people in England to have
orchids!"

"I don't suppose it was comfortable, but some men seem to enjoy that
kind of thing," said Wedderburn. "Anyhow, the natives of his party were
sufficiently civilised to take care of all his collection until his
colleague, who was an ornithologist, came back again from the interior;
though they could not tell the species of the orchid and had let it
wither. And it makes these things more interesting."

"It makes them disgusting. I should be afraid of some of the malaria
clinging to them. And just think, there has been a dead body lying
across that ugly thing! I never thought of that before. There! I declare
I cannot eat another mouthful of dinner!"

"I will take them off the table if you like, and put them in the
window-seat. I can see them just as well there."

The next few days he was indeed singularly busy in his steamy little
hothouse, fussing about with charcoal, lumps of teak, moss, and all the
other mysteries of the orchid cultivator. He considered he was having a
wonderfully eventful time. In the evening he would talk about these new
orchids to his friends, and over, and over again he reverted to his
expectation of something strange.

Several of the Vandas and the Dendrobium died under his care, but
presently the strange orchid began to show signs of life. He was
delighted and took his housekeeper right away from jam-making to see it
at once, directly he made the discovery.

"That is a bud," he said, "and presently there will be a lot of leaves
there and those little things coming out here are aerial rootlets."

"They look to me like little white fingers poking out of the brown,"
said his housekeeper. "I don't like them.

"Why not?"

"I don't know. They look like fingers trying to get at you. I can't help
my likes and dislikes."

"I don't know for certain, but I don't think there are any orchids I
know that have aerial rootlets quite like that. It may be my fancy, of
course. You see they are a little flattened at the ends."

"I don't like 'em," said his housekeeper, suddenly shivering and turning
away. "I know it's very silly of me--and I'm very sorry, particularly as
you like the thing so much. But I can't help thinking of that corpse."

"But it may not be that particular plant. That was merely a guess of
mine."

His housekeeper shrugged her shoulders. "Anyhow I don't like it," she
said.

Wedderburn felt a little hurt at her dislike to the plant. But that did
not prevent his talking to her about orchids generally, and this orchid
in particular, whenever he felt inclined.

"There are such queer things about orchids," he said one day; "such
possibilities of surprises. You know, Darwin studied their
fertilisation, and showed that the whole structure of an ordinary
orchid-flower was contrived in order that moths might carry the pollen
from plant to plant. Well, it seems that there are lots of orchids
known, the flower of which cannot possibly be used for fertilisation in
that way. Some of the Cypripediums, for instance; there are no insects
known that can possibly fertilise them, and some of them have never been
found with seed."

"But how do they form new plants?"

"By runners and tubers, and that kind of outgrowth. That is easily
explained. The puzzle is, what are the flowers for?

"Very likely," he added, "my orchid may be something extraordinary in
that way. If so, I shall study it. I have often thought of making
researches as Darwin did. But hitherto I have not found the time, or
something else has happened to prevent it. The leaves are beginning to
unfold now. I do wish you would come and see them!"

But she said that the orchid-house was so hot it gave her the headache.
She had seen the plant once again, and the aerial rootlets, which were
now some of them more than a foot long, had unfortunately reminded her
of tentacles reaching out after something; and they got into her dreams,
growing after her with incredible rapidity. So that she had settled to
her entire satisfaction that she would not see that plant again, and
Wedderburn had to admire its leaves alone. They were of the ordinary
broad form, and a deep glossy green, with splashes and dots of deep red
towards the base. He knew of no other leaves quite like them. The plant
was placed on a low bench near the thermometer, and close by was a
simple arrangement by which a tap dripped on the hot-water pipes and
kept the air steamy. And he spent his afternoons now with some
regularity meditating on the approaching flowering of this strange
plant.

And at last the great thing happened. Directly he entered the little
glass house he knew that the spike had burst out, although his great
Palaeonopsis Lowii hid the corner where his new darling stood. There was
a new odour in the air, a rich, intensely sweet scent, that overpowered
every other in that crowded, steaming little greenhouse.

Directly he noticed this he hurried down to the strange orchid. And,
behold! The trailing green spikes bore now three great splashes of
blossom, from which this overpowering sweetness proceeded. He stopped
before them in an ecstasy of admiration.

The flowers were white, with streaks of golden orange upon the petals;
the heavy labellum was coiled into an intricate projection, and a
wonderful bluish purple mingled there with the gold. He could see at
once that the genus was altogether a new one. And the insufferable
scent! How hot the place was! The blossoms swam before his eyes.

He would see if the temperature was right. He made a step towards the
thermometer. Suddenly everything appeared unsteady. The bricks on the
floor were dancing up and down. Then the white blossoms, the green
leaves behind them, the whole green house, seemed to sweep sideways, and
then in a curve upward.


At half-past four his cousin made the tea, according to their invariable
custom. But Wedderburn did not come in for his tea. "He is worshipping
that horrid orchid," she told herself, and waited ten minutes. "His
watch must have stopped. I will go and call him."

She went straight to the hothouse, and, opening the door, called his
name. There was no reply. She noticed that the air was very close, and
loaded with an intense perfume. Then she saw something lying on the
bricks between the hot-water pipes.

For a minute, perhaps, she stood motionless.

He was lying, face upward, at the foot of the strange orchid. The
tentacle-like aerial rootlets no longer swayed freely in the air, but
were crowded together, a tangle of grey ropes, and stretched tight, with
their ends closely applied to his chin and neck and hands.

She did not understand. Then she saw from one of the exultant tentacles
upon his cheek there trickled a little thread of blood.

With an inarticulate cry she ran towards him, and tried to pull him away
from the leech-like suckers. She snapped two of these tentacles, and
their sap dripped red.

Then the overpowering scent of the blossom began to make her head reel.
How they clung to him! She tore at the tough ropes, and he and the white
inflorescence swam about her. She felt she was fainting, knew she must
not. She left him and hastily opened the nearest door, and after she had
panted for a moment in the fresh air, she had a brilliant inspiration.
She caught up a flower-pot and smashed in the windows at the end of the
greenhouse. Then she re-entered. She tugged now with renewed strength at
Wedderburn's motionless body, and brought the strange orchid crashing to
the floor. It still clung with the grimmest tenacity to its victim. In a
frenzy, she lugged it and him into the open air.

Then she thought of tearing through the sucker rootlets one by one, and
in another minute she had released him, and was dragging him away from
the horror.

He was white and bleeding from a dozen circular patches.

The odd-job man was coming up the garden, amazed at the smashing of
glass, and saw her emerge, hauling the inanimate body with red-stained
hands. For a moment he thought impossible things.

"Bring some water!" she cried, and her voice dispelled his fancies.
When, with unnatural alacrity, he returned with the water, he found her
weeping with excitement, and with Wedderburn's head upon her knee,
wiping the blood from his face.

"What's the matter?" said Wedderburn, opening his eyes feebly, and
closing them again at once.

"Go and tell Annie to come out here to me, and then go for Doctor Haddon
at once," she said to the odd-job man so soon as he had brought the
water; and added, seeing he hesitated, "I will tell you all about it
when you come back."

Presently, Wedderburn opened his eyes again, and seeing that he was
troubled by the puzzle of his position, she explained to him, "You
fainted in the hothouse."

"And the orchid?"

"I will see to that," she said.

Wedderburn had lost a good deal of blood, but beyond that he had
suffered no very great injury. They gave him brandy mixed with some pink
extract of meat, and carried him upstairs to bed. His housekeeper told
her incredible story in fragments to Dr. Haddon. "Come to the
orchid-house and see," she said.

The cold outer air was blowing in through the open door, and the sickly
perfume was almost dispelled. Most of the torn aerial rootlets lay
already withered amidst a number of dark stains upon the bricks. The
stem of the inflorescence was broken by the fall of the plant, and the
flowers were growing limp and brown at the edges of the petals. The
doctor stooped towards it, then saw that one of the aerial rootlets
still stirred feebly, and hesitated.

The next morning the strange orchid still lay there, black now and
putrescent. The door banged intermittently in the morning breeze, and
all the array of Wedderburn's orchids was shrivelled and prostrate. But
Wedderburn himself was bright and garrulous upstairs in the glory of his
strange adventure.




IN THE AVU OBSERVATORY


The observatory at Avu, in Borneo, stands on the spur of the mountain.
To the north rises the old crater, black at night against the
unfathomable blue of the sky. From the little circular building, with
its mushroom dome, the slopes plunge steeply downward into the black
mysteries of the tropical forest beneath. The little house in which the
observer and his assistant live is about, fifty yards from the
observatory, and beyond this are the huts of their native attendants.

Thaddy, the chief observer, was down with a slight fever. His assistant,
Woodhouse, paused for a moment in silent contemplation of the tropical
night before commencing his solitary vigil. The night was very still.
Now and then voices and laughter came from the native huts, or the cry
of some strange animal was heard from the midst of the mystery of the
forest. Nocturnal insects appeared in ghostly fashion out of the
darkness, and fluttered round his light. He thought, perhaps, of all the
possibilities of discovery that still lay in the black tangle beneath
him; for to the naturalist the virgin forests of Borneo are still a
wonderland full of strange questions and half-suspected discoveries.
Woodhouse carried a small lantern in his hand, and its yellow glow
contrasted vividly with the infinite series of tints between
lavender-blue and black in which the landscape was painted. His hands
and face were smeared with ointment against the attacks of the
mosquitoes.

Even in these days of celestial photography, work done in a purely
temporary erection, and with only the most primitive appliances, in
addition to the telescope, still involves a very large amount of cramped
and motionless watching. He sighed as he thought of the physical
fatigues before him, stretched himself, and entered the observatory.

The reader is probably familiar with the structure of an ordinary
astronomical observatory. The building is usually cylindrical in shape,
with a very light hemispherical roof capable of being turned round from
the interior. The telescope is supported upon a stone pillar in the
centre, and a clockwork arrangement compensates for the earth's
rotation, and allows a star once found to be continuously observed.
Besides this, there is a compact tracery of wheels and screws about its
point of support, by which the astronomer adjusts it. There is, of
course, a slit in the movable roof which follows the eye of the
telescope in its survey of the heavens. The observer sits or lies on a
sloping wooden arrangement, which he can wheel to any part of the
observatory as the position of the telescope may require. Within it is
advisable to have things as dark as possible, in order to enhance the
brilliance of the stars observed.

The lantern flared as Woodhouse entered his circular den, and the
general darkness fled into black shadows behind the big machine, from
which it presently seemed to creep back over the whole place again as
the light waned. The slit was a profound transparent blue, in which six
stars shone with tropical brilliance, and their light lay, a pallid
gleam, along the black tube of the instrument. Woodhouse shifted the
roof, and then proceeding to the telescope, turned first one wheel and
then another, the great cylinder slowly swinging into a new position.
Then he glanced through the finder, the little companion telescope,
moved the roof a little more, made some further adjustments, and set the
clockwork in motion. He took off his jacket, for the night was very hot,
and pushed into position the uncomfortable seat to which he was
condemned for the next four hours. Then with a sigh, he resigned himself
to his watch upon the mysteries of space.

There was no sound now in the observatory, and the lantern waned
steadily. Outside there was the occasional cry of some animal in alarm
or pain, or calling to its mate, and the intermittent sounds of the
Malay and Dyak servants. Presently one of the men began a queer chanting
song, in which the others joined at intervals. After this it would seem
that they turned in for the night, for no further sound came from their
direction, and the whispering stillness became more and more profound.

The clockwork ticked steadily. The shrill hum of a mosquito explored the
place, and grew shriller in indignation at Woodhouse's ointment. Then
the lantern went out and all the observatory was black.

Woodhouse shifted his position presently, when the slow movement of the
telescope had carried it beyond the limits of his comfort.

He was watching a little group of stars in the Milky Way, in one of
which his chief had seen or fancied a remarkable colour variability. It
was not a part of the regular work for which the establishment existed,
and for that reason perhaps Woodhouse was deeply interested. He must
have forgotten things terrestrial. All his attention was concentrated
upon the great blue circle of the telescope field--a circle powdered, so
it seemed, with an innumerable multitude of stars, and all luminous
against the blackness of its setting. As he watched he seemed to himself
to become incorporeal, as if he too were floating in the ether of space.
Infinitely remote was the faint red spot he was observing.

Suddenly the stars were blotted out. A flash of blackness passed, and
they were visible again.

"Queer," said Woodhouse. "Must have been a bird."

The thing happened again, and immediately after the great tube shivered
as though it had been struck. Then the dome of the observatory resounded
with a series of thundering blows. The stars seemed to sweep aside as
the telescope--which had been unclamped--swung round and away from the
slit in the roof.

"Great Scott!" cried Woodhouse. "What's this?"

Some huge vague black shape, with a flapping something like a wing,
seemed to be struggling in the aperture of the roof. In another moment
the slit was clear again, and the luminous haze of the Milky Way shone
warm and bright.

The interior of the roof was perfectly black, and only a scraping sound
marked the whereabouts of the unknown creature.

Woodhouse had scrambled from the seat to his feet. He was trembling
violently and in a perspiration, with the suddenness of the occurrence.
Was the thing, whatever it was, inside or out? It was big, whatever else
it might be. Something shot across the skylight, and the telescope
swayed. He started violently and put his arm up. It was in the
observatory then, with him. It was clinging to the roof apparently. What
the devil was it? Could it see him?

He stood for perhaps a minute in a state of stupefaction. The beast,
whatever it was, clawed at the interior of the dome, and then something
flapped almost into his face, and he saw the momentary gleam of
starlight on a skin like oiled leather. His water-bottle was knocked off
his little table with a smash.

The sense of some strange bird-creature hovering a few yards from his
face in the darkness was indescribably unpleasant to Woodhouse. As his
thought returned he concluded that it must be some night-bird or large
bat. At any risk he would see what it was, and pulling a match from his
pocket, he tried to strike it on the telescope seat. There was a smoking
streak of phosphorescent light, the match flared for a moment, and he
saw a vast wing sweeping towards him, a gleam of grey-brown fur, and
then he was struck in the face and the match knocked out of his hand.
The blow was aimed at his temple, and a claw tore sideways down to his
cheek. He reeled and fell, and he heard the extinguished lantern smash.
Another blow followed as he fell. He was partly stunned, he felt his own
warm blood stream out upon his face. Instinctively he felt his eyes had
been struck at, and turning over on his face to save them, tried to
crawl under the protection of the telescope.

He was struck again upon the back, and he heard his jacket rip, and then
the thing hit the roof of the observatory. He edged as far as he could
between the wooden seat and the eyepiece of the instrument, and turned
his body round so that it was chiefly his feet that were exposed. With
these he could at least kick. He was still in a mystified state. The
strange beast banged about in the darkness, and presently clung to the
telescope, making it sway and the gear rattle. Once it flapped near him,
and he kicked out madly and felt a soft body with his feet. He was
horribly scared now. It must be a big thing to swing the telescope like
that. He saw for a moment the outline of a head black against the
starlight, with sharply-pointed upstanding ears and a crest between
them. It seemed to him to be as big as a mastiff's. Then he began to
bawl out as loudly as he could for help.

At that the thing came down upon him again. As it did so his hand
touched something beside him on the floor. He kicked out, and the next
moment his ankle was gripped and held by a row of keen teeth. He yelled
again, and tried to free his leg by kicking with the other. Then he
realised he had the broken water-bottle at his hand, and snatching it,
he struggled into a sitting posture, and feeling in the darkness towards
his foot, gripped a velvety ear, like the ear of a big cat. He had
seized the water-bottle by its neck and brought it down, with a
shivering crash upon the head of the strange beast. He repeated the
blow, and then stabbed and jabbed with the jagged end of it, in the
darkness, where he judged the face might be.

The small teeth relaxed their hold, and at once Woodhouse pulled his leg
free and kicked hard. He felt the sickening feel of fur and bone giving
under his boot. There was a tearing bite at his arm, and he struck over
it at the face, as he judged, and hit damp fur.

There was a pause; then he heard the sound of claws; and the dragging of
a heavy body away from him over the observatory floor. Then there was
silence, broken only by his own sobbing breathing, and a sound like
licking. Everything was black except the parallelogram of the blue
skylight with the luminous dust of stars, against which the end of the
telescope now appeared in silhouette. He waited, as it seemed, an
interminable time.

Was the thing coming on again? He felt in his trouser-pocket for some
matches, and found one remaining. He tried to strike this, but the floor
was wet, and it spat and went out. He cursed. He could not see where the
door was situated. In his struggle he had quite lost his bearings. The
strange beast, disturbed by the splutter of the match, began to move
again. "Time!" called Woodhouse, with a sudden gleam of mirth, but the
thing was not coming at him again. He must have hurt it, he thought,
with the broken bottle. He felt a dull pain in his ankle. Probably he
was bleeding there. He wondered if it would support him if he tried to
stand up. The night outside was very still. There was no sound of any
one moving. The sleepy fools had not heard those wings battering upon
the dome, nor his shouts. It was no good wasting strength in shouting.
The monster flapped its wings and startled him into a defensive
attitude. He hit his elbow against the seat, and it fell over with a
crash. He cursed this, and then he cursed the darkness.

Suddenly the oblong patch of starlight seemed to sway to and fro. Was he
going to faint? It would never do to faint. He clenched his fists and
set his teeth to hold himself together. Where had the door got to? It
occurred to him he could get his bearings by the stars visible through
the skylight. The patch of stars he saw was in Sagittarius and
south-eastward; the door was north--or was it north by west? He tried to
think. If he could get the door open he might retreat. It might be the
thing was wounded. The suspense was beastly. "Look here!" he said, "If
you don't come on, I shall come at you."

Then the thing began clambering up the side of the observatory, and he
saw its black outline gradually blot out the skylight. Was it in
retreat? He forgot about the door, and watched as the dome shifted and
creaked. Somehow he did not feel very frightened or excited now. He felt
a curious sinking sensation inside him. The sharply-defined patch of
light, with the black form moving across it, seemed to be growing
smaller and smaller. That was curious. He began to feel very thirsty,
and yet he did not feel inclined to get anything to drink. He seemed to
be sliding down a long funnel.

He felt a burning sensation in his throat, and then he perceived it was
broad daylight, and that one of the Dyak servants was looking at him
with a curious expression. Then there was the top of Thaddy's face
upside down. Funny fellow, Thaddy, to go about like that! Then he
grasped the situation better, and perceived that his head was on
Thaddy's knee, and Thaddy was giving him brandy. And then he saw the
eyepiece of the telescope with a lot of red smears on it. He began to
remember.

"You've made this observatory in a pretty mess," said Thaddy.

The Dyak boy was beating up an egg in brandy. Woodhouse took this and
sat up. He felt a sharp twinge of pain. His ankle was tied up, so were
his arm and the side of his face. The smashed glass, red-stained, lay
about the floor, the telescope seat was overturned, and by the opposite
wall was a dark pool. The door was open, and he saw the grey summit of
the mountain against a brilliant background of blue sky.

"Pah!" said Woodhouse. "Who's been killing calves here? Take me out of
it."

Then he remembered the Thing, and the fight he had, had with it.

"What was it?" he said to Thaddy--"The Thing I fought with?".

"You know that best," said Thaddy. "But, anyhow, don't worry yourself
now about it. Have some more to drink."

Thaddy, however, was curious enough, and it was a hard struggle between
duty and inclination to keep Woodhouse quiet until he was decently put
away in bed, and had slept upon the copious dose of meat extract Thaddy
considered advisable. They then talked it over together.

"It was," said Woodhouse, "more like a big bat than anything else in the
world. It had sharp, short ears, and soft fur, and its wings were
leathery. Its teeth were little but devilish sharp, and its jaw could
not have been very strong or else it would have bitten through my
ankle."

"It has pretty nearly," said Thaddy.

"It seemed to me to hit out with its claws pretty freely. That is about
as much as I know about the beast. Our conversation was intimate, so to
speak, and yet not confidential."

"The Dyak chaps talk about a Big Colugo, a Klangutang--whatever that may
be. It does not often attack man, but I suppose you made it nervous.
They say there is a Big Colugo and a Little Colugo, and a something else
that sounds like gobble. They all fly about at night. For my own part, I
know there are flying foxes and flying lemurs about here, but they are,
none of them very big beasts."

"There are more things in heaven and earth," said Woodhouse--and Thaddy
groaned at the quotation--"and more particularly in the forests of
Borneo, than are dreamt of in our philosophies. On the whole, if the
Borneo fauna is going to disgorge any more of its novelties upon me, I
should prefer that it did so when I was not occupied in the observatory
at night and alone."




THE TRIUMPHS OF A TAXIDERMIST


Here are some of the secrets of taxidermy. They were told me by the
taxidermist in a mood of elation. He told me them in the time between
the first glass of whisky and the fourth, when a man is no longer
cautious and yet not drunk. We sat in his den together; his library it
was, his sitting and his eating-room--separated by a bead curtain, so
far as the sense of sight went, from the noisome den where he plied his
trade.

He sat on a deck chair, and when he was not tapping refractory bits of
coal with them, he kept his feet--on which he wore, after the manner of
sandals, the holey relics of a pair of carpet slippers--out of the way
upon the mantelpiece, among the glass eyes. And his trousers,
by-the-bye--though they have nothing to do with his triumphs--were a
most horrible yellow plaid, such as they made when our fathers wore
side-whiskers and there were crinolines in the land. Further, his hair
was black, his face rosy, and his eye a fiery brown; and his coat was
chiefly of grease upon a basis of velveteen. And his pipe had a bowl of
china showing the Graces, and his spectacles were always askew, the left
eye glaring nakedly at you, small and penetrating; the right, seen
through a glass darkly, magnified and mild. Thus his discourse ran:
"There never was a man who could stuff like me, Bellows, never. I have
stuffed elephants and I have stuffed moths, and the things, have looked
all the livelier and better for it. And I have stuffed human
beings--chiefly amateur ornithologists. But I stuffed a nigger once.

"No, there is no law against it. I made him with all his fingers out and
used him as a hat-rack, but that fool Homersby got up a quarrel with him
late one night and spoilt him. That was before your time. It is hard to
get skins, or I would have another.

"Unpleasant? I don't see it. Seems to me taxidermy is a promising third
course to burial or cremation. You could keep all your dear ones by you.
Bric-a-brac of that sort stuck about the house would be as good as most
company, and much less expensive. You might have them fitted up with
clockwork to do things.

"Of course they would have to be varnished, but they need not shine more
than lots of people do naturally. Old Manningtree's bald head... Anyhow,
you could talk to them without interruption. Even aunts. There is a
great future before taxidermy, depend upon it. There is fossils
again...."

He suddenly became silent.

"No, I don't think I ought to tell you that." He sucked at his pipe
thoughtfully. "Thanks, yes. Not too much water."

"Of course, what I tell you now will go no further. You know I have made
some dodos and a great auk? No! Evidently you are an amateur at
taxidermy. My dear fellow, half the great auks in the world are about as
genuine as the handkerchief of Saint Veronica, as the Holy Coat of
Treves. We make 'em of grebes' feathers and the like. And the great
auk's eggs too!"

"Good heavens!"

"Yes, we make them out of fine porcelain. I tell you it is worth while.
They fetch--one fetched L300 only the other day. That one was really
genuine, I believe, but of course one is never certain. It is very fine
work, and afterwards you have to get them dusty, for no one who owns one
of these precious eggs has ever the temerity to clean the thing. That's
the beauty of the business. Even if they suspect an egg they do not like
to examine it too closely. It's such brittle capital at the best.

"You did not know that taxidermy rose to heights like that. My boy, it
has risen higher. I have rivalled the hands of Nature herself. One of
the genuine great auks--" his voice fell to a whisper--"one of the
genuine great auks was made by me.

"No. You must study ornithology, and find out which it is yourself. And
what is more, I have been approached by a syndicate of dealers to stock
one of the unexplored skerries to the north of Iceland with specimens. I
may--some day. But I have another little thing in hand just now. Ever
heard of the dinornis?

"It is one of those big birds recently extinct in New Zealand. 'Moa' is
its common name, so called because extinct: there is no moa now. See?
Well, they have got bones of it, and from some of the marshes even
feathers and dried bits of skin. Now, I am going to--well, there is no
need to make any bones about it--going to forge a complete stuffed moa.
I know a chap out there who will pretend to make the find in a kind of
antiseptic swamp, and say he stuffed it at once, as it threatened to
fall to pieces. The feathers are peculiar, but I have got a simply
lovely way of dodging up singed bits of ostrich plume. Yes, that is the
new smell you noticed. They can only discover the fraud with a
microscope, and they will hardly care to pull a nice specimen to bits
for that.

"In this way, you see, I give my little push in the advancement of
science.

"But all this is merely imitating Nature. I have done more than that in
my time. I have--beaten her."

He took his feet down from the mantel-board, and leant over
confidentially towards me. "I have created birds," he said in a low
voice. "New birds. Improvements. Like no birds that was ever seen
before."

He resumed his attitude during an impressive silence.

"Enrich the universe; rather. Some of the birds I made were new kinds
of humming birds, and very beautiful little things, but some of them
were simply rum. The rummest, I think, was the Anomalopteryx Jejuna.
Jejunus-a-um--empty--so called because there was really nothing in it; a
thoroughly empty bird--except for stuffing. Old Javvers has the thing
now, and I suppose he is almost as proud of it as I am. It is a
masterpiece, Bellows. It has all the silly clumsiness of your pelican,
all the solemn want of dignity of your parrot, all the gaunt
ungainliness of a flamingo, with all the extravagant chromatic conflict
of a mandarin duck. Such a bird. I made it out of the skeletons of a
stork and a toucan and a job lot of feathers. Taxidermy of that kind is
just pure joy, Bellows, to a real artist in the art.

"How did I come to make it? Simple enough, as all great inventions are.
One of those young genii who write us Science Notes in the papers got
hold of a German pamphlet about the birds of New Zealand, and translated
some of it by means of a dictionary and his mother-wit--he must have
been one of a very large family with a small mother--and he got mixed
between the living apteryx and the extinct anomalopteryx; talked about a
bird five feet high, living in the jungles of the North Island, rare,
shy, specimens difficult to obtain, and so on. Javvers, who even for a
collector, is a miraculously ignorant man, read these paragraphs, and
swore he would have the thing at any price. Raided the dealers with
enquiries. It shows what a man can do by persistence--will-power. Here
was a bird-collector swearing he would have a specimen of a bird that
did not exist, that never had existed, and which for very shame of its
own profane ungainliness, probably would not exist now if it could help
itself. And he got it. He got it.

"Have some more whisky, Bellows?" said the taxidermist, rousing himself
from a transient contemplation of the mysteries of will-power and the
collecting turn of mind. And, replenished, he proceeded to tell me of
how he concocted a most attractive mermaid, and how an itinerant
preacher, who could not get an audience because of it, smashed it
because it was idolatry, or worse, at Burslem Wakes. But as the
conversation of all the parties to this transaction, creator, would-be
preserver, and destroyer, was uniformly unfit for publication, this
cheerful incident must still remain unprinted.

The reader unacquainted with the dark ways of the collector may perhaps
be inclined to doubt my taxidermist, but so far as great auks' eggs, and
the bogus stuffed birds are concerned, I find that he has the
confirmation of distinguished ornithological writers. And the note about
the New Zealand bird certainly appeared in a morning paper of
unblemished reputation, for the taxidermist keeps a copy and has shown
it to me.




A DEAL IN OSTRICHES


"Talking of the prices of birds, I've seen an ostrich that cost three
hundred pounds," said the taxidermist, recalling his youth of travel.
"Three hundred pounds!"

He looked at me over his spectacles. "I've seen another that was refused
at four."

"No," he said, "it wasn't any fancy points. They was just plain
ostriches. A little off colour, too--owing to dietary. And there wasn't
any particular restriction of the demand either. You'd have thought five
ostriches would have ruled cheap on an East Indiaman. But the point was,
one of 'em had swallowed a diamond.

"The chap it got it off was Sir Mohini Padishah, a tremendous swell, a
Piccadilly swell you might say up to the neck of him, and then an ugly
black head and a whopping turban, with this diamond in it. The blessed
bird pecked suddenly and had it, and when the chap made a fuss, it
realised it had done wrong, I suppose, and went and mixed itself with
the others to preserve its incog. It all happened in a minute. I was
among the first to arrive, and there was this heathen going over his
gods, and two sailors and the man who had charge of the birds laughing,
fit to split. It was a rummy way of losing a jewel, come to think of it.
The man in charge hadn't been about just at the moment, so that he
didn't know which bird it was. Clean lost, you see. I didn't feel half
sorry, to tell you the truth. The beggar had been swaggering over his
blessed diamond ever since he came aboard.

"A thing like that goes from stem to stern of a ship in no time. Every
one was talking about it. Padishah went below to hide his feelings. At
dinner--he pigged at a table by himself, him and two other Hindoos--the
captain kind of jeered at him about it, and he got very excited. He
turned round and talked into my ear. He would not buy the birds; he
would have his diamond. He demanded his rights as a British subject. His
diamond must be found. He was firm upon that. He would appeal to the
House of Lords. The man in charge of the birds was one of those
wooden-headed chaps you can't get a new idea into anyhow. He refused any
proposal to interfere with the birds by way of medicine. His
instructions were to feed them so-and-so and treat them so-and-so, and
it was as much as his place was worth not to feed them so-and-so and
treat them so-and-so. Padishah had wanted a stomach-pump--though you
can't do that to a bird, you know. This Padishah was full of bad law,
like most of these blessed Bengalis, and talked of having a lien on the
birds, and so forth. But an old boy, who said his son was a London
barrister, argued that what a bird swallowed became ipso facto part of
the bird, and that Padishah's only remedy lay in an action for damages,
and even then it might be possible to show contributory negligence. He
hadn't any right of way about an ostrich that didn't belong to him. That
upset Padishah extremely, the more so as most of us expressed an opinion
that, that was the reasonable view. There wasn't any lawyer aboard to
settle the matter, so we all talked pretty free. At last, after Aden, it
appears that he came round to the general opinion, and went privately to
the man in charge and made an offer for all five ostriches.

"The next morning there was a fine shindy at breakfast. The man hadn't
any authority to deal with the birds, and nothing on earth would induce
him to sell; but it seems he told Padishah that a Eurasian named Potter
had already made him an offer, and on that Padishah denounced Potter
before us all. But I think the most of us thought it rather smart of
Potter, and I know that when Potter said that he'd wired at Aden to
London to buy the birds, and would have an answer at Suez, I cursed
pretty richly at a lost opportunity.

"At Suez, Padishah gave way to tears--actual wet tears--when Potter
became the owner of the birds, and offered him two hundred and fifty
right off for the five, being more than two hundred percent on what
Potter had given. Potter said he'd be hanged if he parted with a feather
of them--that he meant to kill them off one by one and find the diamond;
but afterwards, thinking it over, he relented a little. He was a
gambling hound, was this Potter, a little queer at cards, and this kind
of prize-packet business must have suited him down to the ground.
Anyhow, he offered, for a lark, to sell the birds separately to separate
people by auction at a starting price of L80 for a bird. But one of
them, he said, he meant to keep for luck.

"You must understand this diamond was a valuable one--a little Jew chap,
a diamond merchant, who was with us, had put it at three or four
thousand when Padishah had shown it to him--and this idea of an ostrich
gamble caught on. Now it happened that I'd been having a few talks on
general subjects with the man who looked after these ostriches, and
quite incidentally he'd said one of the birds was ailing, and he fancied
it had indigestion. It had one feather in its tail almost all white, by
which I knew it, and so when, next day, the auction started with it, I
capped Padishah's eighty-five by ninety. I fancy I was a bit too sure
and eager with my bid, and some of the others spotted the fact that I
was in the know. And Padishah went for that particular bird like an
irresponsible lunatic. At last the Jew diamond merchant got it for L175,
and Padishah said L180 just after the hammer came down--so Potter
declared. At any rate the Jew merchant secured it, and there and then he
got a gun and shot it. Potter made a Hades of a fuss because he said it
would injure the sale of the other three, and Padishah, of course,
behaved like an idiot; but all of us were very much excited. I can tell
you I was precious glad when that dissection was over, and no diamond
had turned up--precious glad. I'd gone to one-forty on that particular
bird myself.

"The little Jew was like most Jews--he didn't make any great fuss over
bad luck; but Potter declined to go on with the auction until it was
understood that the goods could not be delivered until the sale was
over. The little Jew wanted to argue that the case was exceptional, and
as the discussion ran pretty even, the thing was postponed until the
next morning. We had a lively dinner-table that evening, I can tell you,
but in the end Potter got his way, since it would stand to reason he
would be safer if he stuck to all the birds, and that we owed him some
consideration for his sportsmanlike behaviour. And the old gentleman
whose son was a lawyer said he'd been thinking the thing over and that
it was very doubtful if, when a bird had been opened and the diamond
recovered, it ought not to be handed back to the proper owner. I
remember I suggested it came under the laws of treasure-trove--which was
really the truth of the matter. There was a hot argument, and we settled
it was certainly foolish to kill the bird on board the ship. Then the
old gentleman, going at large through his legal talk, tried to make out
the sale was a lottery and illegal, and appealed to the captain; but
Potter said he sold the birds as ostriches. He didn't want to sell any
diamonds, he said, and didn't offer that as an inducement. The three
birds he put up, to the best of his knowledge and belief, did not
contain a diamond. It was in the one he kept--so he hoped.

"Prices ruled high next day all the same. The fact that now there were
four chances instead of five of course caused a rise. The blessed birds
averaged L227, and, oddly enough, this Padishah didn't secure one of
'em--not one. He made too much shindy, and when he ought to have been
bidding he was talking about liens, and besides, Potter was a bit down
on him. One fell to a quiet little officer chap, another to the little
Jew, and the third was syndicated by the engineers. And then Potter
seemed suddenly sorry for having sold them, and said he'd flung away a
clear thousand pounds, and that very likely he'd draw a blank and that
he always had been a fool, but when I went and had a bit of a talk to
him, with the idea of getting him to hedge on his last chance, I found
he'd already sold the bird he'd reserved to a political chap that was on
board, a chap who'd been studying Indian morals and social questions in
his vacation. That last was the three hundred pounds bird. Well, they
landed three of the blessed creatures at Brindisi--though the old
gentleman said it was a breach of the Customs regulations--and Potter
and Padishah landed too. The Hindoo seemed half mad as he saw his
blessed diamond going this way and that, so to speak. He kept on saying
he'd get an injunction--he had injunction on the brain--and giving his
name and address to the chaps who'd bought the birds, so that they'd
know where to send the diamond. None of them wanted his name and
address, and none of them would give their own. It was a fine row I can
tell you--on the platform. They all went off by different trains. I came
on to Southampton, and there I saw the last of the birds, as I came
ashore; it was the one the engineers bought, and it was standing up near
the bridge, in a kind of crate, and looking as leggy and silly a setting
for a valuable diamond as ever you saw--if it was a setting for a
valuable diamond.

"How did it end? Oh! Like that. Well--perhaps. Yes, there's one more
thing that may throw light on it. A week or so after landing I was down
Regent Street doing a bit of shopping, and who should I see arm-in-arm
and having a purple time of it but Padishah and Potter. If you come to
think of it--

"Yes. I've thought that. Only, you see, there's no doubt the diamond was
real. And Padishah was an eminent Hindoo. I've seen his name in the
papers--often. But whether the bird swallowed the diamond certainly is
another matter, as you say."




THROUGH A WINDOW


After his legs were set, they carried Bailey into the study and put him
on a couch before the open window. There he lay, a live--even a feverish
man down to the loins, and below that a double-barrelled mummy swathed
in white wrappings. He tried to read, even tried to write a little, but
most of the time he looked out of the window.

He had thought the window cheerful to begin with, but now he thanked God
for it many times a day. Within, the room was dim and grey, and in the
reflected light, the wear of the furniture showed plainly. His medicine
and drink stood on the little table, with such litter as the bare
branches of a bunch of grapes, or the ashes of a cigar upon a green
plate, or a day old evening paper. The view outside was flooded with
light, and across the corner of it came the head of the acacia, and at
the foot, the top of the balcony-railing of hammered iron. In the
foreground was the weltering silver of the river, never quiet and yet
never tiresome. Beyond was the reedy bank, a broad stretch of meadow
land, and then a dark line of trees ending in a group of poplars at the
distant bend of the river, and upstanding behind them, a square church
tower.

Up and down the river, all day long, things were passing. Now a string
of barges drifting down to London, piled with lime or barrels of beer;
then a steam-launch, disengaging heavy masses of black smoke, and
disturbing the whole width of the river with long rolling waves; then an
impetuous electric launch, and then a boatload of pleasure-seekers, a
solitary sculler, or a four from some rowing club. Perhaps the river was
quietest of a morning or late at night. One moonlight night some people
drifted down singing, and with a zither playing--it sounded very
pleasantly across the water.

In a few days Bailey began to recognise some of the craft; in a week he
knew the intimate history of half-a-dozen. The launch Luzon, from
Fitzgibbon's, two miles up, would go fretting by, sometimes three or
four times a day, conspicuous with its colouring of Indian-red and
yellow, and its two Oriental attendants; and one day, to Bailey's vast
amusement, the house-boat Purple Emperor came to a stop outside, and
breakfasted in the most shameless domesticity. Then one afternoon, the
captain of a slow-moving barge began a quarrel with his wife as they
came into sight from the left, and had carried it to personal violence
before he vanished behind the window-frame to the right. Bailey regarded
all this as an entertainment got up to while away his illness, and
applauded all the more, these moving incidents. Mrs. Green, coming in at
rare intervals with his meals, would catch him clapping his hands or
softly crying, "Encore!" But the river players had other engagements,
and his encore went unheeded.

"I should never have thought I could take such an interest in things
that did not concern me," said Bailey to Wilderspin, who used to come
in, in his nervous, friendly way and try to comfort the sufferer by
being talked to. "I thought this idle capacity was distinctive of little
children and old maids. But it's just circumstances. I simply can't
work, and things have to drift; it's no good to fret and struggle. And
so I lie here and am as amused as a baby with a rattle, at this river
and its affairs.

"Sometimes, of course, it gets a bit dull, but not often.

"I would give anything, Wilderspin, for a swamp--just one swamp--once.
Heads swimming and a steam launch to the rescue, and a chap or so hauled
out with a boat-hook... There goes Fitzgibbon's launch! They have a new
boat-hook, I see, and the little blackie is still in the dumps. I don't
think he's very well, Wilderspin. He's been like that for two or three
days, squatting sulky-fashion and meditating over the churning of the
water. Unwholesome for him to be always staring at the frothy water
running away from the stern."

They watched the little steamer fuss across the patch of sunlit river,
suffer momentary occultation from the acacia, and glide out of sight
behind the dark window-frame.

"I'm getting a wonderful eye for details," said Bailey: "I spotted that
new boat-hook at once. The other nigger is a funny little chap. He never
used to swagger with the old boat-hook like that."

"Malays, aren't they?" said Wilderspin.

"Don't know," said Bailey. "I thought one called all that sort of
mariner Lascar."

Then he began to tell Wilderspin what he knew of the private affairs of
the house-boat, Purple Emperor. "Funny," he said, "how these people come
from all points of the compass--from Oxford and Windsor, from Asia and
Africa--and gather and pass opposite the window just to entertain me.
One man floated out of the infinite the day before yesterday, caught one
perfect crab opposite, lost and recovered a scull, and passed on again.
Probably he will never come into my life again. So far as I am
concerned, he has lived and had his little troubles, perhaps
thirty--perhaps forty--years on the earth, merely to make an ass of
himself for three minutes in front of my window. Wonderful thing,
Wilderspin, if you come to think of it."

"Yes," said Wilderspin; "isn't it?"

A day or two after this Bailey had a brilliant morning. Indeed, towards
the end of the affair, it became almost as exciting as any window show,
very well could be. We will, however begin at the beginning.

Bailey was all alone in the house, for his housekeeper had gone into the
town three miles away to pay bills, and the servant had her holiday. The
morning began dull. A canoe went up about half-past nine, and later a
boatload of camping men came down. But this was mere margin. Things
became cheerful about ten o'clock.

It began with something white fluttering in the remote distance where
the three poplars marked the river bend. "Pocket-handkerchief," said
Bailey, when he saw it "No, too big! Flag perhaps."

However, it was not a flag, for it jumped about. "Man in whites running
fast, and this way," said Bailey. "That's luck! But his whites are
precious loose!"

Then a singular thing happened. There was a minute pink gleam among the
dark trees in the distance, and a little puff of pale grey that began to
drift and vanish eastward. The man in white jumped and continued
running. Presently the report of the shot arrived.

"What the devil!" said Bailey. "Looks as if someone was shooting at
him."

He sat up stiffly and stared hard. The white figure was coming along the
pathway through the corn. "It's one of those niggers from the
Fitzgibbon's," said Bailey; "or may I be hanged! I wonder why he keeps
sawing with his arm."

Then three other figures became indistinctly visible against the dark
background of the trees.

Abruptly on the opposite bank a man walked into the picture. He was
black-bearded, dressed in flannels, had a red belt, and a vast, grey
felt hat. He walked, leaning very much forward and with his hands
swinging before him. Behind him one could see the grass swept by the
towing-rope of the boat he was dragging. He was steadfastly regarding
the white figure that was hurrying through the corn. Suddenly he
stopped. Then, with a peculiar gesture, Bailey could see that he began
pulling in the tow-rope hand over hand. Over the water could be heard
the voices of the people in the still invisible boat.

"What are you after, Hagshot?" said someone.

The individual with the red belt shouted something that was inaudible,
and went on lugging in the rope, looking over his shoulder at the
advancing white figure as he did so. He came down the bank, and the rope
bent a lane among the reeds and lashed the water between his pulls.

Then just the bows of the boat came into view, with the towing-mast and
a tall, fair-haired man standing up and trying to see over the bank. The
boat bumped unexpectedly among the reeds, and the tall, fair-haired man
disappeared suddenly, having apparently fallen back into the invisible
part of the boat. There was a curse and some indistinct laughter.
Hagshot did not laugh, but hastily clambered into the boat and pushed
off. Abruptly the boat passed out of Bailey's sight.

But it was still audible. The melody of voices suggested that its
occupants were busy telling each other what to do.

The running figure was drawing near the bank. Bailey could now see
clearly that it was one of Fitzgibbon's Orientals, and began to realise
what the sinuous thing the man carried in his hand might be. Three other
men followed one another through the corn, and the foremost carried what
was probably the gun. They were perhaps two hundred yards or more behind
the Malay.

"It's a man hunt, by all that's holy!" said Bailey.

The Malay stopped for a moment and surveyed the bank to the right. Then
he left the path, and breaking through the corn, vanished in that
direction. The three pursuers followed suit, and their heads and
gesticulating arms above the corn, after a brief interval, also went out
of Bailey's field of vision.

Bailey so far forgot himself as to swear. "Just as things were getting
lively!" he said. Something like a woman's shriek came through the air.
Then shouts, a howl, a dull whack upon the balcony outside that made
Bailey jump, and then the report of a gun.

"This is precious hard on an invalid," said Bailey.

But more was to happen yet in his picture. In fact, a great deal more.
The Malay appeared again, running now along the bank up stream. His
stride had more swing and less pace in it than before. He was
threatening someone ahead with the ugly krees he carried. The blade,
Bailey noticed, was dull--it did not shine as steel should.

Then came the tall, fair man, brandishing a boat-hook, and after him
three other men in boating costume, running clumsily with oars. The man
with the grey hat and red belt was not with them. After an interval the
three men with the gun reappeared, still in the corn, but now near the
river bank. They emerged upon the towing-path, and hurried after the
others. The opposite bank was left blank and desolate again.

The sick-room was disgraced by more profanity. "I would give my life to
see the end of this," said Bailey. There were indistinct shouts up
stream. Once they seemed to be coming nearer, but they disappointed him.

Bailey sat and grumbled. He was still grumbling when his eye caught
something black and round among the waves. "Hullo!" he said. He looked
narrowly and saw two triangular black bodies frothing every now and then
about a yard in front of this.

He was still doubtful when the little band of pursuers came into sight
again, and began to point to this floating object. They were talking
eagerly. Then the man with the gun took aim.

"He's swimming the river, by George!" said Bailey.

The Malay looked round, saw the gun, and went under. He came up so close
to Bailey's bank of the river that one of the bars of the balcony hid
him for a moment. As he emerged the man with the gun fired. The Malay
kept steadily onward--Bailey could see the wet hair on his forehead now
and the krees between his teeth--and was presently hidden by the
balcony.

This seemed to Bailey an unendurable wrong. The man was lost to him for
ever now, so he thought. Why couldn't the brute have got himself
decently caught on the opposite bank, or shot in the water?

"It's worse than Edwin Drood," said Bailey.

Over the river, too, things had become an absolute blank. All seven men
had gone down stream again, probably to get the boat and follow across.
Bailey listened and waited. There was silence. "Surely it's not over
like this," said Bailey.

Five minutes passed--ten minutes. Then a tug with two barges went up
stream. The attitudes of the men upon these were the attitudes of those
who see nothing remarkable in earth, water, or sky. Clearly the whole
affair had passed out of sight of the river. Probably the hunt had gone
into the beech woods behind the house.

"Confound it!" said Bailey. "To be continued again, and no chance this
time of the sequel. But this is hard on a sick man."

He heard a step on the staircase behind him and looking round saw the
door open. Mrs. Green came in and sat down, panting. She still had her
bonnet on, her purse in her hand, and her little brown basket upon her
arm. "Oh, there!" she said, and left Bailey to imagine the rest.

"Have a little whisky and water, Mrs. Green, and tell me about it," said
Bailey.

Sipping a little, the lady began to recover her powers of explanation.

One of those black creatures at the Fitzgibbon's had gone mad, and was
running about with a big knife, stabbing people. He had killed a groom,
and stabbed the under-butler, and almost cut the arm off a boating
gentleman.

"Running amuck with a krees," said Bailey. "I thought that was it."

And he was hiding in the wood when she came through it from the town.

"What! Did he run after you?" asked Bailey, with a certain touch of glee
in his voice.

"No, that was the horrible part of it." Mrs. Green explained. She had
been right through the woods and had never known he was there. It was
only when she met young Mr. Fitzgibbon carrying his gun in the shrubbery
that she heard anything about it. Apparently, what upset Mrs. Green was
the lost opportunity for emotion. She was determined, however, to make
the most of what was left her.

"To think he was there all the time!" she said, over and over again.

Bailey endured this patiently enough for perhaps ten minutes. At last he
thought it advisable to assert himself. "It's twenty past one, Mrs.
Green," he said. "Don't you think it time you got me something to eat?"

This brought Mrs. Green suddenly to her knees.

"Oh Lord, sir!" she said. "Oh! Don't go making me go out of this room
sir, till I know he's caught. He might have got into the house, sir. He
might be creeping, creeping, with that knife of his, along the passage
this very--"

She broke off suddenly and glared over him at the window. Her lower jaw
dropped. Bailey turned his head sharply.

For the space of half a second things seemed just as they were. There
was the tree, the balcony, the shining river, the distant church tower.
Then he noticed that the acacia was displaced about a foot to the right,
and that it was quivering, and the leaves were rustling. The tree was
shaken violently, and a heavy panting was audible.

In another moment a hairy brown hand had appeared and clutched the
balcony railings, and in another the face of the Malay was peering
through these at the man on the couch. His expression was an unpleasant
grin, by reason of the krees he held between his teeth, and he was
bleeding from an ugly wound in his cheek. His hair wet to drying stuck
out like horns from his head. His body was bare save for the wet
trousers that clung to him. Bailey's first impulse was to spring from
the couch, but his legs reminded him that this was impossible.

By means of the balcony and tree, the man slowly raised himself until he
was visible to Mrs. Green. With a choking cry she made for the door and
fumbled with the handle.

Bailey thought swiftly and clutched a medicine bottle in either hand.
One he flung, and it smashed against the acacia. Silently and
deliberately, and keeping his bright eyes fixed on Bailey, the Malay
clambered into the balcony. Bailey, still clutching his second bottle,
but with a sickening, sinking feeling about his heart, watched first one
leg come over the railing and then the other.

It was Bailey's impression that the Malay took about an hour to get his
second leg over the rail. The period that elapsed before the sitting
position was changed to a standing one seemed enormous--days, weeks,
possibly a year or so. Yet Bailey had no clear impression of anything
going on in his mind during that vast period, except a vague wonder at
his inability to throw the second medicine bottle. Suddenly the Malay
glanced over his shoulder. There was the crack of a rifle. He flung up
his arms and came down upon the couch. Mrs. Green began a dismal shriek
that seemed likely to last until Doomsday. Bailey stared at the brown
body with its shoulder blade driven in, that writhed painfully across
his legs and rapidly staining and soaking the spotless bandages. Then he
looked at the long krees, with the reddish streaks upon its blade, that
lay an inch beyond the trembling brown fingers upon the floor. Then at
Mrs. Green, who had backed hard against the door and was staring at the
body and shrieking in gusty outbursts as if she would wake the dead. And
then the body was shaken by one last convulsive effort.

The Malay gripped the krees, tried to raise himself with his left hand,
and collapsed. Then he raised his head, stared for a moment at Mrs.
Green, and twisting his face round looked at Bailey. With a gasping
groan the dying man succeeded in clutching the bed clothes with his
disabled hand, and by a violent effort, which hurt Bailey's legs
exceedingly, writhed sideways towards what must be his last victim. Then
something seemed released in Bailey's mind and he brought down the
second bottle with all his strength on to the Malay's face. The krees
fell heavily upon the floor.


"Easy with those legs," said Bailey, as young Fitzgibbon and one of the
boating party lifted the body off him.

Young Fitzgibbon was very white in the face. "I didn't mean to kill
him," he said.

"It's just as well," said Bailey.





THE TEMPTATION OF HARRINGAY


It is quite impossible to say whether this thing really happened. It
depends entirely on the word of R.M. Harringay, who is an artist.

Following his version of the affair, the narrative deposes that
Harringay went into his studio about ten o'clock to see what he could
make of the head, that he had been working at the day before. The head
in question was that of an Italian organ-grinder, and Harringay
thought--but was not quite sure--that the title would be the "Vigil." So
far he is frank, and his narrative bears the stamp of truth. He had seen
the man expectant for pennies, and with a promptness that suggested
genius, had, had him in at once.

"Kneel. Look up at that bracket," said Harringay. "As if you expected
pennies.

"Don't grin!" said Harringay. "I don't want to paint your gums. Look as
though you were unhappy."

Now, after a night's rest, the picture proved decidedly unsatisfactory.
"It's good work," said Harringay. "That little bit in the neck... But."

He walked about the studio and looked at the thing from this point and
from that. Then he said a wicked word. In the original the word is
given.

"Painting," he says he said. "Just a painting of an organ-grinder--a
mere portrait. If it was a live organ-grinder I wouldn't mind. But
somehow I never make things alive. I wonder if my imagination is wrong."
This, too, has a truthful air. His imagination is wrong.

"That creative touch! To take canvas and pigment and make a man--as Adam
was made of red ochre! But this thing! If you met it walking about the
streets you would know it was only a studio production. The little boys
would tell it to 'Garnome and git frimed.' Some little touch... Well--it
won't do as it is."

He went to the blinds and began to pull them down. They were made of
blue holland with the rollers at the bottom of the window, so that you
pull them down to get more light. He gathered his palette, brushes, and
mahl stick from his table. Then he turned to the picture and put a speck
of brown in the corner of the mouth; and shifted his attention thence to
the pupil of the eye. Then he decided that the chin was a trifle too
impassive for a vigil.

Presently he put down his impedimenta, and lighting a pipe surveyed the
progress of his work. "I'm hanged if the thing isn't sneering at me,"
said Harringay, and he still believes it sneered.

The animation of the figure had certainly increased, but scarcely in the
direction he wished. There was no mistake about the sneer. "Vigil of the
Unbeliever," said Harringay. "Rather subtle and clever that! But the
left eyebrow isn't cynical enough."

He went and dabbed at the eyebrow, and added a little to the lobe of the
ear to suggest materialism. Further consideration ensued. "Vigil's off,
I'm afraid," said Harringay. "Why not Mephistopheles? But that's a bit
too common. 'A Friend of the Doge--' not so seedy. The armour won't do,
though. Too Camelot. How about a scarlet robe and call him 'One of the
Sacred College'? Humour in that, and an appreciation of Middle Italian
History.

"There's always Benvenuto Cellini," said Harringay; "with a clever
suggestion of a gold cup in one corner. But that would scarcely suit the
complexion."

He describes himself as babbling in this way in order to keep down an
unaccountably unpleasant sensation of fear. The thing was certainly
acquiring anything but a pleasing expression. Yet it was as certainly
becoming far more of a living thing than it had been--if a sinister
one--far more alive than anything he had ever painted before. "Call it
'Portrait of a Gentleman,'" said Harringay; "'A Certain Gentleman.'

"Won't do," said Harringay, still keeping up his courage. "Kind of thing
they call Bad Taste. That sneer will have to come out. That gone, and a
little more fire in the eye--never noticed how warm his eye was
before--and he might do for--? What price Passionate Pilgrim? But that
devilish face won't do--this, side of the Channel.

"Some little inaccuracy does it," he said; "eyebrows probably too
oblique--" therewith pulling the blind lower to get a better light, and
resuming palette and brushes.

The face on the canvas seemed animated by a spirit of its own. Where the
expression of diablerie came in he found impossible to discover.
Experiment was necessary. The eyebrows--it could scarcely be the
eyebrows? But he altered them. No, that was no better; in fact, if
anything, a trifle more satanic. The corner of the mouth? Pah! More than
ever a leer--and now, retouched, it was ominously grim. The eye, then?
Catastrophe! He had filled his brush with vermilion instead of brown,
and yet he had felt sure it was brown! The eye seemed now to have rolled
in its socket, and was glaring at him an eye of fire. In a flash of
passion, possibly with something of the courage of panic, he struck the
brush full of bright red, athwart the picture; and then a very curious
thing, a very strange thing indeed, occurred--if it did occur.

The diabolified Italian before him shut both his eyes, pursed his mouth,
and wiped the colour off his face with his hand.

Then the red eye opened again, with a sound like the opening of lips,
and the face smiled. "That was rather hasty of you," said the picture.

Harringay states that, now that the worst had happened, his
self-possession returned. He had a saving persuasion that devils were
reasonable creatures.

"Why do you keep moving about then," he said, "making faces and all
that--sneering and squinting, while I am painting you?"

"I don't," said the picture.

"You do," said Harringay.

"It's yourself," said the picture.

"It's not myself," said Harringay.

"It is yourself," said the picture. "No! Don't go hitting me with paint
again, because it's true. You have been trying to fluke an expression on
my face all the morning. Really, you haven't an idea what your picture
ought to look like."

"I have," said Harringay.

"You have not," said the picture: "You never have with your pictures.
You always start with the vaguest presentiment of what you are going to
do; it is to be something beautiful--you are sure of that--and devout,
perhaps, or tragic; but beyond that it is all experiment and chance. My
dear fellow! You don't think you can paint a picture like that?"

Now it must be remembered that for what follows we have only Harringay's
word.

"I shall paint a picture exactly as I like," said Harringay, calmly.

This seemed to disconcert the picture a little. "You can't paint a
picture without an inspiration," it remarked.

"But I had an inspiration--for this."

"Inspiration!" sneered the sardonic figure; "A fancy that came from your
seeing an organ-grinder looking up at a window! Vigil! Ha, ha! You just
started painting on the chance of something coming--that's what you did.
And when I saw you at it I came. I want a talk with you!

"Art, with you," said the picture--, "it's a poor business. You potter.
I don't know how it is, but you don't seem able to throw your soul into
it. You know too much. It hampers you. In the midst of your enthusiasms
you ask yourself whether something like this has not been done before.
And..."

"Look here," said Harringay, who had expected something better than
criticism from the devil. "Are you going to talk studio to me?" He
filled his number twelve hoghair with red paint.

"The true artist," said the picture, "is always an ignorant man. An
artist who theorises about his work is no longer artist but critic.
Wagner... I say--! What's that red paint for?"

"I'm going to paint you out," said Harringay. "I don't want to hear all
that Tommy Rot. If you think just because I'm an artist by trade I'm
going to talk studio to you, you make a precious mistake."

"One minute," said the picture, evidently alarmed. "I want to make you
an offer--a genuine offer. It's right what I'm saying. You lack
inspirations. Well. No doubt you've heard of the Cathedral of Cologne,
and the Devil's Bridge, and--"

"Rubbish," said Harringay. "Do you think I want to go to perdition
simply for the pleasure of painting a good picture, and getting it
slated. Take that."

His blood was up. His danger only nerved him to action, so he says. So
he planted a dab of vermilion in his creature's mouth. The Italian
spluttered and tried to wipe it off--evidently horribly surprised. And
then--according to Harringay--there began a very remarkable struggle,
Harringay splashing away with the red paint, and the picture wriggling
about and wiping it off as fast as he put it on. "Two masterpieces,"
said the demon. "Two indubitable masterpieces for a Chelsea artist's
soul. It's a bargain?" Harringay replied with the paint brush.

For a few minutes nothing could be heard but the brush going and the
spluttering and ejaculations of the Italian. A lot of the strokes he
caught on his arm and hand, though Harringay got over his guard often
enough. Presently the paint on the palette gave out and the two
antagonists stood breathless, regarding each other. The picture was so
smeared with red that it looked as if it had been rolling about a
slaughterhouse, and it was painfully out of breath and very
uncomfortable with the wet paint trickling down its neck. Still, the
first round was in its favour on the whole. "Think," it said, sticking
pluckily to its point, "two supreme masterpieces--in different styles.
Each equivalent to the Cathedral..."

"I know," said Harringay, and rushed out of the studio and along the
passage towards his wife's boudoir.

In another minute he was back with a large tin of enamel--Hedge
Sparrow's Egg Tint, it was, and a brush. At the sight of that the
artistic devil with the red eye began to scream. "Three
masterpieces--culminating masterpieces."

Harringay delivered cut two across the demon, and followed with a thrust
in the eye. There was an indistinct rumbling. "Four masterpieces," and a
spitting sound.

But Harringay had the upper hand now and meant to keep it. With rapid,
bold strokes he continued to paint over the writhing canvas, until at
last it was a uniform field of shining Hedge Sparrow tint. Once the
mouth reappeared and got as far as "Five master--" before he filled it
with enamel; and near the end the red eye opened and glared at him
indignantly. But at last nothing remained save a gleaming panel of
drying enamel. For a little while a faint stirring beneath the surface
puckered it slightly here and there, but presently even that died away
and the thing was perfectly still.

Then Harringay--according to Harringay's account--lit his pipe and sat
down and stared at the enamelled canvas, and tried to make out clearly
what had happened. Then he walked round behind it, to see if the back of
it was at all remarkable. Then it was he began to regret he had not
photographed the Devil before he painted him out.

This is Harringay's story--not mine. He supports it by a small canvas
(24 by 20) enamelled a pale green, and by violent asseverations. It is
also true that he never has produced a masterpiece, and in the opinion
of his intimate friends probably never will.




THE FLYING MAN


The Ethnologist looked at the bhimraj feather thoughtfully. "They seemed
loth to part with it," he said.

"It is sacred to the Chiefs," said the lieutenant; "just as yellow silk,
you know, is sacred to the Chinese Emperor."

The Ethnologist did not answer. He hesitated. Then opening the topic
abruptly, "What on earth is this cock-and-bull story they have of a
flying man?"

The lieutenant smiled faintly. "What did they tell you?"

"I see," said the Ethnologist, "that you know of your fame."

The lieutenant rolled himself a cigarette. "I don't mind hearing about
it once more. How does it stand at present?"

"It's so confoundedly childish," said the Ethnologist, becoming
irritated. "How did you play it off upon them?"

The lieutenant made no answer, but lounged back in his folding-chair,
still smiling.

"Here am I, come four hundred miles out of my way to get what is left of
the folk-lore of these people, before they are utterly demoralised by
missionaries and the military, and all I find are a lot of impossible
legends about a sandy-haired scrub of an infantry lieutenant. How he is
invulnerable--how he can jump over elephants--how he can fly. That's the
toughest nut. One old gentleman described your wings, said they had
black plumage and were not quite as long as a mule. Said he often saw
you by moonlight hovering over the crests out towards the Shendu
country. Confound it, man!"

The lieutenant laughed cheerfully. "Go on," he said. "Go on."

The Ethnologist did. At last he wearied. "To trade so," he said, "on
these unsophisticated children of the mountains. How could you bring
yourself to do it, man?"

"I'm sorry," said the lieutenant, "but truly the thing was forced upon
me. I can assure you I was driven to it. And at the time I had not the
faintest idea of how the Chin imagination would take it. Or curiosity. I
can only plead it was an indiscretion and not malice that made me
replace the folk-lore by a new legend. But as you seem aggrieved, I will
try and explain the business to you.

"It was in the time of the last Lushai expedition but one, and Walters
thought these people, you have been visiting, were friendly. So, with an
airy confidence in my capacity for taking care of myself, he sent me up
the gorge--fourteen miles of it--with three of the Derbyshire men and
half a dozen Sepoys, two mules, and his blessing, to see what popular
feeling was like at that village you visited. A force of ten--not
counting the mules--fourteen miles, and during a war! You saw the road?"

"Road!" said the Ethnologist.

"It's better now than it was. When we went up, we had to wade in the
river for a mile, where the valley narrows, with a smart stream frothing
round our knees and the stones as slippery as ice. There it was I
dropped my rifle. Afterwards the Sappers blasted the cliff with dynamite
and made the convenient way you came by. Then below, where those very
high cliffs come, we had to keep on dodging across the river--I should
say we crossed it a dozen times in a couple of miles.

"We got in sight of the place early the next morning. You know how it
lies, on a spur halfway between the big hills, and as we began to
appreciate how wickedly quiet the village lay under the sunlight, we
came to a stop to consider.

"At that they fired a lump of filed brass idol at us, just by way of a
welcome. It came twanging down the slope to the right of us where the
boulders are, missed my shoulder by an inch or so, and plugged the mule
that carried all the provisions and utensils. I never heard such a
death-rattle before or since. And at that we became aware of a number of
gentlemen carrying matchlocks, and dressed in things like plaid dusters,
dodging about along the neck between the village and the crest to the
east.

"'Right about face,' I said. 'Not too close together.'

"And with that encouragement my expedition of ten men came round and set
off at a smart trot down the valley again hitherward. We did not wait to
save anything our dead had carried, but we kept the second mule with
us--he carried my tent and some other rubbish--out of a feeling of
friendship.

"So ended the battle--ingloriously. Glancing back, I saw the valley
dotted with the victors, shouting and firing at us. But no one was hit.
These Chins and their guns are very little good except at a sitting
shot. They will sit and finick over a boulder for hours taking aim, and
when they fire running it is chiefly for stage effect. Hooker, one of
the Derbyshire men, fancied himself rather with the rifle, and stopped
behind for half a minute to try his luck as we turned the bend. But he
got nothing.

"I'm not a Xenophon to spin much of a yarn about my retreating army. We
had to pull the enemy up twice in the next two miles when he became a
bit pressing, by exchanging shots with him, but it was a fairly
monotonous affair--hard breathing chiefly--until we got near the place
where the hills run in towards the river and pinch the valley into a
gorge. And there we very luckily caught a glimpse of half a dozen round
black heads coming slanting-ways over the hill to the left of us--the
east that is--and almost parallel with us.

"At that I called a halt. 'Look here,' says I to Hooker and the other
Englishmen; 'what are we to do now?' and I pointed to the heads.

"'Headed orf, or I'm a nigger,' said one of the men."

"'We shall be,' said another. 'You know the Chin way, George?'

"'They can pot every one of us at fifty yards,' says Hooker, 'in the
place where the river is narrow. It's just suicide to go on down.'

"I looked at the hill to the right of us. It grew steeper lower down the
valley, but it still seemed climbable. And all the Chins we had seen
hitherto had been on the other side of the stream.

"'It's that or stopping,' says one of the Sepoys.

"So we started slanting up the hill. There was something faintly
suggestive of a road running obliquely up the face of it, and that we
followed. Some Chins presently came into view up the valley, and I heard
some shots. Then I saw one of the Sepoys was sitting down about thirty
yards below us. He had simply sat down without a word, apparently not
wishing to give trouble. At that I called a halt again; I told Hooker to
try another shot, and went back and found the man was hit in the leg. I
took him up, carried him along to put him on the mule--already pretty
well laden with the tent and other things which we had no time to take
off. When I got up to the rest with him, Hooker had his empty Martini in
his hand, and was grinning and pointing to a motionless black spot up
the valley. All the rest of the Chins were behind boulders or back round
the bend. 'Five hundred yards,' says Hooker, 'if an inch. And I'll swear
I hit him in the head.'

"I told him to go and do it again, and with that we went on again.

"Now the hillside kept getting steeper as we pushed on, and the road we
were following more and more of a shelf. At last it was mere cliff above
and below us. 'It's the best road I have seen yet in Chin Lushai land,'
said I to encourage the men, though I had a fear of what was coming.

"And in a few minutes the way bent round a corner of the cliff. Then,
finis! The ledge came to an end.

"As soon as he grasped the position one of the Derbyshire men fell
a-swearing at the trap we had fallen into. The Sepoys halted quietly.
Hooker grunted and reloaded, and went back to the bend.

"Then two of the Sepoy chaps helped their comrade down and began to
unload the mule.

"Now, when I came to look about me, I began to think we had not been so
very unfortunate after all. We were on a shelf perhaps ten yards across
it at widest. Above it the cliff projected so that we could not be shot
down upon, and below was an almost sheer precipice of perhaps two or
three hundred feet. Lying down we were invisible to anyone across the
ravine. The only approach was along the ledge, and on that one man was
as good as a host. We were in a natural stronghold, with only one
disadvantage, our sole provision against hunger and thirst was one live
mule. Still we were at most eight or nine miles from the main
expedition, and no doubt, after a day or so, they would send up after us
if we did not return.

"After a day or so ..."

The lieutenant paused. "Ever been thirsty, Graham?"

"Not that kind," said the Ethnologist.

"H'm. We had the whole of that day, the night, and the next day of it,
and only a trifle of dew we wrung out of our clothes and the tent. And
below us was the river going giggle, giggle, round a rock in mid stream.
I never knew such a barrenness of incident, or such a quantity of
sensation. The sun might have had Joshua's command still upon it for all
the motion one could see; and it blazed like a near furnace. Towards the
evening of the first day one of the Derbyshire men said
something--nobody heard what--and went off round the bend of the cliff.
We heard shots, and when Hooker looked round the corner he was gone. And
in the morning the Sepoy whose leg was shot was in delirium, and jumped
or fell over the cliff. Then we took the mule and shot it, and that must
needs go over the cliff too in its last struggles, leaving eight of us.

"We could see the body of the Sepoy down below, with the head in the
water. He was lying face downwards, and so far as I could make out was
scarcely smashed at all. Badly as the Chins might covet his head, they
had the sense to leave it alone until the darkness came.

"At first we talked of all the chances there were of the main body
hearing the firing, and reckoned whether they would begin to miss us,
and all that kind of thing, but we dried up as the evening came on. The
Sepoys played games with bits of stone among themselves, and afterwards
told stories. The night was rather chilly. The second day nobody spoke.
Our lips were black and our throats afire, and we lay about on the ledge
and glared at one another. Perhaps it's as well we kept our thoughts to
ourselves. One of the British soldiers began writing some blasphemous
rot on the rock with a bit of pipeclay, about his last dying will, until
I stopped it. As I looked over the edge down into the valley and saw the
river rippling I was nearly tempted to go after the Sepoy. It seemed a
pleasant and desirable thing to go rushing down through the air with
something to drink--or no more thirst at any rate--at the bottom. I
remembered in time, though, that I was the officer in command, and my
duty to set a good example, and that kept me from any such foolishness.

"Yet, thinking of that, put an idea into my head. I got up and looked at
the tent and tent ropes, and wondered why I had not thought of it
before. Then I came and peered over the cliff again. This time the
height seemed greater and the pose of the Sepoy rather more painful. But
it was that or nothing. And to cut it short, I parachuted.

"I got a big circle of canvas out of the tent, about three times the
size of that table-cover, and plugged the hole in the centre, and I tied
eight ropes round it to meet in the middle and make a parachute. The
other chaps lay about and watched me as though they thought it was a new
kind of delirium. Then I explained my notion to the two British soldiers
and how I meant to do it, and as soon as the short dusk had darkened
into night, I risked it. They held the thing high up, and I took a run
the whole length of the ledge. The thing filled with air like a sail,
but at the edge I will confess I funked and pulled up.

"As soon as I stopped I was ashamed of myself--as well I might be in
front of privates--and went back and started again. Off I jumped this
time--with a kind of sob, I remember--clean into the air, with the big
white sail bellying out above me.

"I must have thought at a frightful pace. It seemed a long time before I
was sure that the thing meant to keep steady. At first it heeled
sideways. Then I noticed the face of the rock which seemed to be
streaming up past me, and me motionless. Then I looked down and saw in
the darkness the river and the dead Sepoy rushing up towards me. But in
the indistinct light I also saw three Chins, seemingly aghast at the
sight of me, and that the Sepoy was decapitated. At that I wanted to go
back again.

"Then my boot was in the mouth of one, and in a moment he and I were in
a heap with the canvas fluttering down on the top of us. I fancy I
dashed out his brains with my foot. I expected nothing more than to be
brained myself by the other two, but the poor heathen had never heard of
Baldwin, and incontinently bolted.

"I struggled out of the tangle of dead Chin and canvas, and looked
round. About ten paces off lay the head of the Sepoy staring in the
moonlight. Then I saw the water and went and drank. There wasn't a sound
in the world but the footsteps of the departing Chins, a faint shout
from above, and the gluck of the water. So soon as I had drunk my full I
started off down the river.

"That about ends the explanation of the flying man story. I never met a
soul the whole eight miles of the way. I got to Walters' camp by ten
o'clock, and a born idiot of a sentinel had the cheek to fire at me as I
came trotting out of the darkness. So soon as I had hammered my story
into Winter's thick skull, about fifty men started up the valley to
clear the Chins out and get our men down. But for my own part I had too
good a thirst to provoke it, by going with them.

"You have heard what kind of a yarn the Chins made of it. Wings as long
as a mule, eh--? And black feathers! The gay lieutenant bird! Well,
well."

The lieutenant meditated cheerfully for a moment. Then he added, "You
would scarcely credit it, but when they got to the ridge at last, they
found two more of the Sepoys had jumped over."

"The rest were all right?" asked the Ethnologist.

"Yes," said the lieutenant; "the rest were all right, barring a certain
thirst, you know."

And at the memory he helped himself to soda and whisky again.




THE DIAMOND MAKER


Some business had detained me in Chancery Lane, until nine in the
evening, and thereafter, having some inkling of a headache, I was
disinclined either for entertainment or further work. So much of the sky
as the high cliffs of that narrow canon of traffic left visible, spoke
of a serene night, and I determined to make my way down to the
Embankment, and rest my eyes and cool my head by watching the variegated
lights upon the river. Beyond comparison the night is the best time for
this place; a merciful darkness hides the dirt of the waters, and the
lights of this transitional age, red glaring orange, gas-yellow, and
electric white, are set in shadowy outlines of every possible shade
between grey and deep purple. Through the arches of Waterloo Bridge a
hundred points of light mark the sweep of the Embankment, and above its
parapet rise the towers of Westminster, warm grey against the starlight.
The black river goes by with only a rare ripple breaking its silence,
and disturbing the reflections of the lights that swim upon its surface.

"A warm night," said a voice at my side.

I turned my head, and saw the profile of a man who was leaning over the
parapet beside me. It was a refined face, not unhandsome, though pinched
and pale enough, and the coat collar turned up and pinned round the
throat marked his status in life as sharply as a uniform. I felt I was
committed to the price of a bed and breakfast if I answered him.

I looked at him curiously. Would he have anything to tell me worth the
money, or was he the common incapable--incapable even of telling his own
story? There was a quality of intelligence in his forehead and eyes, and
a certain tremulousness in his nether lip that decided me.

"Very warm," said I; "but not too warm for us here."

"No," he said, still looking across the water, "it is pleasant enough
here... just now.

"It is good," he continued after a pause, "to find anything so restful
as this in London. After one has been fretting about business all day,
about getting on, meeting obligations, and parrying dangers, I do not
know what one would do if it were not for such pacific corners." He
spoke with long pauses between the sentences. "You must know a little of
the irksome labour of the world, or you would not be here. But I doubt
if you can be so brain-weary and footsore as I am... Bah! Sometimes I
doubt if the game is worth the candle. I feel inclined to throw the
whole thing over--name, wealth and position--and take to some modest
trade. But I know if I abandoned my ambition--hardly as she uses me--I
should have nothing but remorse left for the rest of my days."

He became silent. I looked at him in astonishment. If ever I saw a man
hopelessly hard-up it was the man in front of me. He was ragged and he
was dirty, unshaven and unkempt; he looked as though he had been left in
a dust-bin for a week. And he was talking to me of the irksome worries
of a large business. I almost laughed outright. Either he was mad or
playing a sorry jest on his own poverty.

"If high aims and high positions," said I, "have their drawbacks of hard
work and anxiety, they have their compensations. Influence, the power of
doing good, of assisting those weaker and poorer than ourselves; and
there is even a certain gratification in display."

My banter under the circumstances was in very vile taste. I spoke on the
spur of the contrast of his appearance and speech. I was sorry even
while I was speaking.

He turned a haggard but very composed face upon me. Said he: "I forgot
myself. Of course you would not understand."

He measured me for a moment. "No doubt it is very absurd. You will not
believe me even when I tell you, so that it is fairly safe to tell you.
And it will be a comfort to tell someone. I really have a big business
in hand, a very big business. But there are troubles just now. The fact
is... I make diamonds."

"I suppose," said I, "you are out of work just at present?"

"I am sick of being disbelieved," he said impatiently, and suddenly
unbuttoning his wretched coat he pulled out a little canvas bag that was
hanging by a cord round his neck. From this he produced a brown pebble.
"I wonder if you know enough, to know what that is?" He handed it to me.

Now, a year or so ago, I had occupied my leisure in taking a London
science degree, so that I have a smattering of physics and mineralogy.
The thing was not unlike an uncut diamond of the darker sort, though far
too large, being almost as big as the top of my thumb. I took it, and
saw it had the form of a regular octahedron, with the curved faces
peculiar to the most precious of minerals. I took out my penknife and
tried to scratch it--vainly. Leaning forward towards the gas-lamp, I
tried the thing on my watch-glass, and scored a white line across that,
with the greatest ease.

I looked at my interlocutor with rising curiosity. "It certainly is
rather like a diamond. But, if so, it is a Behemoth of diamonds. Where
did you get it?"

"I tell you I made it," he said. "Give it back to me."

He replaced it hastily and buttoned his jacket. "I will sell it to you
for one hundred pounds," he suddenly whispered eagerly. With that my
suspicions returned. The thing might, after all, be merely a lump of
that almost equally hard substance, corundum, with an accidental
resemblance in shape to the diamond. Or if it was a diamond, how came he
by it, and why should he offer it at a hundred pounds?

We looked into one another's eyes. He seemed eager, but honestly eager.
At that moment I believed it was a diamond he was trying to sell. Yet I
am a poor man, a hundred pounds would leave a visible gap in my fortunes
and no sane man would buy a diamond by gaslight from a ragged tramp on
his personal warranty only. Still, a diamond that size conjured up a
vision of many thousands of pounds. Then, thought I, such a stone could
scarcely exist without being mentioned in every book on gems, and again
I called to mind the stories of contraband and light-fingered Kaffirs at
the Cape. I put the question of purchase on one side.

"How did you get it?" said I.

"I made it."

I had heard something of Moissan, but I knew his artificial diamonds
were very small. I shook my head.

"You seem to know something of this kind of thing. I will tell you a
little about myself. Perhaps then you may think better of the purchase."
He turned round with his back to the river, and put his hands in his
pockets. He sighed. "I know you will not believe me."

"Diamonds," he began--and as he spoke his voice lost its faint flavour
of the tramp and assumed something of the easy tone of an educated
man--"are to be made by throwing carbon out of combination in a suitable
flux and under a suitable pressure; the carbon crystallises out, not as
black-lead or charcoal-powder, but as small diamonds. So much has been
known to chemists for years, but no one yet had hit upon exactly the
right flux in which to melt up the carbon, or exactly the right pressure
for the best results. Consequently the diamonds made by chemists are
small and dark, and worthless as jewels. Now I, you know, have given up
my life to this problem--given my life to it."

"I began to work at the conditions of diamond making when I was
seventeen, and now I am thirty-two. It seemed to me that it might take
all the thought and energies of a man for ten years, or twenty years,
but, even if it did, the game was still worth the candle. Suppose one to
have at last just hit the right trick before the secret got out and
diamonds became as common as coal, one might realize millions.
Millions!"

He paused and looked for my sympathy. His eyes shone hungrily. "To
think," said he, "that I am on the verge of it all, and here!

"I had," he proceeded, "about a thousand pounds when I was twenty-one,
and this, I thought, eked out by a little teaching, would keep my
researches going. A year or two was spent in study, at Berlin chiefly,
and then I continued on my own account. The trouble was the secrecy. You
see, if once I had let out what I was doing, other men might have been
spurred on by my belief in the practicability of the idea; and I do not
pretend to be such a genius as to have been sure of coming in first, in
the case of a race for the discovery. And you see it was important that
if I really meant to make a pile, people should not know it was an
artificial process and capable of turning out diamonds by the ton. So I
had to work all alone. At first I had a little laboratory, but as my
resources began to run out I had to conduct my experiments in a wretched
unfurnished room in Kentish Town, where I slept at last on a straw
mattress on the floor among all my apparatus. The money simply flowed
away. I grudged myself everything except scientific appliances. I tried
to keep things going by a little teaching, but I am not a very good
teacher, and I have no university degree, nor very much education except
in chemistry, and I found I had to give a lot of time and labour for
precious little money. But I got nearer and nearer the thing. Three
years ago I settled the problem of the composition of the flux, and got
near the pressure by putting this flux of mine and a certain carbon
composition into a closed-up gun-barrel, filling up with water, sealing
tightly, and heating."

He paused.

"Rather risky," said I.

"Yes. It burst, and smashed all my windows and a lot of my apparatus;
but I got a kind of diamond powder nevertheless. Following out the
problem of getting a big pressure upon the molten mixture from which the
things were to crystallise, I hit upon some researches of Daubree's at
the Paris Laboratorie des Poudres et Salpetres. He exploded dynamite in
a tightly screwed steel cylinder, too strong to burst, and I found he
could crush rocks into a muck not unlike the South African bed in which
diamonds are found. It was a tremendous strain on my resources, but I
got a steel cylinder made for my purpose after his pattern. I put in all
my stuff and my explosives, built up a fire in my furnace, put the whole
concern in, and--went out for a walk."

I could not help laughing at his matter-of-fact manner. "Did you not
think it would blow up the house? Were there other people in the place?"

"It was in the interest of science," he said, ultimately. "There was a
costermonger family on the floor below, a begging-letter writer in the
room behind mine, and two flower-women were upstairs. Perhaps it was a
bit thoughtless. But possibly some of them were out.

"When I came back the thing was just where I left it, among the
white-hot coals. The explosive hadn't burst the case. And then I had a
problem to face. You know time is an important element in
crystallisation. If you hurry the process the crystals are small--it is
only by prolonged standing that they grow to any size. I resolved to let
this apparatus cool for two years, letting the temperature go down
slowly during the time. And I was now quite out of money; and with a big
fire and the rent of my room, as well as my hunger to satisfy, I had
scarcely a penny in the world.

"I can hardly tell you all the shifts I was put to while I was making
the diamonds. I have sold newspapers, held horses, opened cab-doors. For
many weeks I addressed envelopes. I had a place as assistant to a man
who owned a barrow, and used to call down one side of the road while he
called down the other.

"Once for a week I had absolutely nothing to do, and I begged. What a
week that was! One day the fire was going out and I had eaten nothing
all day, and a little chap taking his girl out, gave me sixpence--to
show-off. Thank heaven for vanity! How the fish-shops smelt! But I went
and spent it all on coals, and had the furnace bright red again, and
then--Well, hunger makes a fool of a man.

"At last, three weeks ago, I let the fire out. I took my cylinder and
unscrewed it while it was still so hot that it punished my hands, and I
scraped out the crumbling lava-like mass with a chisel, and hammered it
into a powder upon an iron plate. And I found three big diamonds and
five small ones. As I sat on the floor hammering, my door opened, and my
neighbour, the begging-letter writer came in. He was drunk--as he
usually is, 'Nerchist,' said he. 'You're drunk,' said I. 'Structive
scoundrel,' said he. 'Go to your father,' said I, meaning the Father of
Lies. 'Never you mind,' said he, and gave me a cunning wink, and
hiccupped, and leaning up against the door, with his other eye against
the doorpost, began to babble of how he had been prying in my room, and
how he had gone to the police that morning, and how they had taken down
everything he had to say--'siffiwas a ge'm,' said he. Then I suddenly
realised I was in a hole. Either I should have to tell these police my
little secret, and get the whole thing blown upon, or be lagged as an
Anarchist. So I went up to my neighbour and took him by the collar, and
rolled him about a bit, and then I gathered up my diamonds and cleared
out. The evening newspapers called my den the Kentish-Town Bomb Factory.
And now I cannot part with the things for love or money.

"If I go in to respectable jewellers they ask me to wait, and go and
whisper to a clerk to fetch a policeman, and then I say I cannot wait.
And I found out a receiver of stolen goods, and he simply stuck to the
one I gave him and told me to prosecute if I wanted it back. I am going
about now with several hundred thousand pounds-worth of diamonds round
my neck, and without either food or shelter. You are the first person I
have taken into my confidence. But I like your face and I am
hard-driven."

He looked into my eyes.

"It would be madness," said I, "for me to buy a diamond under the
circumstances. Besides, I do not carry hundreds of pounds about in my
pocket. Yet I more than half believe your story. I will, if you like, do
this: come to my office to-morrow..."

"You think I am a thief!" said he keenly. "You will tell the police. I
am not coming into a trap."

"Somehow I am assured you are no thief. Here is my card. Take that,
anyhow. You need not come to any appointment. Come when you will."

He took the card, and an earnest of my good-will.

"Think better of it and come," said I.

He shook his head doubtfully. "I will pay back your half-crown with
interest some day--such interest as will amaze you," said he. "Anyhow,
you will keep the secret...? Don't follow me."

He crossed the road and went into the darkness towards the little steps
under the archway leading into Essex Street, and I let him go. And that
was the last I ever saw of him.

Afterwards I had two letters from him asking me to send bank-notes--not
cheques--to certain addresses. I weighed the matter over and took what I
conceived to be the wisest course. Once he called upon me when I was
out. My urchin described him as a very thin, dirty, and ragged man, with
a dreadful cough. He left no message. That was the finish of him so far
as my story goes. I wonder sometimes what has become of him. Was he an
ingenious monomaniac, or a fraudulent dealer in pebbles, or has he
really made diamonds as he asserted? The latter is just sufficiently
credible to make me think at times that I have missed the most brilliant
opportunity of my life. He may of course be dead, and his diamonds
carelessly thrown aside--one, I repeat, was almost as big as my thumb.
Or he may be still wandering about trying to sell the things. It is just
possible he may yet emerge upon society, and, passing athwart my heavens
in the serene altitude sacred to the wealthy and the well-advertised,
reproach me silently for my want of enterprise. I sometimes think I
might at least have risked five pounds.




AEPYORNIS ISLAND


The man with the scarred face leant over the table and looked at my
bundle.

"Orchids?" he asked.

"A few," I said.

"Cypripediums," he said.

"Chiefly," said I.

"Anything new? I thought not. I did these islands
twenty-five--twenty-seven years ago. If you find anything new
here--well, it's brand new. I didn't leave much."

"I'm not a collector," said I.

"I was young then," he went on. "Lord! How I used to fly round." He
seemed to take my measure. "I was in the East Indies two years, and in
Brazil seven. Then I went to Madagascar."

"I know a few explorers by name," I said, anticipating a yarn. "Whom did
you collect for?"

"Dawson's. I wonder if you've heard the name of Butcher ever?"

"Butcher--Butcher?" The name seemed vaguely present in my memory; then I
recalled Butcher vs. Dawson. "Why!" said I, "You are the man who sued
them for four years' salary--got cast away on a desert island..."

"Your servant," said the man with the scar, bowing. "Funny case, wasn't
it? Here was me, making a little fortune on that island, doing nothing
for it neither, and them quite unable to give me notice. It often used
to amuse me thinking over it while I was there. I did calculations of
it--big--all over the blessed atoll in ornamental figuring."

"How did it happen?" said I. "I don't rightly remember the case."

"Well... You've heard of the Aepyornis?"

"Rather. Andrews was telling me of a new species he was working on only
a month or so ago. Just before I sailed. They've got a thigh-bone, it
seems, nearly a yard long. Monster the thing must have been!"

"I believe you," said the man with the scar. "It was a monster.
Sindbad's roc was just a legend of 'em. But when did they find these
bones?"

"Three or four years ago--'91, I fancy. Why?"

"Why? Because I found them--Lord--! It's nearly twenty years ago. If
Dawson's hadn't been silly about that salary they might have made a
perfect ring in 'em... I couldn't help the infernal boat going adrift."

He paused. "I suppose it's the same place. A kind of swamp about ninety
miles north of Antananarivo. Do you happen to know? You have to go to it
along the coast by boats. You don't happen to remember, perhaps?"

"I don't. I fancy Andrews said something about a swamp."

"It must be the same. It's on the east coast. And somehow there's
something in the water that keeps things from decaying. Like creosote it
smells. It reminded me of Trinidad. Did they get any more eggs? Some of
the eggs I found were a foot and a half long. The swamp goes circling
round, you know, and cuts off this bit. It's mostly salt, too. Well...
What a time I had of it! I found the things quite by accident. We went
for eggs, me and two native chaps, in one of those rum canoes all tied
together, and found the bones at the same time. We had a tent and
provisions for four days, and we pitched on one of the firmer places. To
think of it brings that odd tarry smell back even now. It's funny work.
You go probing into the mud with iron rods, you know. Usually the egg
gets smashed. I wonder how long it is since these Aepyornises really
lived. The missionaries say the natives have legends about when they
were alive, but I never heard any such stories myself.* But certainly
those eggs we got were as fresh as if they had been new laid. Fresh!
Carrying them down to the boat one of my nigger chaps dropped one on a
rock and it smashed. How I lammed into the beggar! But sweet it was, as
if it was new laid, not even smelly, and its mother dead these four
hundred years, perhaps. Said a centipede had bit him. However, I'm
getting off the straight with the story. It had taken us all day to dig
into the slush and get these eggs out unbroken, and we were all covered
with beastly black mud, and naturally I was cross. So far as I knew they
were the only eggs that have ever been got out, not even cracked. I went
afterwards to see the ones they have at the Natural History Museum in
London; all of them were cracked and just stuck together like a mosaic,
and bits missing. Mine were perfect, and I meant to blow them when I got
back. Naturally I was annoyed at the silly duffer dropping three hours'
work just on account of a centipede. I hit him about rather."

[* No European is known to have seen a live Aepyornis, with the doubtful
exception of Macer, who visited Madagascar in 1745.--H. G. W.]

The man with the scar took out a clay pipe. I placed my pouch before
him. He filled up absent-mindedly.

"How about the others? Did you get those home? I don't remember--"

"That's the queer part of the story. I had three others. Perfectly fresh
eggs. Well, we put 'em in the boat, and then I went up to the tent to
make some coffee, leaving my two heathens down by the beach--the one
fooling about with his sting and the other helping him. It never
occurred to me that the beggars would take advantage of the peculiar
position I was in to pick a quarrel. But I suppose the centipede poison
and the kicking I had given him had upset the one--he was always a
cantankerous sort--and he persuaded the other."

"I remember I was sitting and smoking and boiling up the water over a
spirit-lamp, business I used to take on these expeditions. Incidentally
I was admiring the swamp under the sunset. All black and blood-red it
was, in streaks--a beautiful sight. And up beyond the land rose grey and
hazy to the hills, and the sky behind them red, like a furnace mouth.
And fifty yards behind the back of me was these blessed heathens--quite
regardless of the tranquil air of things--plotting to cut off with the
boat and leave me all alone with three days' provisions and a canvas
tent, and nothing to drink whatsoever beyond a little keg of water. I
heard a kind of yelp behind me, and there they were in this canoe
affair--it wasn't properly a boat--and, perhaps, twenty yards from land.
I realised what was up in a moment. My gun was in the tent, and besides,
I had no bullets--only duck shot. They knew that. But I had a little
revolver in my pocket, and I pulled that out as I ran down to the
beach.

"'Come back!' says I, flourishing it.

"They jabbered something at me, and the man that broke the egg jeered. I
aimed at the other--because he was unwounded and had the paddle, and I
missed. They laughed. However, I wasn't beat. I knew I had to keep cool,
and I tried him again and made him jump with the whang of it. He didn't
laugh that time. The third time I got his head, and over he went, and
the paddle with him. It was a precious lucky shot for a revolver. I
reckon it was fifty yards. He went right under. I don't know if he was
shot, or simply stunned and drowned. Then I began to shout to the other
chap to come back, but he huddled up in the canoe and refused to answer.
So I fired out my revolver at him and never got near him.

"I felt a precious fool, I can tell you. There I was on this rotten,
black beach, flat swamp all behind me, and the flat sea, cold after the
sun set, and just this black canoe drifting steadily out to sea. I tell
you I damned Dawson's and Jamrach's and Museums and all the rest of it
just to rights. I bawled to this nigger to come back, until my voice
went up into a scream.

"There was nothing for it but to swim after him and take my luck with
the sharks. So I opened my clasp-knife and put it in my mouth, and took
off my clothes and waded in. As soon as I was in the water I lost sight
of the canoe, but I aimed, as I judged, to head it off. I hoped the man
in it was too bad to navigate it, and that it would keep on drifting in
the same direction. Presently it came up over the horizon again to the
south-westward, about. The afterglow of sunset was well over now and the
dim of night creeping up. The stars were coming through the blue. I swum
like a champion, though my legs and arms were soon aching.

"However, I came up to him by the time the stars were fairly out. As it
got darker I began to see all manner of glowing things in the
water--phosphorescence, you know. At times it made me giddy. I hardly
knew which was stars and which was phosphorescence, and whether I was
swimming on my head or my heels. The canoe was as black as sin, and the
ripple under the bows like liquid fire. I was naturally chary of
clambering up into it. I was anxious to see what he was up to first. He
seemed to be lying cuddled up in a lump in the bows, and the stern was
all out of water. The thing kept turning round slowly as it
drifted--kind of waltzing, don't you know. I went to the stern and
pulled it down, expecting him to wake up. Then I began to clamber in
with my knife in my hand, and ready for a rush. But he never stirred. So
there I sat in the stern of the little canoe, drifting away over the
calm phosphorescent sea, and with all the host of the stars above me,
waiting for something to happen.

"After a long time I called him by name, but he never answered. I was
too tired to take any risks by going along to him. So we sat there. I
fancy I dozed once or twice. When the dawn came I saw he was as dead as
a door-nail and all puffed up and purple. My three eggs and the bones
were lying in the middle of the canoe, and the keg of water and some
coffee and biscuits wrapped in a Cape Argus by his feet, and a tin of
methylated spirit underneath him. There was no paddle, nor in fact,
anything except the spirit tin that I could use as one, so I settled to
drift until I was picked up. I held an inquest on him, brought in a
verdict against some snake, scorpion, or centipede unknown, and sent him
overboard.

"After that I had a drink of water and a few biscuits, and took a look
round. I suppose a man low down as I was don't see very far; leastways,
Madagascar was clean out of sight, and any trace of land at all. I saw a
sail going south-westward--looked like a schooner but her hull never
came up. Presently the sun got high in the sky and began to beat down
upon me. Lord! It pretty near made my brains boil. I tried dipping my
head in the sea, but after a while my eye fell on the Cape Argus, and I
lay down flat in the canoe and spread this over me. Wonderful things
these newspapers! I never read one through thoroughly before, but it's
odd what you get up to when you're alone, as I was. I suppose I read
that blessed old Cape Argus twenty times. The pitch in the canoe simply
reeked with the heat and rose up into big blisters.

"I drifted ten days," said the man with the scar. "It's a little thing
in the telling, isn't it? Every day was like the last. Except in the
morning and the evening I never kept a lookout even--the blaze was so
infernal. I didn't see a sail after the first three days, and those I
saw took no notice of me. About the sixth night a ship went by scarcely
half a mile away from me, with all its lights ablaze and its ports open,
looking like a big firefly. There was music aboard. I stood up and
shouted and screamed at it. The second day I broached one of the
Aepyornis eggs, scraped the shell away at the end bit by bit, and tried
it, and I was glad to find it was good enough to eat. A bit
flavoury--not bad, I mean--but with something of the taste of a duck's
egg. There was a kind of circular patch, about six inches across, on one
side of the yoke, and with streaks of blood and a white mark like a
ladder in it that I thought queer, but I did not understand what this
meant at the time, and I wasn't inclined to be particular. The egg
lasted me three days, with biscuits and a drink of water. I chewed
coffee-berries too--invigorating stuff. The second egg I opened about
the eighth day, and it scared me."

The man with the scar paused. "Yes," he said, "Developing.

"I daresay you find it hard to believe. I did, with the thing before me.
There the egg had been, sunk in that cold black mud, perhaps three
hundred years. But there was no mistaking it. There was the--what is
it--? Embryo, with its big head and curved back, and its heart beating
under its throat, and the yolk shrivelled up and great membranes
spreading inside of the shell and all over the yolk. Here was I hatching
out the eggs of the biggest of all extinct birds, in a little canoe in
the midst of the Indian Ocean. If old Dawson had known that! It was
worth four years' salary. What do you think?

"However, I had to eat that precious thing up, every bit of it, before I
sighted the reef, and some of the mouthfuls were beastly unpleasant. I
left the third one alone. I held it up to the light, but the shell was
too thick for me to get any notion of what might be happening inside;
and though I fancied I heard blood pulsing, it might have been the
rustle in my own ears, like what you listen to in a seashell.

"Then came the atoll. Came out of the sunrise, as it were, suddenly,
close up to me. I drifted straight towards it until I was about half a
mile from shore, not more, and then the current took a turn, and I had
to paddle as hard as I could with my hands and bits of the Aepyornis
shell to make the place. However, I got there. It was just a common
atoll about four miles round, with a few trees growing and a spring in
one place, and the lagoon full of parrot-fish. I took the egg ashore and
put it in a good place, well above the tide lines and in the sun, to
give it all the chance I could, and pulled the canoe up safe, and loafed
about prospecting. It's rum how dull an atoll is. As soon as I had found
a spring all the interest seemed to vanish. When I was a kid I thought
nothing could be finer or more adventurous than the Robinson Crusoe
business, but that place was as monotonous as a book of sermons. I went
round finding eatable things and generally thinking; but I tell you I
was bored to death before the first day was out. It shows my luck--the
very day I landed the weather changed. A thunderstorm went by to the
north and flicked its wing over the island, and in the night there came
a drencher and a howling wind slap over us. It wouldn't have taken much,
you know, to upset that canoe.

"I was sleeping under the canoe, and the egg was luckily among the sand
higher up the beach, and the first thing I remember was a sound like a
hundred pebbles hitting the boat at once, and a rush of water over my
body. I'd been dreaming of Antananarivo, and I sat up and halloaed to
Intoshi to ask her what the devil was up, and clawed out at the chair
where the matches used to be. Then I remembered where I was. There were
phosphorescent waves rolling up as if they meant to eat me, and all the
rest of the night as black as pitch. The air was simply yelling. The
clouds seemed down on your head almost, and the rain fell as if heaven
was sinking and they were baling out the waters above the firmament. One
great roller came writhing at me, like a fiery serpent, and I bolted.
Then I thought of the canoe, and ran down to it as the water went
hissing back again; but the thing had gone. I wondered about the egg
then, and felt my way to it. It was all right and well out of reach of
the maddest waves, so I sat down beside it and cuddled it for company.
Lord! What a night that was!

"The storm was over before the morning. There wasn't a rag of cloud left
in the sky when the dawn came, and all along the beach there were bits
of plank scattered--which was the disarticulated skeleton, so to speak,
of my canoe. However, that gave me something to do, for, taking
advantage of two of the trees being together, I rigged up a kind of
storm-shelter with these vestiges. And that day the egg hatched.

"Hatched, sir, when my head was pillowed on it and I was asleep. I heard
a whack and felt a jar and sat up, and there was the end of the egg
pecked out and a rum little brown head looking out at me. 'Lord!' I
said, 'You're welcome'; and with a little difficulty he came out.

"He was a nice friendly little chap at first, about the size of a small
hen--very much like most other young birds, only bigger. His plumage was
a dirty brown to begin with, with a sort of grey scab that fell off it
very soon, and scarcely feathers--a kind of downy hair. I can hardly
express how pleased I was to see him. I tell you, Robinson Crusoe don't
make near enough of his loneliness. But here was interesting company. He
looked at me and winked his eye from the front backwards, like a hen,
and gave a chirp and began to peck about at once, as though being
hatched three hundred years too late was just nothing. 'Glad to see you,
Man Friday!' says I, for I had naturally settled he was to be called Man
Friday if ever he was hatched, as soon as ever, I found the egg in the
canoe had developed. I was a bit anxious about his feed, so I gave him a
lump of raw parrot-fish at once. He took it, and opened his beak for
more. I was glad of that for, under the circumstances, if he'd been at
all fanciful, I should have had to eat him after all.

"You'd be surprised what an interesting bird that Aepyornis chick was.
He followed me about from the very beginning. He used to stand by me and
watch while I fished in the lagoon, and go shares in anything I caught.
And he was sensible, too. There were nasty green warty things, like
pickled gherkins, used to lie about on the beach, and he tried one of
these and it upset him. He never even looked at any of them again.

"And he grew. You could almost see him grow. And as I was never much of
a society man, his quiet, friendly ways suited me to a T. For nearly two
years we were as happy as we could be on that island. I had no business
worries, for I knew my salary was mounting up at Dawsons'. We would see
a sail now and then, but nothing ever came near us. I amused myself,
too, by decorating the island with designs worked in sea-urchins and
fancy shells of various kinds. I put 'Aepyornis Island' all round the
place very nearly, in big letters, like what you see done with coloured
stones at railway stations in the old country, and mathematical
calculations and drawings of various sorts. And I used to lie watching
the blessed bird stalking round and growing, growing; and think how I
could make a living out of him by showing him about if I ever got taken
off. After his first moult he began to get handsome, with a crest and a
blue wattle, and a lot of green feathers at the behind of him. And then
I used to puzzle whether Dawsons' had any right to claim him or not.
Stormy weather and in the rainy season we lay snug under the shelter, I
had made out of the old canoe, and I used to tell him lies about my
friends at home. And after a storm we would go round the island together
to see if there was any drift. It was a kind of idyll, you might say. If
only I had, had some tobacco it would have been simply just like
heaven.

"It was about the end of the second year our little paradise went wrong.
Friday was then about fourteen feet high to the bill of him, with a big,
broad head like the end of a pickaxe, and two huge brown eyes with
yellow rims, set together like a man's--not out of sight of each other
like a hen's. His plumage was fine--none of the half-mourning style of
your ostrich--more like a cassowary as far as colour and texture go. And
then it was he began to cock his comb at me and give himself airs, and
show signs of a nasty temper...

"At last came a time when my fishing had been rather unlucky, and he
began to hang about me in a queer, meditative way. I thought he might
have been eating sea-cucumbers or something, but it was really just
discontent on his part. I was hungry too, and when at last I landed a
fish I wanted it for myself. Tempers were short that morning on both
sides. He pecked at it and grabbed it, and I gave him a whack on the
head to make him leave go. And at that he went for me. Lord...!

"He gave me this in the face." The man indicated his scar. "Then he
kicked me. It was like a cart-horse. I got up, and seeing he hadn't
finished, I started off full tilt with my arms doubled up over my face.
But he ran on those gawky legs of his faster than a race-horse, and kept
landing out at me with sledgehammer kicks, and bringing his pickaxe down
on the back of my head. I made for the lagoon, and went in up to my
neck. He stopped at the water, for he hated getting his feet wet, and
began to make a shindy, something like a peacock's, only hoarser. He
started strutting up and down the beach. I'll admit I felt small to see
this blessed fossil lording it there. And my head and face were all
bleeding, and--well, my body just one jelly of bruises.

"I decided to swim across the lagoon and leave him alone for a bit,
until the affair blew over. I shinned up the tallest palm-tree, and sat
there thinking of it all. I don't suppose I ever felt so hurt by
anything before or since. It was the brutal ingratitude of the creature.
I'd been more than a brother to him. I'd hatched him, educated him. A
great gawky, out-of-date bird! And me a human being--heir of the ages
and all that.

"I thought after a time he'd begin to see things in that light himself,
and feel a little sorry for his behaviour. I thought if I was to catch
some nice little bits of fish, perhaps, and go to him presently in a
casual kind of way, and offer them to him, he might do the sensible
thing. It took me some time to learn how unforgiving and cantankerous an
extinct bird can be. Malice!

"I won't tell you all the little devices I tried to get that bird round
again, I simply can't. It makes my cheek burn with shame even now to
think of the snubs and buffets I had from this infernal curiosity. I
tried violence. I chucked lumps of coral at him from a safe distance,
but he only swallowed them. I shied my open knife at him and almost lost
it, though it was too big for him to swallow. I tried starving him out
and struck fishing, but he took to picking along the beach at low water
after worms, and rubbed along on that. Half my time I spent up to my
neck in the lagoon, and the rest up the palm-trees. One of them was
scarcely high enough, and when he caught me up it he had a regular Bank
Holiday with the calves of my legs. It got unbearable. I don't know if
you have ever tried sleeping up a palm-tree. It gave me the most
horrible nightmares. Think of the shame of it, too! Here was this
extinct animal mooning about my island like a sulky duke, and me not
allowed to rest the sole of my foot on the place. I used to cry with
weariness and vexation. I told him straight that I didn't mean to be
chased about a desert island by any damned anachronisms. I told him to
go and peck a navigator of his own age. But he only snapped his beak at
me. Great ugly bird, all legs and neck!

"I shouldn't like to say how long that went on altogether. I'd have
killed him sooner if I'd known how. However, I hit on a way of settling
him at last. It is a South American dodge. I joined all my fishing-lines
together with stems of seaweed and things, and made a stoutish string,
perhaps twelve yards in length or more, and I fastened two lumps of
coral rock to the ends of this. It took me some time to do, because
every now and then I had to go into the lagoon or up a tree as the fancy
took me. This I whirled rapidly round my head, and then let it go at
him. The first time I missed, but the next time the string caught his
legs beautifully, and wrapped round them again and again. Over he went.
I threw it standing waist-deep in the lagoon, and as soon as he went
down I was out of the water and sawing at his neck with my knife...

"I don't like to think of that even now. I felt like a murderer while I
did it, though my anger was hot against him. When I stood over him and
saw him bleeding on the white sand, and his beautiful great legs and
neck writhing in his last agony... Pah!

"With that tragedy loneliness came upon me like a curse. Good Lord! You
can't imagine how I missed that bird. I sat by his corpse and sorrowed
over him, and shivered as I looked round the desolate, silent reef. I
thought of what a jolly little bird he had been when he was hatched, and
of a thousand pleasant tricks he had played before he went wrong. I
thought if I'd only wounded him I might have nursed him round into a
better understanding. If I'd had any means of digging into the coral
rock I'd have buried him. I felt exactly as if he was human. As it was,
I couldn't think of eating him, so I put him in the lagoon, and the
little fishes picked him clean. I didn't even save the feathers. Then
one day a chap cruising about in a yacht had a fancy to see if my atoll
still existed.

"He didn't come a moment too soon, for I was about sick enough of the
desolation of it, and only hesitating whether I should walk out into the
sea and finish up the business that way, or fall back on the green
things...

"I sold the bones to a man named Winslow--a dealer near the British
Museum, and he says he sold them to old Havers. It seems Havers didn't
understand they were extra large, and it was only after his death they
attracted attention. They called 'em Aepyornis--what was it?"

"Aepyornis vastus," said I. "It's funny, the very thing was mentioned to
me by a friend of mine. When they found an Aepyornis, with a thigh a
yard long, they thought they had reached the top of the scale, and
called him Aepyornis maximus. Then some one turned up another thigh-bone
four feet six or more, and that they called Aepyornis titan. Then your
vastus was found after old Havers died, in his collection, and then a
vastissimus turned up."

"Winslow was telling me as much," said the man with the scar. "If they
get any more Aepyornises, he reckons some scientific swell will go and
burst a blood-vessel. But it was a queer thing to happen to a man,
wasn't it--altogether?"




THE REMARKABLE CASE OF DAVIDSON'S EYES


The transitory mental aberration of Sidney Davidson, remarkable enough
in itself, is still more remarkable if Wade's explanation is to be
credited. It sets one dreaming of the oddest possibilities of
intercommunication in the future, of spending an intercalary five
minutes on the other side of the world, or being watched in our most
secret operations by unsuspected eyes. It happened that I was the
immediate witness of Davidson's seizure, and so it falls naturally to me
to put the story upon paper.

When I say that I was the immediate witness of his seizure, I mean that
I was the first on the scene. The thing happened at the Harlow Technical
College just beyond the Highgate Archway. He was alone in the larger
laboratory when the thing happened. I was in the smaller room, where the
balances are, writing up some notes. The thunderstorm had completely
upset my work, of course. It was just after one of the louder peals that
I thought I heard some glass smash in the other room. I stopped writing,
and turned round to listen. For a moment I heard nothing; the hail was
playing the devil's tattoo on the corrugated zinc of the roof. Then came
another sound, a smash--no doubt of it this time. Something heavy had
been knocked off the bench. I jumped up at once and went and opened the
door leading into the big laboratory.

I was surprised to hear a queer sort of laugh, and saw Davidson standing
unsteadily in the middle of the room, with a dazzled look on his face.
My first impression was that he was drunk. He did not notice me. He was
clawing out at something invisible a yard in front of his face. He put
out his hand slowly, rather hesitatingly, and then clutched nothing.
"What's come to it?" he said. He held up his hands to his face, fingers
spread out. "Great Scott!" he said. The thing happened three or four
years ago, when everyone swore by that personage. Then he began raising
his feet clumsily, as though he had expected to find them glued to the
floor.

"Davidson!" cried I. "What's the matter with you?" He turned round in my
direction and looked about for me. He looked over me and at me and on
either side of me, without the slightest sign of seeing me. "Waves," he
said; "and a remarkably neat schooner. I'd swear that was Bellows's
voice. Hullo!" He shouted suddenly at the top of his voice.

I thought he was up to some foolery. Then I saw littered about his feet
the shattered remains of the best of our electrometers. "What's up,
man?" said I. "You've smashed the electrometer!"

"Bellows again!" said he. "Friends left, if my hands are gone. Something
about electrometers. Which way are you, Bellows?" He suddenly came
staggering towards me. "The damned stuff cuts like butter," he said. He
walked straight into the bench and recoiled. "None so buttery, that!" he
said, and stood swaying.

I felt scared. "Davidson," said I, "what on earth's come over you?"

He looked round him in every direction. "I could swear that was Bellows.
Why don't you show yourself like a man, Bellows?"

It occurred to me that he must be suddenly struck blind. I walked round
the table and laid my hand upon his arm. I never saw a man more startled
in my life. He jumped away from me, and came round into an attitude of
self-defense, his face fairly distorted with terror: "Good God!" he
cried. "What was that?"

"It's I--Bellows. Confound it, Davidson!"

He jumped when I answered him and stared--how can I express it--? Right
through me. He began talking, not to me, but to himself. "Here in broad
daylight on a clear beach. Not a place to hide in." He looked about him
wildly. "Here! I'm off." He suddenly turned and ran headlong into the
big electromagnet--so violently that, as we found afterwards, he bruised
his shoulder and jawbone cruelly. At that he stepped back a pace, and
cried out with almost a whimper, "What, in Heaven's name, has come over
me?" He stood, blanched with terror and trembling violently, with his
right arm clutching his left, where that had collided with the magnet.

By that time I was excited, and fairly excited. "Davidson," said I,
"don't be afraid."

He was startled at my voice, but not so excessively as before. I
repeated my words in as clear and firm a tone as I could assume.
"Bellows," he said, "is that you?"

"Can't you see it's me?"

He laughed. "I can't even see it's myself. Where the devil are we?"
"Here," said I, "in the laboratory."

"The laboratory!" he answered, in a puzzled tone, and put his hand to
his forehead. "I was in the laboratory--till that flash came, but I'm
hanged if I'm there now. What ship is that?"

"There's no ship," said I. "Do be sensible, old chap."

"No ship!" he repeated, and seemed to forget my denial forthwith. "I
suppose," said he, slowly, "we're both dead. But the rummy part is I
feel just as though I still had a body. Don't get used to it all at
once, I suppose. The old shop was struck by lightning, I suppose. Jolly
quick thing, Bellows--eigh?"

"Don't talk nonsense. You're very much alive. You are in the laboratory,
blundering about. You've just smashed a new electrometer. I don't envy
you when Boyce arrives."

He stared away from me towards the diagrams of cryohydrates. "I must be
deaf," said he. "They've fired a gun, for there goes the puff of smoke,
and I never heard a sound."

I put my hand on his arm again, and this time he was less alarmed. "We
seem to have a sort of invisible bodies," said he. "By Jove! There's a
boat coming round the headland! It's very much like the old life after
all--in a different climate."

I shook his arm. "Davidson," I cried, "wake up!"

It was just then that Boyce came in. So soon as he spoke Davidson
exclaimed: "Old Boyce! Dead too! What a lark!" I hastened to explain
that Davidson was in a kind of somnambulistic trance. Boyce was
interested at once. We both did all we could to rouse the fellow out of
his extraordinary state. He answered our questions, and asked us some of
his own, but his attention seemed distracted by his hallucination about
a beach and a ship. He kept interpolating observations concerning some
boat and the davits and sails filling with the wind. It made one feel
queer, in the dusky laboratory, to hear him saying such things.

He was blind and helpless. We had to walk him down the passage, one at
each elbow, to Boyce's private room, and while Boyce talked to him
there, and humored him about this ship idea, I went along the corridor
and asked old Wade to come and look at him. The voice of our Dean
sobered him a little, but not very much. He asked where his hands were,
and why he had to walk about up to his waist in the ground. Wade thought
over him a long time--you know how he knits his brows--and then made him
feel the couch, guiding his hands to it. "That's a couch," said Wade.
"The couch in the private room of Professor Boyce. Horsehair stuffing."

Davidson felt about, and puzzled over it, and answered presently that he
could feel it all right, but he couldn't see it.

"What do you see?" asked Wade. Davidson said he could see nothing but a
lot of sand and broken-up shells. Wade gave him some other things to
feel, telling him what they were, and watching him keenly.

"The ship is almost hull down," said Davidson, presently, apropos of
nothing. "Never mind the ship," said Wade. "Listen to me, Davidson. Do
you know what hallucination means?"

"Rather," said Davidson.

"Well, everything you see is hallucinatory."

"Bishop Berkeley," said Davidson.

"Don't mistake me," said Wade. "You are alive, and in this room of
Boyce's. But something has happened to your eyes. You cannot see; you
can feel and hear, but not see. Do you follow me?"

"It seems to me that I see too much." Davidson rubbed his knuckles into
his eyes. "Well?" he said.

"That's all. Don't let it perplex you. Bellows, here, and I will take
you home in a cab."

"Wait a bit." Davidson thought. "Help me to sit down," said he,
presently; "and now--I'm sorry to trouble you--but will you tell me all
that over again?"

Wade repeated it very patiently. Davidson shut his eyes, and pressed his
hands upon his forehead. "Yes," said he. "It's quite right. Now my eyes
are shut I know you're right. That's you, Bellows, sitting by me on the
couch. I'm in England again. And we're in the dark."

Then he opened his eyes. "And there," said he, "is the sun just rising,
and the yards of the ship, and a tumbled sea, and a couple of birds
flying. I never saw anything so real. And I'm sitting up to my neck in a
bank of sand."

He bent forward and covered his face with his hands. Then he opened his
eyes again. "Dark sea and sunrise! And yet I'm sitting on a sofa in old
Boyce's room...! God help me!"

That was the beginning. For three weeks this strange affection of
Davidson's eyes continued unabated. It was far worse than being blind.
He was absolutely helpless, and had to be fed like a newly hatched bird,
and led about and undressed. If he attempted to move he fell over things
or struck himself against walls or doors. After a day or so he got used
to hearing our voices without seeing us, and willingly admitted he was
at home, and that Wade was right in what he told him. My sister, to whom
he was engaged, insisted on coming to see him, and would sit for hours
every day while he talked about this beach of his. Holding her hand
seemed to comfort him immensely. He explained that when we left the
College and drove home--he lived in Hampstead Village--it appeared to
him as if we drove right through a sandhill--it was perfectly black
until he emerged again--and through rocks and trees and solid obstacles,
and when he was taken to his own room it made him giddy and almost
frantic with the fear of falling, because going upstairs seemed to lift
him thirty or forty feet above the rocks of his imaginary island. He
kept saying he should smash all the eggs. The end was that he had to be
taken down into his father's consulting-room and laid upon a couch that
stood there.

He described the island as being a bleak kind of place on the whole,
with very little vegetation, except some peaty stuff, and a lot of bare
rock. There were multitudes of penguins, and they made the rocks white
and disagreeable to see. The sea was often rough, and once there was a
thunderstorm, and he lay and shouted at the silent flashes. Once or
twice seals pulled up on the beach but, only on the first two or three
days. He said it was very funny the way in which the penguins used to
waddle right through him, and how he seemed to lie among them without
disturbing them.

I remember one odd thing, and that was when he wanted very badly to
smoke. We put a pipe in his hands--he almost poked his eye out with
it--and lit it. But he couldn't taste anything. I've since found it's
the same with me--I don't know if it's the usual case--that I cannot
enjoy tobacco at all unless I can see the smoke.

But the queerest part of his vision came when Wade sent him out in a
Bath-chair to get fresh air. The Davidsons hired a chair, and got that
deaf and obstinate dependent of theirs, Widgery, to attend to it.
Widgery's ideas of healthy expeditions were peculiar. My sister, who had
been to the Dog's Home, met them in Camden Town, towards King's Cross.
Widgery trotting along complacently, and Davidson evidently most
distressed, trying in his feeble, blind way to attract Widgery's
attention.

He positively wept when my sister spoke to him. "Oh, get me out of this
horrible darkness!" he said, feeling for her hand. "I must get out of
it, or I shall die." He was quite incapable of explaining what was the
matter, but my sister decided he must go home, and presently, as they
went up the hill towards Hampstead, the horror seemed to drop from him.
He said it was good to see the stars again, though it was then about
noon and a blazing day.

"It seemed," he told me afterwards, "as if I was being carried
irresistibly towards the water. I was not very much alarmed at first. Of
course it was night there--a lovely night."

"Of course?" I asked, for that struck me as odd.

"Of course," said he. "It's always night there when it is day here...
Well, we went right into the water, which was calm and shining under the
moonlight--just a broad swell that seemed to grow broader and flatter as
I came down into it. The surface glistened just like a skin--it might
have been empty space underneath for all I could tell to the contrary.
Very slowly, for I rode slanting into it, the water crept up to my eyes.
Then I went under, and the skin seemed to break and heal again about my
eyes. The moon gave a jump up in the sky and grew green and dim, and
fish, faintly glowing, came darting round me--and things that seemed
made of luminous glass, and I passed through a tangle of seaweeds that
shone with an oily luster. And so I drove down into the sea, and the
stars went out one by one, and the moon grew greener and darker, and the
seaweed became a luminous purple-red. It was all very faint and
mysterious, and everything seemed to quiver. And all the while I could
hear the wheels of the Bath-chair creaking, and the footsteps of people
going by, and a man in the distance selling the special "Pall Mall."

"I kept sinking down deeper and deeper into the water. It became inky
black about me, not a ray from above came down into that darkness, and
the phosphorescent things grew brighter and brighter. The snaky branches
of the deeper weeds flickered like the flames of spirit-lamps; but after
a time, there were no more weeds. The fishes came staring and gaping
towards me, and into me and through me. I never imagined such fishes
before. They had lines of fire along the sides of them as though they
had been outlined with a luminous pencil. And there was a ghastly thing
swimming backward with a lot of twining arms. And then I saw, coming
very slowly towards me through the gloom, a hazy mass of light that
resolved itself as it drew nearer into multitudes of fishes, struggling
and darting round something that drifted. I drove on straight towards
it, and presently I saw in the midst of the tumult, and by the light of
the fish, a bit of splintered spar looming over me, and a dark hull
tilting over, and some glowing phosphorescent forms that were shaken and
writhed as the fish bit at them. Then it was I began to try to attract
Widgery's attention. A horror came upon me. Ugh! I should have driven
right into those half-eaten--things. If your sister had not come! They
had great holes in them, Bellows, and... Never mind. But it was
ghastly!"

For three weeks Davidson remained in this singular state, seeing what at
the time we imagined was an altogether phantasmal world, and stone blind
to the world around him. Then, one Tuesday, when I called, I met old
Davidson in the passage. "He can see his thumb!" the old gentleman said,
in a perfect transport. He was struggling into his overcoat. "He can see
his thumb, Bellows!" he said, with the tears in his eyes. "The lad will
be all right yet."

I rushed in to Davidson. He was holding up a little book before his
face, and looking at it and laughing in a weak kind of way.

"It's amazing," said he. "There's a kind of patch come there." He
pointed with his finger. "I'm on the rocks as usual, and the penguins
are staggering and flapping about as usual, and there's been a whale
showing every now and then, but it's got too dark now to make him out.
But put something there, and I see it--I do see it. It's very dim and
broken in places, but I see it all the same, like a faint specter of
itself. I found it out this morning while they were dressing me. It's
like a hole in this infernal phantom world. Just put your hand by mine.
No--not there. Ah! Yes! I see it. The base of your thumb and a bit of
cuff! It looks like the ghost of a bit of your hand sticking out of the
darkening sky. Just by it there's a group of stars like a cross coming
out."

From that time Davidson began to mend. His account of the change, like
his account of the vision, was oddly convincing. Over patches of his
field of vision the phantom world grew fainter, grew transparent, as it
were, and through these translucent gaps he began to see dimly the real
world about him. The patches grew in size and number, ran together and
spread until only here and there were blind spots left upon his eyes. He
was able to get up and steer himself about, feed himself once more,
read, smoke, and behave like an ordinary citizen again. At first it was
very confusing to him to have these two pictures overlapping each other
like the changing views of a lantern, but in a little while he began to
distinguish the real from the illusory.

At first he was unfeignedly glad, and seemed only too anxious to
complete his cure by taking exercise and tonics. But as that odd island
of his began to fade away from him, he became queerly interested in it.
He wanted particularly to go down into the deep sea again, and would
spend half his time wandering about the low-lying parts of London,
trying to find the water-logged wreck he had seen drifting. The glare of
real daylight very soon impressed him so vividly as to blot out
everything of his shadowy world, but of a night time, in a darkened
room, he could still see the white-splashed rocks of the island, and the
clumsy penguins staggering to and fro. But even these grew fainter and
fainter, and at last, soon after he married my sister, he saw them for
the last time.

And now to tell of the queerest thing of all. About two years after his
cure, I dined with the Davidsons, and after dinner a man named Atkins
called in. He is a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and a pleasant,
talkative man. He was on friendly terms with my brother-in-law, and was
soon on friendly terms with me. It came out that he was engaged to
Davidson's cousin, and incidentally he took out a kind of pocket
photograph case to show us a new rendering of his fiancee. "And, by the
bye," said he, "here's the old Fulmar."

Davidson looked at it casually. Then suddenly his face lit up. "Good
heavens!" said he. "I could almost swear--"

"What?" said Atkins.

"That I had seen that ship before."

"Don't see how you can have. She hasn't been out of the South Seas for
six years, and before then--"

"But," began Davidson, and then, "Yes--that's the ship I dreamt of. I'm
sure that's the ship I dreamt of. She was standing off an island that
swarmed with penguins, and she fired a gun."

"Good Lord!" said Atkins, who had never heard the particulars of the
seizure. "How the deuce could you dream that?"

And then, bit by bit, it came out that on the very day Davidson was
seized, 'H.M.S. Fulmar' had actually been off a little rock to the south
of Antipodes Island. A boat had landed overnight to get penguins' eggs,
had been delayed, and a thunderstorm drifting up, the boat's crew had
waited until the morning before rejoining the ship. Atkins had been one
of them, and he corroborated, word for word, the descriptions Davidson
had given of the island and the boat. There is not the slightest doubt
in any of our minds that Davidson has really seen the place. In some
unaccountable way, while he moved hither and thither in London, his
sight moved hither and thither in a manner that corresponded, about this
distant island. How is absolutely a mystery.

That completes the remarkable story of Davidson's eyes. It is perhaps
the best authenticated case in existence of a real vision at a distance.
Explanation, there is none forthcoming, except what Professor Wade has
thrown out. But his explanation invokes the Fourth Dimension, and a
dissertation on theoretical kinds of space. To talk of there being "a
kink in space" seems mere nonsense to me; it may be because I am no
mathematician. When I said that nothing would alter the fact that the
place is eight thousand miles away, he answered that two points might be
a yard away on a sheet of paper and yet be brought together by bending
the paper round. The reader may grasp his argument, but I certainly do
not. His idea seems to be that Davidson, stooping between the poles of
the big electromagnet, had some extraordinary twist given to his retinal
elements through the sudden change in the field of force due to the
lightning.

He thinks, as a consequence of this, that it may be possible to live
visually in one part of the world, while one lives bodily in another. He
has even made some experiments in support of his views; but so far, he
has simply succeeded in blinding a few dogs. I believe that is the net
result of his work, though I have not seen him for some weeks. Latterly,
I have been so busy with my work in connection with the 'Saint Pancras'
installation that I have had little opportunity of calling to see him.
But the whole of his theory seems fantastic to me. The facts concerning
Davidson stand on an altogether different footing, and I can testify
personally to the accuracy of every detail I have given.




THE LORD OF THE DYNAMOS


The chief attendant of the three dynamos that buzzed and rattled at
Camberwell, and kept the electric railway going, came out of Yorkshire,
and his name was James Holroyd. He was a practical electrician, but fond
of whisky, a heavy red-haired brute with irregular teeth. He doubted the
existence of the Deity, but accepted Carnot's cycle, and he had read
Shakespeare and found him weak in chemistry. His helper came out of the
mysterious East, and his name was Azuma-zi. But Holroyd called him
Pooh-bah. Holroyd liked a nigger help because he would stand kicking--a
habit with Holroyd--and did not pry into the machinery and try to learn
the ways of it. Certain odd possibilities of the negro mind brought into
abrupt contact with the crown of our civilisation Holroyd never fully
realised, though just at the end he got some inkling of them.

To define Azuma-zi was beyond ethnology. He was, perhaps, more negroid
than anything else, though his hair was curly rather than frizzy, and
his nose had a bridge. Moreover, his skin was brown rather than black,
and the whites of his eyes were yellow. His broad cheek-bones and narrow
chin gave his face something of the viperine V. His head too, was broad
behind, and low and narrow at the forehead, as if his brain had been
twisted round in the reverse way to a European's. He was short of
stature and still shorter of English. In conversation he made numerous
odd noises of no known marketable value, and his infrequent words were
carved and wrought into heraldic grotesqueness. Holroyd tried to
elucidate his religious beliefs, and--especially after whisky--lectured
to him against superstition and missionaries. Azuma-zi, however, shirked
the discussion of his gods, even though he was kicked for it.

Azuma-zi had come, clad in white but insufficient raiment, out of the
stoke-hole of the Lord Clive, from the Straits Settlements, and beyond,
into London. He had heard even in his youth of the greatness and riches
of London, where all the women are white and fair, and even the beggars
in the streets are white, and he arrived, with newly-earned gold coins
in his pocket, to worship at the shrine of civilisation. The day of his
landing was a dismal one; the sky was dun, and a wind-worried drizzle
filtered down to the greasy streets, but he plunged boldly into the
delights of Shadwell, and was presently cast up, shattered in health,
civilised in costume, penniless and, except in matters of the direst
necessity, practically a dumb animal, to toil for James Holroyd and to
be bullied by him in the dynamo shed at Camberwell. And to James Holroyd
bullying was a labour of love.

There were three dynamos with their engines at Camberwell. The two that
had been there since the beginning were small machines; the larger one
was new. The smaller machines made a reasonable noise; their straps
hummed over the drums, every now and then the brushes buzzed and
fizzled, and the air churned steadily, whoo! Whoo! Whoo! Between their
poles. One was loose in its foundations and kept the shed vibrating. But
the big dynamo drowned these little noises altogether with the sustained
drone of its iron core, which somehow set part of the ironwork humming.
The place made the visitor's head reel with the throb, throb, throb of
the engines, the rotation of the big wheels, the spinning ball-valves,
the occasional spittings of the steam, and over all the deep, unceasing,
surging note of the big dynamo. This last noise was from an engineering
point of view a defect, but Azuma-zi accounted it unto the monster for
mightiness and pride.

If it were possible we would have the noises of that shed always about
the reader as he reads, we would tell all our story to such an
accompaniment. It was a steady stream of din, from which the ear picked
out first one thread and then another; there was the intermittent
snorting, panting, and seething of the steam-engines, the suck and thud
of their pistons, the dull beat on the air as the spokes of the great
driving wheels came round, a note the leather straps made as they ran
tighter and looser, and a fretful tumult from the dynamos; and over all,
sometimes inaudible, as the ear tired of it, and then creeping back upon
the senses again, was this trombone note of the big machine. The floor
never felt steady and quiet beneath one's feet, but quivered and jarred.
It was a confusing, unsteady place, and enough to send anyone's thoughts
jerking into odd zigzags. And for three months, while the big strike of
the engineers was in progress, Holroyd, who was a blackleg, and
Azuma-zi, who was a mere black, were never out of the stir and eddy of
it, but slept and fed in the little wooden shanty between the shed and
the gates.

Holroyd delivered a theological lecture on the text of his big machine
soon after Azuma-zi came. He had to shout to be heard in the din. "Look
at that," said Holroyd; "where's your 'eathen idol to match 'im?" And
Azuma-zi looked. For a moment Holroyd was inaudible, and then Azuma-zi
heard: "Kill a hundred men. Twelve per cent. on the ordinary shares,"
said Holroyd, "and that's something like a Gord!"

Holroyd was proud of his big dynamo, and expatiated upon its size and
power to Azuma-zi until heaven knows what odd currents of thought, that
and the incessant whirling and shindy, set up within the curly black
cranium. He would explain in the most graphic manner the dozen or so
ways in which a man might be killed by it, and once he gave Azuma-zi a
shock as a sample of its quality. After that, in the breathing times of
his labour--it was heavy labour, being not only his own, but most of
Holroyd's--Azuma-zi would sit and watch the big machine. Now and then
the brushes would sparkle and spit blue flashes, at which Holroyd would
swear, but all the rest was as smooth and rhythmic as breathing. The
band ran shouting over the shaft, and ever behind one as one watched was
the complacent thud of the piston. So it lived all day in this big airy
shed, with him and Holroyd to wait upon it; not prisoned up and slaving
to drive a ship as the other engines he knew--mere captive devils of the
British Solomon--had been, but a machine enthroned. Those two smaller
dynamos, Azuma-zi by force of contrast despised; the large one he
privately christened the Lord of the Dynamos. They were fretful and
irregular, but the big dynamo was steady. How great it was! How serene
and easy in its working! Greater and calmer even than the Buddhas he had
seen at Rangoon, and yet not motionless, but living! The great black
coils spun, spun, spun, the rings ran round under the brushes, and the
deep note of its coil steadied the whole. It affected Azuma-zi queerly.

Azuma-zi was not fond of labour. He would sit about and watch the Lord
of the Dynamos while Holroyd went away to persuade the yard porter to
get whisky, although his proper place was not in the dynamo shed but
behind the engines and, moreover if Holroyd caught him skulking he got
hit for it with a rod of stout copper wire. He would go and stand close
to the colossus and look up at the great leather band running overhead.
There was a black patch on the band that came round, and it pleased him
somehow among all the clatter to watch this return again and again. Odd
thoughts spun with the whirl of it. Scientific people tell us that
savages give souls to rocks and trees--and a machine is a thousand times
more alive than a rock or a tree. And Azuma-zi was practically a savage
still; the veneer of civilisation lay no deeper than his slop suit, his
bruises, and the coal grime on his face and hands. His father before him
had worshipped a meteoric stone, kindred blood it may be had splashed
the broad wheels of Juggernaut.

He took every opportunity Holroyd gave him of touching and handling the
great dynamo that was fascinating him. He polished and cleaned it until
the metal parts were blinding in the sun. He felt a mysterious sense of
service in doing this. He would go up to it and touch its spinning coils
gently. The gods he had worshipped were all far away. The people in
London hid their gods.

At last his dim feelings grew more distinct, and took shape in thoughts
and at last in acts. When he came into the roaring shed one morning he
salaamed to the Lord of the Dynamos, and then when Holroyd was away, he
went and whispered to the thundering machine that he was its servant,
and prayed it to have pity on him and save him from Holroyd. As he did
so a rare gleam of light came in through the open archway of the
throbbing machine-shed, and the Lord of the Dynamos, as he whirled and
roared, was radiant with pale gold. Then Azuma-zi knew that his service
was acceptable to his Lord. After that he did not feel so lonely as he
had done, and he had indeed been very much alone in London. And even
when his work-time was over, which was rare, he loitered about the shed.

The next time Holroyd maltreated him, Azuma-zi went presently to the
Lord of the Dynamos and whispered, "Thou seest, O my Lord!" and the
angry whir of the machinery seemed to answer him. Thereafter it appeared
to him that whenever Holroyd came into the shed a different note mingled
with the sounds of the dynamo. "My Lord bides his time," said Azuma-zi
to himself. "The iniquity of the fool is not yet ripe." And he waited
and watched for the day of reckoning. One day there was evidence of
short circuiting, and Holroyd, making an unwary examination--it was in
the afternoon--got a rather severe shock. Azuma-zi from behind the
engine saw him jump off and curse at the peccant coil.

"He is warned," said Azuma-zi to himself. "Surely my Lord is very
patient."

Holroyd had at first initiated his "nigger" into such elementary
conceptions of the dynamo's working as would enable him to take
temporary charge of the shed in his absence. But when he noticed the
manner in which Azuma-zi hung about the monster he became suspicious. He
dimly perceived his assistant was "up to something," and connecting him
with the anointing of the coils with oil that had rotted the varnish in
one place, he issued an edict, shouted above the confusion of the
machinery, "Don't 'ee go nigh that big dynamo any more, Pooh-bah, or
a'll take thy skin off!" Besides, if it pleased Azuma-zi to be near the
big machine, it was plain sense and decency to keep him away from it.

Azuma-zi obeyed at the time, but later he was caught bowing before the
Lord of the Dynamos. At which Holroyd twisted his arm and kicked him as
he turned to go away. As Azuma-zi presently stood behind the engine and
glared at the back of the hated Holroyd, the noises of the machinery
took a new rhythm, and sounded like four words in his native tongue.

It is hard to say exactly what madness is. I fancy Azuma-zi was mad. The
incessant din and whirl of the dynamo shed may have churned up his
little store of knowledge and his big store of superstitious fancy, at
last, into something akin to frenzy. At any rate, when the idea of
making Holroyd a sacrifice to the Dynamo Fetich was thus suggested to
him, it filled him with a strange tumult of exultant emotion.

That night the two men and their black shadows were alone in the shed
together. The shed was lit with one big arc-light that winked and
flickered purple. The shadows lay black behind the dynamos, the ball
governors of the engines whirled from light to darkness, and their
pistons beat loud and steady. The world outside seen through the open
end of the shed seemed incredibly dim and remote. It seemed absolutely
silent too, since the riot of the machinery drowned every external
sound. Far away was the black fence of the yard with grey shadowy houses
behind, and above was the deep blue sky and the pale little stars.
Azuma-zi suddenly walked across the centre of the shed above which the
leather bands were running, and went into the shadow by the big dynamo.
Holroyd heard a click, and the spin of the armature changed.

"What are you dewin' with that switch?" he bawled in surprise. "Han't I
told you--"

Then he saw the set expression of Azuma-zi's eyes as the Asiatic came
out of the shadow towards him.

In another moment the two men were grappling fiercely in front of the
great dynamo.

"You coffee-headed fool!" gasped Holroyd, with a brown hand at his
throat. "Keep off those contact rings." In another moment he was tripped
and reeling back upon the Lord of the Dynamos. He instinctively loosened
his grip upon his antagonist to save himself from the machine.


The messenger, sent in furious haste from the station, to find out what
had happened in the dynamo shed, met Azuma-zi at the porter's lodge by
the gate. Azuma-zi tried to explain something, but the messenger could
make nothing of the black's incoherent English, and hurried on to the
shed. The machines were all noisily at work, and nothing seemed to be
disarranged. There was, however, a queer smell of singed hair. Then he
saw an odd-looking crumpled mass clinging to the front of the big
dynamo, and approaching, recognised the distorted remains of Holroyd.

The man stared and hesitated a moment. Then he saw the face, and shut
his eyes convulsively. He turned on his heel before he opened them, so
that he should not see Holroyd again, and went out of the shed to get
advice and help.

When Azuma-zi saw Holroyd die in the grip of the Great Dynamo he had
been a little scared about the consequences of his act. Yet he felt
strangely elated, and knew that the favour of the Lord Dynamo was upon
him. His plan was already settled when he met the man coming from the
station, and the scientific manager who speedily arrived on the scene
jumped at the obvious conclusion of suicide. This expert scarcely
noticed Azuma-zi, except to ask a few questions. Did he see Holroyd kill
himself? Azuma-zi explained that he had been out of sight at the engine
furnace until he heard a difference in the noise from the dynamo. It was
not a difficult examination, being untinctured by suspicion.

The distorted remains of Holroyd, which the electrician removed from the
machine, were hastily covered by the porter with a coffee-stained
tablecloth. Somebody, by a happy inspiration, fetched a medical man. The
expert was chiefly anxious to get the machine at work again, for seven
or eight trains had stopped midway in the stuffy tunnels of the electric
railway. Azuma-zi, answering or misunderstanding the questions of the
people who had by authority or impudence come into the shed, was
presently sent back to the stoke-hole by the scientific manager. Of
course a crowd collected outside the gates of the yard--a crowd, for no
known reason, always hovers for a day or two near the scene of a sudden
death in London; two or three reporters percolated somehow into the
engine shed, and one even got to Azuma-zi; but the scientific expert
cleared them out again, being himself an amateur journalist.

Presently the body was carried away, and public interest departed with
it. Azuma-zi remained very quietly at his furnace, seeing over and over
again in the coals a figure that wriggled violently and became still. An
hour after the murder, to anyone coming into the shed it would have
looked exactly as if nothing had ever happened there. Peeping presently
from his engine-room the black saw the Lord Dynamo spin and whirl beside
his little brothers, and the driving-wheels were beating round, and the
steam in the pistons went thud, thud, exactly as it had been earlier in
the evening. After all, from the mechanical point of view, it had been a
most insignificant incident--the mere temporary deflection of a current.
But now the slender form and slender shadow of the scientific manager
replaced the sturdy outline of Holroyd travelling up and down the lane
of light upon the vibrating floor under the straps between the engines
and the dynamos.

"Have I not served my Lord?" said Azuma-zi inaudibly, from his shadow,
and the note of the great dynamo rang out full and clear. As he looked
at the big whirling mechanism the strange fascination of it that had
been a little in abeyance since Holroyd's death, resumed its sway.

Never had Azuma-zi seen a man killed so swiftly and pitilessly. The big
humming machine had slain its victim without wavering for a second from
its steady beating. It was indeed a mighty god.

The unconscious scientific manager stood with his back to him,
scribbling on a piece of paper. His shadow lay at the foot of the
monster.

"Was the Lord Dynamo still hungry? His servant was ready."

Azuma-zi made a stealthy step forward; then stopped. The scientific
manager suddenly ceased his writing, walked down the shed to the endmost
of the dynamos, and began to examine the brushes.

Azuma-zi hesitated, and then slipped across noiselessly into shadow by
the switch. There he waited. Presently the manager's footsteps could be
heard returning. He stopped in his old position, unconscious of the
stoker crouching ten feet away from him. Then the big dynamo suddenly
fizzled, and in another moment Azuma-zi had sprung out of the darkness
upon him.

The scientific manager was gripped round the body and swung towards the
big dynamo. Kicking with his knee and forcing his antagonist's head down
with his hands, he loosened the grip on his waist and swung round away
from the machine. Then the black grasped him again, putting a curly head
against his chest, and they swayed and panted as it seemed for an age or
so. Then the scientific manager was impelled to catch a black ear in his
teeth and bite furiously. The black yelled hideously.

They rolled over on the floor, and the black, who had apparently slipped
from the vice of the teeth or parted with some ear--the scientific
manager wondered which at the time--tried to throttle him. The
scientific manager was making some ineffectual attempts to claw
something with his hands and to kick, when the welcome sound of quick
footsteps sounded on the floor. The next moment Azuma-zi had left him
and darted towards the big dynamo. There was a splutter amid the roar.

The officer of the company who had entered, stood staring as Azuma-zi
caught the naked terminals in his hands, gave one horrible convulsion,
and then hung motionless from the machine, his face violently distorted.

"I'm jolly glad you came in when you did," said the scientific manager,
still sitting on the floor.

He looked at the still quivering figure.

"It's not a nice death to die, apparently--but it is quick."

The official was still staring at the body. He was a man of slow
apprehension.

There was a pause.

The scientific manager got up on his feet rather awkwardly. He ran his
fingers along his collar thoughtfully, and moved his head to and fro
several times.

"Poor Holroyd! I see now." Then almost mechanically he went towards the
switch in the shadow and turned the current into the railway circuit
again. As he did so the singed body loosened its grip upon the machine
and fell forward on its face. The core of the dynamo roared out loud and
clear, and the armature beat the air.

So ended prematurely the Worship of the Dynamo Deity, perhaps the most
short-lived of all religions. Yet withal it could at least boast a
Martyrdom and a Human Sacrifice.




THE HAMMERPOND PARK BURGLARY


It is a moot point whether burglary is to be considered as a sport, a
trade, or an art. For a trade, the technique is scarcely rigid enough,
and its claims to be considered an art, are vitiated by the mercenary
element that qualifies its triumphs. On the whole it seems to be most
justly ranked as sport, a sport for which no rules are at present
formulated, and of which the prizes are distributed in an extremely
informal manner. It was this informality of burglary that led to the
regrettable extinction of two promising beginners at Hammerpond Park.

The stakes offered in this affair consisted chiefly of diamonds and
other personal bric-a-brac belonging to the newly married Lady Aveling.
Lady Aveling, as the reader will remember, was the only daughter of Mrs.
Montague Pangs, the well-known hostess. Her marriage to Lord Aveling was
extensively advertised in the papers, the quantity and quality of her
wedding presents, and the fact that the honeymoon was to be spent at
Hammerpond. The announcement of these valuable prizes, created a
considerable sensation in the small circle in which Mr. Teddy Watkins
was the undisputed leader, and it was decided that, accompanied by a
duly qualified assistant, he should visit the village of Hammerpond in
his professional capacity.

Being a man of naturally retiring and modest disposition, Mr. Watkins
determined to make this visit incognito, and after due consideration of
the conditions of his enterprise, he selected the role of a landscape
artist and the unassuming surname of Smith. He preceded his assistant,
who, it was decided, should join him only on the last afternoon of his
stay at Hammerpond. Now the village of Hammerpond is perhaps one of the
prettiest little corners in Sussex; many thatched houses still survive,
the flint-built church with its tall spire nestling under the down is
one of the finest and least restored in the county, and the beech-woods
and bracken jungles through which the road runs to the great house are
singularly rich in what the vulgar artist and photographer call "bits."
So that Mr. Watkins, on his arrival with two virgin canvases, a
brand-new easel, a paint-box, portmanteau, an ingenious little ladder
made in sections (after the pattern of the late lamented master Charles
Peace), crowbar, and wire coils, found himself welcomed with effusion
and some curiosity by half-a-dozen other brethren of the brush. It
rendered the disguise he had chosen unexpectedly plausible, but it
inflicted upon him a considerable amount of aesthetic conversation for
which he was very imperfectly prepared.

"Have you exhibited very much?" said Young Person in the bar-parlour of
the "Coach and Horses," where Mr. Watkins was skilfully accumulating
local information, on the night of his arrival.

"Very little," said Mr. Watkins, "just a snack here and there."

"Academy?"

"In course. And the Crystal Palace."

"Did they hang you well?" said Porson.

"Don't rot," said Mr. Watkins; "I don't like it."

"I mean did they put you in a good place?"

"Whadyer mean?" said Mr. Watkins suspiciously. "One 'ud think you were
trying to make out I'd been put away."

Porson had been brought up by aunts, and was a gentlemanly young man
even for an artist; he did not know what being "put away" meant, but he
thought it best to explain that he intended nothing of the sort. As the
question of hanging seemed a sore point with Mr. Watkins, he tried to
divert the conversation a little.

"Do you do figure-work at all?"

"No, never had a head for figures," said Mr. Watkins, "my miss--Mrs.
Smith, I mean, does all that."

"She paints too!" said Porson. "That's rather jolly."

"Very," said Mr. Watkins, though he really did not think so, and feeling
the conversation was drifting a little beyond his grasp added, "I came
down here to paint Hammerpond House by moonlight."

"Really!" said Porson. "That's rather a novel idea."

"Yes," said Mr. Watkins, "I thought it rather a good notion when it
occurred to me. I expect to begin to-morrow night."

"What! You don't mean to paint in the open, by night?"

"I do, though."

"But how will you see your canvas?"

"Have a bloomin' cop's--" began Mr. Watkins, rising too quickly to the
question, and then realising this, bawled to Miss Durgan for another
glass of cheer. "I'm goin' to have a thing called a dark lantern," he
said to Porson.

"But it's about new moon now," objected Porson. "There won't be any
moon."

"There'll be the house," said Watkins, "at any rate. I'm goin', you see,
to paint the house first and the moon afterwards."

"Oh!" said Porson, too staggered to continue the conversation.

"They doo say," said old Durgan, the landlord, who had maintained a
respectful silence during the technical conversation, "as there's no
less than three p'licemen from 'Azelworth on dewty every night in the
house--'count of this Lady Aveling 'n her jewellery. One'm won
fower-and-six last night, off second footman--tossin'."

Towards sunset next day Mr. Watkins, virgin canvas, easel, and a very
considerable case of other appliances in hand, strolled up the pleasant
pathway through the beech-woods to Hammerpond Park, and pitched his
apparatus in a strategic position commanding the house. Here he was
observed by Mr. Raphael Sant, who was returning across the park from a
study of the chalk-pits. His curiosity having been fired by Person's
account of the new arrival, he turned aside with the idea of discussing
nocturnal art.

Mr. Watkins was apparently unaware of his approach. A friendly
conversation with Lady Hammerpond's butler had just terminated, and that
individual, surrounded by the three pet dogs, which it was his duty to
take for an airing after dinner had been served, was receding in the
distance. Mr. Watkins was mixing colour with an air of great industry.
Sant, approaching more nearly, was surprised to see the colour in
question was as harsh and brilliant an emerald green as it is possible
to imagine. Having cultivated an extreme sensibility to colour from his
earliest years, he drew the air in sharply between his teeth at the very
first glimpse of this brew. Mr. Watkins turned round. He looked annoyed.

"What on earth are you going to do with that beastly green?" said Sant.

Mr. Watkins realised that his zeal to appear busy in the eyes of the
butler had evidently betrayed him into some technical error. He looked
at Sant and hesitated.

"Pardon my rudeness," said Sant; "but really, that green is altogether
too amazing. It came as a shock. What do you mean to do with it?"

Mr. Watkins was collecting his resources. Nothing could save the
situation but decision. "If you come here interrupting my work," he
said, "I'm a-goin' to paint your face with it."

Sant retired, for he was a humorist and a peaceful man. Going down the
hill he met Porson and Wainwright. "Either that man is a genius or he is
a dangerous lunatic," said he. "Just go up and look at his green." And
he continued his way, his countenance brightened by a pleasant
anticipation of a cheerful affray round an easel in the gloaming, and
the shedding of much green paint.

But to Person and Wainwright Mr. Watkins was less aggressive, and
explained that the green was intended to be the first coating of his
picture. It was, he admitted in response to a remark, an absolutely new
method, invented by himself. But subsequently he became more reticent;
he explained he was not going to tell every passer-by the secret of his
own particular style, and added some scathing remarks upon the meanness
of people "hanging about" to pick up such tricks of the masters as they
could, which immediately relieved him of their company.

Twilight deepened, first one then another star appeared. The rooks amid
the tall trees to the left of the house had long since lapsed into
slumbrous silence, the house itself lost all the details of its
architecture and became a dark grey outline, and then the windows of the
salon shone out brilliantly, the conservatory was lighted up, and here
and there a bedroom window burnt yellow. Had anyone approached the easel
in the park it would have been found deserted. One brief uncivil word in
brilliant green sullied the purity of its canvas. Mr. Watkins was busy
in the shrubbery with his assistant, who had discreetly joined him from
the carriage-drive.

Mr. Watkins was inclined to be self-congratulatory upon the ingenious
device by which he had carried all his apparatus boldly, and in the
sight of all men, right up to the scene of operations. "That's the
dressing-room," he said to his assistant, "and, as soon as the maid
takes the candle away and goes down to supper, we'll call in. My! How
nice the house do look, to be sure, against the starlight, and with all
its windows and lights! Swopme, Jim, I almost wish I was a painter-chap.
Have you fixed that there wire across the path from the laundry?"

He cautiously approached the house until he stood below the
dressing-room window, and began to put together his folding ladder. He
was much too experienced a practitioner to feel any unusual excitement.
Jim was reconnoitring the smoking-room. Suddenly, close beside Mr.
Watkins in the bushes, there was a violent crash and a stifled curse.
Someone had tumbled over the wire which his assistant had just arranged.
He heard feet running on the gravel pathway beyond. Mr. Watkins, like
all true artists, was a singularly shy man, and he incontinently dropped
his folding ladder and began running circumspectly through the
shrubbery. He was indistinctly aware of two people hot upon his heels,
and he fancied that he distinguished the outline of his assistant in
front of him. In another moment he had vaulted the low stone wall
bounding the shrubbery, and was in the open park. Two thuds on the turf
followed his own leap.

It was a close chase in the darkness through the trees. Mr. Watkins was
a loosely-built man and in good training, and he gained hand-over-hand
upon the hoarsely panting figure in front. Neither spoke, but as Mr.
Watkins pulled up alongside, a qualm of awful doubt came over him. The
other man turned his head at the same moment and gave an exclamation of
surprise. "It's not Jim," thought Mr. Watkins, and simultaneously the
stranger flung himself, as it were, at Watkins' knees, and they were
forthwith grappling on the ground together. "Lend a hand, Bill," cried
the stranger as the third man came up. And Bill did--two hands in fact,
and some accentuated feet. The fourth man, presumably Jim, had
apparently turned aside and made off in a different direction. At any
rate, he did not join the trio.

Mr. Watkins' memory of the incidents of the next two minutes is
extremely vague. He has a dim recollection of having his thumb in the
corner of the mouth of the first man, and feeling anxious about its
safety, and for some seconds at least he held the head of the gentleman
answering to the name of Bill, to the ground by the hair. He was also
kicked in a great number of different places, apparently by a vast
multitude of people. Then the gentleman who was not Bill got his knee
below Mr. Watkins' diaphragm, and tried to curl him up upon it.

When his sensations became less entangled he was sitting upon the turf,
and eight or ten men--the night was dark, and he was rather too confused
to count--standing round him, apparently waiting for him to recover. He
mournfully assumed that he was captured, and would probably have made
some philosophical reflections on the fickleness of fortune, had not his
internal sensations disinclined him for speech.

He noticed very quickly that his wrists were not handcuffed, and then a
flask of brandy was put in his hands. This touched him a little--it was
such unexpected kindness.

"He's a-comin' round," said a voice which he fancied he recognised as
belonging to the Hammerpond second footman.

"We've got 'em, sir, both of 'em," said the Hammerpond butler, the man
who had handed him the flask. "Thanks to you."

No one answered this remark. Yet he failed to see how it applied to him.

"He's fair dazed," said a strange voice; "the villains half-murdered
him."

Mr. Teddy Watkins decided to remain fair dazed until he had a better
grasp of the situation. He perceived that two of the black figures round
him stood side-by-side with a dejected air, and there was something in
the carriage of their shoulders that suggested to his experienced eye,
hands that were bound together. Two! In a flash he rose to his position.
He emptied the little flask and staggered--obsequious hands assisting
him--to his feet. There was a sympathetic murmur.

"Shake hands, sir, shake hands," said one of the figures near him.
"Permit me to introduce myself. I am very greatly indebted to you. It
was the jewels of my wife, Lady Aveling, which attracted these
scoundrels to the house."

"Very glad to make your lordship's acquaintance," said Teddy Watkins.

"I presume you saw the rascals making for the shrubbery, and dropped
down on them?"

"That's exactly how it happened," said Mr. Watkins.

"You should have waited till they got in at the window," said Lord
Aveling; "they would get it hotter if they had actually committed the
burglary. And it was lucky for you two of the policemen were out by the
gates, and followed up the three of you. I doubt if you could have
secured the two of them--though it was confoundedly plucky of you, all
the same."

"Yes, I ought to have thought of all that," said Mr. Watkins; "but one
can't think of everything."

"Certainly not," said Lord Aveling. "I am afraid they have mauled you a
little," he added. The party was now moving towards the house. "You walk
rather lame. May I offer you my arm?"

And instead of entering Hammerpond House by the dressing-room window,
Mr. Watkins entered it--slightly intoxicated, and inclined now to
cheerfulness again--on the arm of a real live peer, and by the front
door. "This," thought Mr. Watkins, "is burgling in style!" The
"scoundrels," seen by the gaslight, proved to be mere local amateurs
unknown to Mr. Watkins, and they were taken down into the pantry and
there watched over by the three policemen, two gamekeepers with loaded
guns, the butler, an ostler, and a carman, until the dawn allowed of
their removal to Hazelhurst police-station. Mr. Watkins was made much of
in the salon. They devoted a sofa to him, and would not hear of a return
to the village that night. Lady Aveling was sure he was brilliantly
original, and said her idea of Turner was just such another rough,
half-inebriated, deep-eyed, brave, and clever man. Some one brought up a
remarkable little folding-ladder that had been picked up in the
shrubbery, and showed him how it was put together. They also described
how wires had been found in the shrubbery, evidently placed there to
trip-up unwary pursuers. It was lucky he had escaped these snares. And
they showed him the jewels.

Mr. Watkins had the sense not to talk too much, and in any
conversational difficulty fell back on his internal pains. At last he
was seized with stiffness in the back, and yawning. Everyone suddenly
awoke to the fact that it was a shame to keep him talking after his
affray, so he retired early to his room, the little red room next to
Lord Aveling's suite.


The dawn found a deserted easel bearing a canvas with a green
inscription, in the Hammerpond Park, and it found Hammerpond House in
commotion. But if the dawn found Mr. Teddy Watkins and the Aveling
diamonds, it did not communicate the information to the police.




THE MOTH


Probably you have heard of Hapley--not W.T. Hapley, the son, but the
celebrated Hapley, the Hapley of 'Periplaneta Hapliia,' Hapley the
entomologist.

If so you know at least of the great feud between Hapley and Professor
Pawkins, though certain of its consequences may be new to you. For those
who have not, a word or two of explanation is necessary, which the idle
reader may go over with a glancing eye, if his indolence so incline him.

It is amazing how very widely diffused is the ignorance of such really
important matters as this Hapley-Pawkins feud. Those epoch-making
controversies, again that have convulsed the Geological Society are, I
verily believe, almost entirely unknown outside the fellowship of that
body. I have heard men of fair general education even refer to the great
scenes at these meetings as vestry-meeting squabbles. Yet the great hate
of the English and Scotch geologists has lasted now half a century, and
has "left deep and abundant marks upon the body of the science." And
this Hapley-Pawkins business, though perhaps a more personal affair,
stirred passions as profound, if not profounder. Your common man has no
conception of the zeal that animates a scientific investigator, the fury
of contradiction you can arouse in him. It is the odium theologicum
(theological hatred) in a new form. There are men, for instance, who
would gladly burn Professor Ray Lankester at Smithfield for his
treatment of the Mollusca in the Encyclopaedia. That fantastic extension
of the Cephalopods to cover the Pteropods... But I wander from Hapley
and Pawkins.

It began years and years ago, with a revision of the Microlepidoptera
(whatever these may be) by Pawkins, in which he extinguished a new
species created by Hapley. Hapley, who was always quarrelsome, replied
by a stinging impeachment of the entire classification of Pawkins*.
Pawkins in his "Rejoinder**" suggested that Hapley's microscope was as
defective as his power of observation, and called him an "irresponsible
meddler--" Hapley was not a professor at that time. Hapley in his
retort***, spoke of "blundering collectors," and described, as if
inadvertently, Pawkins' revision as a "miracle of ineptitude." It was
war to the knife. However, it would scarcely interest the reader to
detail how these two great men quarrelled, and how the split between
them widened until from the Microlepidoptera they were at war upon every
open question in entomology. There were memorable occasions. At times
the Royal Entomological Society meetings resembled nothing so much as
the Chamber of Deputies. On the whole, I fancy Pawkins was nearer the
truth than Hapley. But Hapley was skilful with his rhetoric, had a turn
for ridicule rare in a scientific man, was endowed with vast energy, and
had a fine sense of injury in the matter of the extinguished species;
while Pawkins was a man of dull presence, prosy of speech, in shape not
unlike a water-barrel, over-conscientious with testimonials, and
suspected of jobbing museum appointments. So the young men gathered
round Hapley and applauded him. It was a long struggle, vicious from the
beginning and growing at last to pitiless antagonism. The successive
turns of fortune, now an advantage to one side and now to another--now
Hapley tormented by some success of Pawkins, and now Pawkins outshone by
Hapley, belong rather to the history of entomology than to this story.

[* "Remarks on a Recent Revision of Microlepidoptera," Quarterly Journal
Entomological Society, 1863.]

[** "Rejoinder to Certain Remarks," etc. Ibid. 1864.]

[*** "Further Remarks," etc. Ibid.]

But in 1891 Pawkins, whose health had been bad for some time, published
some work upon the "mesoblast" of the Death's-Head Moth. What the
mesoblast of the Death's-Head Moth may be does not matter a rap in this
story. But the work was far below his usual standard, and gave Hapley an
opening he had coveted for years. He must have worked night and day to
make the most of his advantage.

In an elaborate critique he rent Pawkins to tatters--one can fancy the
man's disordered black hair, and his queer dark eyes flashing as he went
for his antagonist--and Pawkins made a reply, halting, ineffectual, with
painful gaps of silence, and yet malignant. There was no mistaking his
will to wound Hapley, nor his incapacity to do it. But few of those who
heard him--I was absent from that meeting--realised how ill the man was.

Hapley got his opponent down, and meant to finish him. He followed with
a simply brutal attack upon Pawkins, in the form of a paper upon the
development of moths in general, a paper showing evidence of a most
extraordinary amount of mental labour, and yet couched in a violently
controversial tone. Violent as it was, an editorial note witnesses that
it was modified. It must have covered Pawkins with shame and confusion
of face. It left no loophole; it was murderous in argument, and utterly
contemptuous in tone; an awful thing for the declining years of a man's
career.

The world of entomologists waited breathlessly for the rejoinder from
Pawkins. He would try one, for Pawkins had always been game. But when it
came it surprised them. For the rejoinder of Pawkins was to catch
influenza, proceed to pneumonia, and die.

It was perhaps as effectual a reply as he could make under the
circumstances, and largely turned the current of feeling against Hapley.
The very people who had most gleefully cheered on those gladiators
became serious at the consequence. There could be no reasonable doubt
the fret of the defeat had contributed to the death of Pawkins. There
was a limit even to scientific controversy, said serious people. Another
crushing attack was already in the press and appeared on the day before
the funeral. I don't think Hapley exerted himself to stop it. People
remembered how Hapley had hounded down his rival, and forgot that
rival's defects. Scathing satire reads ill over fresh mould. The thing
provoked comment in the daily papers. This it was that made me think
that you had probably heard of Hapley and this controversy. But, as I
have already remarked, scientific workers live very much in a world of
their own; half the people, I dare say, who go along Piccadilly to the
Academy every year, could not tell you where the learned societies
abide. Many even think that research is a kind of happy-family cage in
which all kinds of men lie down together in peace.

In his private thoughts Hapley could not forgive Pawkins for dying. In
the first place, it was a mean dodge to escape the absolute
pulverisation Hapley had in hand for him, and in the second, it left
Hapley's mind with a queer gap in it. For twenty years he had worked
hard, sometimes far into the night, and seven days a week, with
microscope, scalpel, collecting-net, and pen, and almost entirely with
reference to Pawkins. The European reputation he had won had come as an
incident in that great antipathy. He had gradually worked up to a climax
in this last controversy. It had killed Pawkins, but it had also thrown
Hapley out of gear, so to speak, and his doctor advised him to give up
work for a time, and rest. So Hapley went down into a quiet village in
Kent, and thought day and night of Pawkins, and good things it was now
impossible to say about him.

At last Hapley began to realise in what direction the preoccupation
tended. He determined to make a fight for it, and started by trying to
read novels. But he could not get his mind off Pawkins, white in the
face and making his last speech--every sentence a beautiful opening for
Hapley. He turned to fiction--and found it had no grip on him. He read
the "Island Nights' Entertainments" until his "sense of causation" was
shocked beyond endurance by the Bottle Imp. Then he went to Kipling, and
found he "proved nothing," besides being irreverent and vulgar. These
scientific people have their limitations. Then unhappily, he tried
Besant's "Inner House," and the opening chapter set his mind upon
learned societies and Pawkins at once.

So Hapley turned to chess, and found it a little more soothing. He soon
mastered the moves and the chief gambits and commoner closing positions,
and began to beat the Vicar. But then the cylindrical contours of the
opposite king began to resemble Pawkins standing up and gasping
ineffectually against checkmate, and Hapley decided to give up chess.

Perhaps the study of some new branch of science would after all be
better diversion. The best rest is change of occupation. Hapley
determined to plunge at diatoms, and had one of his smaller microscopes
and Halibut's monograph sent down from London. He thought that perhaps
if he could get up a vigorous quarrel with Halibut, he might be able to
begin life afresh and forget Pawkins. And very soon he was hard at work
in his habitual strenuous fashion, at these microscopic denizens of the
wayside pool.

It was on the third day of the diatoms that Hapley became aware of a
novel addition to the local fauna. He was working late at the
microscope, and the only light in the room was the brilliant little lamp
with the special form of green shade. Like all experienced
microscopists, he kept both eyes open. It is the only way to avoid
excessive fatigue. One eye was over the instrument, and bright and
distinct before that was the circular field of the microscope, across
which a brown diatom was slowly moving. With the other eye Hapley saw,
as it were, without seeing. He was only dimly conscious of the brass
side of the instrument, the illuminated part of the tablecloth, a sheet
of notepaper, the foot of the lamp, and the darkened room beyond.

Suddenly his attention drifted from one eye to the other. The tablecloth
was of the material called tapestry by shopmen, and rather brightly
coloured. The pattern was in gold, with a small amount of crimson and
pale blue upon a greyish ground. At one point the pattern seemed
displaced, and there was a vibrating movement of the colours at this
point.

Hapley suddenly moved his head back and looked with both eyes. His mouth
fell open with astonishment.

It was a large moth or butterfly; its wings spread in butterfly fashion!

It was strange it should be in the room at all, for the windows were
closed. Strange that it should not have attracted his attention when
fluttering to its present position. Strange that it should match the
tablecloth. Stranger far that to him, Hapley, the great entomologist, it
was altogether unknown. There was no delusion. It was crawling slowly
towards the foot of the lamp.

"New Genus, by heavens! And in England!" said Hapley, staring.

Then he suddenly thought of Pawkins. Nothing would have maddened Pawkins
more... And Pawkins was dead!

Something about the head and body of the insect became singularly
suggestive of Pawkins, just as the chess king had been.

"Confound Pawkins!" said Hapley. "But I must catch this." And looking
round him for some means of capturing the moth, he rose slowly out of
his chair. Suddenly the insect rose, struck the edge of the
lamp-shade--Hapley heard the "ping--" and vanished into the shadow.

In a moment Hapley had whipped off the shade, so that the whole room was
illuminated. The thing had disappeared, but soon his practised eye
detected it upon the wall-paper near the door. He went towards it
poising the lamp-shade for capture. Before he was within striking
distance, however, it had risen and was fluttering round the room. After
the fashion of its kind, it flew with sudden starts and turns, seeming
to vanish here and reappear there. Once Hapley struck, and missed; then
again.

The third time he hit his microscope. The instrument swayed, struck and
overturned the lamp, and fell noisily upon the floor. The lamp turned
over on the table and, very luckily, went out. Hapley was left in the
dark. With a start he felt the strange moth blunder into his face.

It was maddening. He had no lights. If he opened the door of the room
the thing would get away. In the darkness he saw Pawkins quite
distinctly laughing at him. Pawkins had ever an oily laugh. He swore
furiously and stamped his foot on the floor.

There was a timid rapping at the door.

Then it opened, perhaps a foot, and very slowly. The alarmed face of the
landlady appeared behind a pink candle flame; she wore a nightcap over
her grey hair and had some purple garment over her shoulders. "What was
that fearful smash?" she said. "Has anything--" The strange moth
appeared fluttering about the chink of the door. "Shut that door!" said
Hapley, and suddenly rushed at her.

The door slammed hastily. Hapley was left alone in the dark. Then in the
pause he heard his landlady scuttle upstairs, lock her door, and drag
something heavy across the room and put against it.

It became evident to Hapley that his conduct and appearance had been
strange and alarming. Confound the moth! And Pawkins! However, it was a
pity to lose the moth now. He felt his way into the hall and found the
matches, after sending his hat down upon the floor with a noise like a
drum. With the lighted candle he returned to the sitting-room. No moth
was to be seen. Yet once for a moment it seemed that the thing was
fluttering round his head. Hapley very suddenly decided to give up the
moth and go to bed. But he was excited. All night long his sleep was
broken by dreams of the moth, Pawkins, and his landlady. Twice in the
night he turned out and soused his head in cold water.

One thing was very clear to him. His landlady could not possibly
understand about the strange moth, especially as he had failed to catch
it. No one but an entomologist would understand quite how he felt. She
was probably frightened at his behaviour, and yet he failed to see how
he could explain it. He decided to say nothing further about the events
of last night. After breakfast he saw her in her garden, and decided to
go out and talk, to reassure her. He talked to her about beans and
potatoes, bees, caterpillars, and the price of fruit. She replied in her
usual manner, but she looked at him a little suspiciously, and kept
walking as he walked, so that there was always a bed of flowers, or a
row of beans, or something of the sort, between them. After a while he
began to feel singularly irritated at this, and to conceal his vexation
went indoors and presently went out for a walk.

The moth, or butterfly, trailing an odd flavour of Pawkins with it, kept
coming into that walk, though he did his best to keep his mind off it.
Once he saw it quite distinctly, with its wings flattened out, upon the
old stone wall that runs along the west edge of the park, but going up
to it he found it was only two lumps of grey and yellow lichen. "This,"
said Hapley, "is the reverse of mimicry. Instead of a butterfly looking
like a stone, here is a stone looking like a butterfly!" Once something
hovered and fluttered round his head, but by an effort of will he drove
that impression out of his mind again.

In the afternoon Hapley called upon the Vicar, and argued with him upon
theological questions. They sat in the little arbour covered with briar,
and smoked as they wrangled. "Look at that moth!" said Hapley, suddenly,
pointing to the edge of the wooden table.

"Where?" said the Vicar.

"You don't see a moth on the edge of the table there?" said Hapley.

"Certainly not," said the Vicar.

Hapley was thunderstruck. He gasped. The Vicar was staring at him.
Clearly the man saw nothing. "The eye of faith is no better than the eye
of science," said Hapley awkwardly.

"I don't see your point," said the Vicar, thinking it was part of the
argument.

That night Hapley found the moth crawling over his counterpane. He sat
on the edge of the bed in his shirt-sleeves and reasoned with himself.
Was it pure hallucination? He knew he was slipping, and he battled for
his sanity with the same silent energy he had formerly displayed against
Pawkins. So persistent is mental habit, that he felt as if it were still
a struggle with Pawkins. He was well versed in psychology. He knew that
such visual illusions do come as a result of mental strain. But the
point was, he did not only see the moth, he had heard it when it touched
the edge of the lamp-shade, and afterwards when it hit against the wall,
and he had felt it strike his face in the dark.

He looked at it. It was not at all dream-like, but perfectly clear and
solid-looking in the candle-light. He saw the hairy body, and the short
feathery antennae, the jointed legs, even a place where the down was
rubbed from the wing. He suddenly felt angry with himself for being
afraid of a little insect.


His landlady had got the servant to sleep with her that night, because
she was afraid to be alone. In addition she had locked the door, and put
the chest of drawers against it. They listened and talked in whispers
after they had gone to bed, but nothing occurred to alarm them. About
eleven they had ventured to put the candle out, and had both dozed off
to sleep. They woke up with a start, and sat up in bed, listening in the
darkness.

Then they heard slippered feet going to and fro in Hapley's room. A
chair was overturned, and there was a violent dab at the wall. Then a
china mantel ornament smashed upon the fender. Suddenly the door of the
room opened, and they heard him upon the landing. They clung to one
another, listening. He seemed to be dancing upon the staircase. Now he
would go down three or four steps quickly, then up again, then hurry
down into the hall. They heard the umbrella-stand go over, and the
fanlight break. Then the bolt shot and the chain rattled. He was opening
the door.

They hurried to the window. It was a dim grey night; an almost unbroken
sheet of watery cloud was sweeping across the moon, and the hedge and
trees in front of the house were black against the pale roadway. They
saw Hapley, looking like a ghost in his shirt and white trousers,
running to and fro in the road, and beating the air. Now he would stop,
now he would dart very rapidly at something invisible, now he would move
upon it with stealthy strides. At last he went out of sight up the road
towards the down. Then, while they argued who should go down and lock
the door, he returned. He was walking very fast, and he came straight
into the house, closed the door carefully, and went quietly up to his
bedroom. Then everything was silent.

"Mrs. Colville," said Hapley, calling down the staircase next morning,
"I hope I did not alarm you last night."

"You may well ask that!" said Mrs. Colville.

"The fact is, I am a sleep-walker, and the last two nights I have been
without my sleeping mixture. There is nothing to be alarmed about,
really. I am sorry I made such an ass of myself. I will go over the down
to Shoreham, and get some stuff to make me sleep soundly. I ought to
have done that yesterday."

But halfway over the down, by the chalk pits, the moth came upon Hapley
again. He went on, trying to keep his mind upon chess problems, but it
was no good. The thing fluttered into his face, and he struck at it with
his hat in self-defence. Then rage, the old rage--the rage he had so
often felt against Pawkins--came upon him again. He went on, leaping and
striking at the eddying insect. Suddenly he trod on nothing, and fell
headlong.

There was a gap in his sensations, and Hapley found himself sitting on
the heap of flints in front of the opening of the chalk-pits, with a leg
twisted back under him. The strange moth was still fluttering round his
head. He struck at it with his hand, and turning his head saw two men
approaching him. One was the village doctor. It occurred to Hapley that
this was lucky. Then it came into his mind with extraordinary vividness,
that no one would ever be able to see the strange moth except himself,
and that it behooved him to keep silent about it.

Late that night however, after his broken leg was set, he was feverish
and forgot his self-restraint. He was lying flat on his bed, and he
began to run his eyes round the room to see if the moth was still about.
He tried not to do this, but it was no good. He soon caught sight of the
thing resting close to his hand, by the nightlight, on the green
tablecloth. The wings quivered. With a sudden wave of anger he smote at
it with his fist, and the nurse woke up with a shriek. He had missed it.

"That moth!" he said; and then, "It was fancy. Nothing!"

All the time he could see quite clearly the insect going round the
cornice and darting across the room, and he could also see that the
nurse saw nothing of it and looked at him strangely. He must keep
himself in hand. He knew he was a lost man if he did not keep himself in
hand. But as the night waned the fever grew upon him, and the very dread
he had of seeing the moth made him see it. About five, just as the dawn
was grey, he tried to get out of bed and catch it, though his leg was
afire with pain. The nurse had to struggle with him.

On account of this, they tied him down to the bed. At this the moth grew
bolder, and once he felt it settle in his hair. Then, because he struck
out violently with his arms, they tied these also. At this the moth came
and crawled over his face, and Hapley wept, swore, screamed, prayed for
them to take it off him, unavailingly.

The doctor was a blockhead, a just-qualified general practitioner, and
quite ignorant of mental science. He simply said there was no moth. Had
he possessed the wit, he might still, perhaps, have saved Hapley from
his fate by entering into his delusion, and covering his face with
gauze, as he prayed might be done. But as I say, the doctor was a
blockhead, and until the leg was healed Hapley was kept tied to his bed,
and with the imaginary moth crawling over him. It never left him while
he was awake and it grew to a monster in his dreams. While he was awake
he longed for sleep, and from sleep he awoke screaming.

So now Hapley is spending the remainder of his days in a padded room,
worried by a moth that no one else can see. The asylum doctor calls it
hallucination; but Hapley, when he is in his easier mood, and can talk,
says it is the ghost of Pawkins, and consequently a unique specimen and
well worth the trouble of catching.




THE TREASURE IN THE FOREST


The canoe was now approaching the land. The bay opened out, and a gap in
the white surf of the reef marked where the little river ran out to the
sea; the thicker and deeper green of the virgin forest showed its course
down the distant hill slope. The forest here came close to the beach.
Far beyond, dim and almost cloudlike in texture, rose the mountains,
like suddenly frozen waves. The sea was still save for an almost
imperceptible swell. The sky blazed.

The man with the carved paddle stopped. "It should be somewhere around
here," he said. He shipped the paddle and held his arms out straight
before him.

The other man had been in the fore part of the canoe, closely
scrutinising the land. He had a sheet of yellow paper on his knee.

"Come and look at this, Evans," he said.

Both men spoke in low tones, and their lips were hard and dry.

The man called Evans came swaying along the canoe until he could look
over his companion's shoulder.

The paper had the appearance of a rough map. By much folding it was
creased and worn to the pitch of separation, and the second man held the
discoloured fragments together where they had parted. On it one could
dimly make out, in almost obliterated pencil, the outline of the bay.

"Here," said Evans, "is the reef, and here is the gap." He ran his
thumb-nail over the chart.

"This curved and twisting line is the river--I could do with a drink
now--! And this star is the place."

"You see this dotted line," said the man with the map; "it is a straight
line, and runs from the opening of the reef to a clump of palm-trees.
The star comes just where it cuts the river. We must mark the place as
we go into the lagoon."

"It's queer," said Evans, after a pause, "what these little marks down
here are for. It looks like the plan of a house or something; but what
all these little dashes, pointing this way and that, may mean I can't
get a notion. And what's the writing?"

"Chinese," said the man with the map.

"Of course! He was a Chinese," said Evans.

"They all were," said the man with the map.

They both sat for some minutes staring at the land, while the canoe
drifted slowly. Then Evans looked towards the paddle.

"Your turn with the paddle now, Hooker," said he.

And his companion quietly folded up his map, put it in his pocket,
passed Evans carefully, and began to paddle. His movements were languid,
like those of a man whose strength was nearly exhausted.

Evans sat with his eyes half closed, watching the frothy breakwater of
the coral creep nearer and nearer. The sky was like a furnace now, for
the sun was near the zenith. Though they were so near the Treasure he
did not feel the exaltation he had anticipated. The intense excitement
of the struggle for the plan, and the long night voyage from the
mainland in the unprovisioned canoe had, to use his own expression,
"taken it out of him." He tried to arouse himself by directing his mind
to the ingots the Chinamen had spoken of, but it would not rest there;
it came back headlong to the thought of sweet water rippling in the
river, and to the almost unendurable dryness of his lips and throat. The
rhythmic wash of the sea upon the reef was becoming audible now, and it
had a pleasant sound in his ears; the water washed along the side of the
canoe, and the paddle dripped between each stroke. Presently he began to
doze.

He was still dimly conscious of the island, but a queer dream texture
interwove with his sensations. Once again it was the night when he and
Hooker had hit upon the Chinamen's secret; he saw the moonlit trees, the
little fire burning, and the black figures of the three
Chinamen--silvered on one side by moonlight, and on the other glowing
from the firelight--and heard them talking together in
pigeon-English--for they came from different provinces. Hooker had
caught the drift of their talk first, and had motioned to him to listen.
Fragments of the conversation were inaudible, and fragments
incomprehensible. A Spanish galleon from the Philippines hopelessly
aground, and its treasure buried against the day of return, lay in the
background of the story; a shipwrecked crew thinned by disease, a
quarrel or so, and the needs of discipline, and at last taking to their
boats never to be heard of again. Then Chang-hi, only a year since,
wandering ashore, had happened upon the ingots hidden for two hundred
years, had deserted his junk, and reburied them with infinite toil,
single-handed but very safe. He laid great stress on the safety--it was
a secret of his. Now he wanted help to return and exhume them. Presently
the little map fluttered and the voices sank. A fine story for two,
stranded British wastrels to hear! Evans' dream shifted to the moment
when he had Chang-hi's pigtail in his hand. The life of a Chinaman is
scarcely sacred like a European's. The cunning little face of Chang-hi,
first keen and furious like a startled snake, and then fearful,
treacherous, and pitiful, became overwhelmingly prominent in the dream.
At the end Chang-hi had grinned, a most incomprehensible and startling
grin. Abruptly things became very unpleasant, as they will do at times
in dreams. Chang-hi gibbered and threatened him. He saw in his dream
heaps and heaps of gold, and Chang-hi intervening and struggling to hold
him back from it. He took Chang-hi by the pigtail--how big the yellow
brute was, and how he struggled and grinned! He kept growing bigger,
too. Then the bright heaps of gold turned to a roaring furnace, and a
vast devil, surprisingly like Chang-hi, but with a huge black tail,
began to feed him with coals. They burnt his mouth horribly. Another
devil was shouting his name: "Evans, Evans, you sleepy fool--!" Or was
it Hooker?

He woke up. They were in the mouth of the lagoon.

"There are the three palm-trees. It must be in a line with that clump of
bushes," said his companion. "Mark that. If we, go to those bushes and
then strike into the bush in a straight line from here, we shall come to
it when we come to the stream."

They could see now where the mouth of the stream opened out. At the
sight of it Evans revived. "Hurry up, man," he said, "or by heaven I
shall have to drink sea water!" He gnawed his hand and stared at the
gleam of silver among the rocks and green tangle.

Presently he turned almost fiercely upon Hooker. "Give me the paddle,"
he said.

So they reached the river mouth. A little way up Hooker took some water
in the hollow of his hand, tasted it, and spat it out. A little further
he tried again. "This will do," he said, and they began drinking
eagerly.

"Curse this!" said Evans suddenly. "It's too slow." And, leaning
dangerously over the fore part of the canoe, he began to suck up the
water with his lips.

Presently they made an end of drinking, and, running the canoe into a
little creek, were about to land among the thick growth that overhung
the water.

"We shall have to scramble through this to the beach to find our bushes
and get the line to the place," said Evans.

"We had better paddle round," said Hooker.

So they pushed out again into the river and paddled back down it to the
sea, and along the shore to the place where the clump of bushes grew.
Here they landed, pulled the light canoe far up the beach, and then went
up towards the edge of the jungle until they could see the opening of
the reef and the bushes in a straight line. Evans had taken a native
implement out of the canoe. It was L-shaped, and the transverse piece
was armed with polished stone. Hooker carried the paddle. "It is
straight now in this direction," said he; "we must push through this
till we strike the stream. Then we must prospect."

They pushed through a close tangle of reeds, broad fronds, and young
trees, and at first it was toilsome going, but very speedily the trees
became larger and the ground beneath them opened out. The blaze of the
sunlight was replaced by insensible degrees by cool shadow. The trees
became at last, vast pillars that rose up to a canopy of greenery far
overhead. Dim white flowers hung from their stems, and ropy creepers
swung from tree to tree. The shadow deepened. On the ground, blotched
fungi and a red-brown incrustation became frequent.

Evans shivered. "It seems almost cold here after the blaze outside."

"I hope we are keeping to the straight," said Hooker.

Presently they saw, far ahead, a gap in the sombre darkness where white
shafts of hot sunlight smote into the forest. There also was brilliant
green undergrowth and coloured flowers. Then they heard the rush of
water.

"Here is the river. We should be close to it now," said Hooker.

The vegetation was thick by the river bank. Great plants, as yet
unnamed, grew among the roots of the big trees, and spread rosettes of
huge green fans towards the strip of sky. Many flowers and a creeper
with shiny foliage clung to the exposed stems. On the water of the
broad, quiet pool which the treasure seekers now overlooked there
floated big oval leaves and a waxen, pinkish-white flower not unlike a
water-lily. Further, as the river bent away from them, the water
suddenly frothed and became noisy in a rapid.

"Well?" said Evans.

"We have swerved a little from the straight," said Hooker. "That was to
be expected."

He turned and looked into the dim cool shadows of the silent forest
behind them. "If we beat a little way up and down the stream we should
come to something."

"You said--" began Evans.

"He said there was a heap of stones," said Hooker.

The two men looked at each other for a moment.

"Let us try a little down-stream first," said Evans.

They advanced slowly, looking curiously about them. Suddenly Evans
stopped. "What the devil's that?" he said.

Hooker followed his finger. "Something blue," he said. It had come into
view as they topped a gentle swell of the ground. Then he began to
distinguish what it was.

He advanced suddenly with hasty steps, until the body that belonged to
the limp hand and arm had become visible. His grip tightened on the
implement he carried. The thing was the figure of a Chinaman lying on
his face. The abandon of the pose was unmistakable.

The two men drew closer together, and stood staring silently at this
ominous dead body. It lay in a clear space among the trees. Near by was
a spade after the Chinese pattern, and further off lay a scattered heap
of stones, close to a freshly dug hole.

"Somebody has been here before," said Hooker, clearing his throat.

Then suddenly Evans began to swear and rave, and stamp upon the ground.

Hooker turned white but said nothing. He advanced towards the prostrate
body. He saw the neck was puffed and purple, and the hands and ankles
swollen. "Pah!" he said, and suddenly turned away and went towards the
excavation. He gave a cry of surprise. He shouted to Evans, who was
following him slowly.

"You fool! It's all right. It's here still." Then he turned again and
looked at the dead Chinaman, and then again at the hole.

Evans hurried to the hole. Already half exposed by the ill-fated wretch
beside them lay a number of dull yellow bars. He bent down in the hole,
and, clearing off the soil with his bare hands, hastily pulled one of
the heavy masses out. As he did so a little thorn pricked his hand. He
pulled the delicate spike out with his fingers and lifted the ingot.

"Only gold or lead could weigh like this," he said exultantly.

Hooker was still looking at the dead Chinaman. He was puzzled.

"He stole a march on his friends," he said at last. "He came here alone,
and some poisonous snake has killed him... I wonder how he found the
place."

Evans stood with the ingot in his hands. What did a dead Chinaman
signify? "We shall have to take this stuff to the mainland piecemeal,
and bury it there for a while. How shall we get it to the canoe?"

He took his jacket off and spread it on the ground, and flung two or
three ingots into it. Presently he found that another little thorn had
punctured his skin.

"This is as much as we can carry," said he. Then suddenly, with a queer
rush of irritation, "What are you staring at?"

Hooker turned to him. "I can't stand him..." He nodded towards the
corpse. "It's so like--"

"Rubbish!" said Evans. "All Chinamen are alike."

Hooker looked into his face. "I'm going to bury that, anyhow, before I
lend a hand with this stuff."

"Don't be a fool, Hooker," said Evans. "Let that mass of corruption
bide."

Hooker hesitated, and then his eye went carefully over the brown soil
about them. "It scares me somehow," he said.

"The thing is," said Evans, "what to do with these ingots. Shall we
re-bury them over here, or take them across the strait in the canoe?"

Hooker thought. His puzzled gaze wandered among the tall tree-trunks,
and up into the remote sunlit greenery overhead. He shivered again as
his eye rested upon the blue figure of the Chinaman. He stared
searchingly among the grey depths between the trees.

"What's come to you, Hooker?" said Evans. "Have you lost your wits?"

"Let's get the gold out of this place, anyhow," said Hooker.

He took the ends of the collar of the coat in his hands, and Evans took
the opposite corners, and they lifted the mass. "Which way?" said Evans.
"To the canoe?"

"It's queer," said Evans, when they had advanced only a few steps, "but
my arms ache still with that paddling.

"Curse it!" he said. "But they ache! I must rest."

They let the coat down, Evans' face was white, and little drops of sweat
stood out upon his forehead. "It's stuffy, somehow, in this forest."

Then with an abrupt transition to unreasonable anger: "What is the good
of waiting here all the day? Lend a hand, I say! You have done nothing
but moon since we saw the dead Chinaman."

Hooker was looking steadfastly at his companion's face. He helped raise
the coat bearing the ingots, and they went forward perhaps a hundred
yards in silence. Evans began to breathe heavily. "Can't you speak?" he
said.

"What's the matter with you?" said Hooker.

Evans stumbled, and then with a sudden curse flung the coat from him. He
stood for a moment staring at Hooker, and then with a groan clutched at
his own throat.

"Don't come near me," he said, and went and leant against a tree. Then
in a steadier voice, "I'll be better in a minute."

Presently his grip upon the trunk loosened, and he slipped slowly down
the stem of the tree until he was a crumpled heap at its foot. His hands
were clenched convulsively. His face became distorted with pain. Hooker
approached him.

"Don't touch me! Don't touch me!" said Evans in a stifled voice. "Put
the gold back on the coat."

"Can't I do anything for you?" said Hooker.

"Put the gold back on the coat."

As Hooker handled the ingots he felt a little prick on the ball of his
thumb. He looked at his hand and saw a slender thorn, perhaps two inches
in length.

Evans gave an inarticulate cry and rolled over.

Hooker's jaw dropped. He stared at the thorn for a moment with dilated
eyes. Then he looked at Evans, who was now crumpled together on the
ground, his back bending and straightening spasmodically. Then he looked
through the pillars of the trees and net-work of creeper stems, to where
in the dim grey shadow the blue-clad body of the Chinaman was still
indistinctly visible. He thought of the little dashes in the corner of
the plan, and in a moment he understood.

"God help me!" he said. For the thorns were similar to those the Dyaks
poison and use in their blowing-tubes. He understood now what Chang-hi's
assurance of the safety of his treasure meant. He understood that grin
now.

"Evans!" he cried.

But Evans was silent and motionless, save for a horrible spasmodic
twitching of his limbs. A profound silence brooded over the forest.

Then Hooker began to suck furiously at the little pink spot on the ball
of his thumb--sucking for dear life. Presently he felt a strange aching
pain in his arms and shoulders, and his fingers seemed difficult to
bend. Then he knew that sucking was no good.

Abruptly he stopped, and sitting down by the pile of ingots, and resting
his chin upon his hands and his elbows upon his knees, stared at the
distorted but still stirring body of his companion. Chang-hi's grin came
into his mind again. The dull pain spread towards his throat and grew
slowly in intensity. Far above him a faint breeze stirred the greenery,
and the white petals of some unknown flower came floating down through
the gloom.




THE PLATTNER STORY AND OTHERS--



THE PLATTNER STORY


Whether the story of Gottfried Plattner is to be credited or not, is a
pretty question in the value of evidence. On the one hand, we have seven
witnesses--to be perfectly exact, we have six and a half pairs of eyes,
and one undeniable fact; and on the other we have--what is it--?
Prejudice, common sense, the inertia of opinion. Never were there seven
more honest-seeming witnesses; never was there a more undeniable fact
than the inversion of Gottfried Plattner's anatomical structure,
and--never was there a more preposterous story than the one they have to
tell! The most preposterous part of the story is the worthy Gottfried's
contribution (for I count him as one of the seven). Heaven forbid that I
should be led into giving countenance to superstition by a passion for
impartiality, and so come to share the fate of Eusapia's patrons!
Frankly, I believe there is something crooked about this business of
Gottfried Plattner; but what that crooked factor is, I will admit as
frankly, I do not know. I have been surprised at the credit accorded to
the story in the most unexpected and authoritative quarters. The fairest
way to the reader, however will be for me to tell it without further
comment.

Gottfried Plattner is, in spite of his name, a free-born Englishman. His
father was an Alsatian who came to England in the Sixties, married a
respectable English girl of unexceptionable antecedents, and died, after
a wholesome and uneventful life (devoted, I understand, chiefly to the
laying of parquet flooring), in 1887. Gottfried's age is
seven-and-twenty. He is, by virtue of his heritage of three languages,
Modern Languages Master in a small private school in the South of
England. To the casual observer he is singularly like any other Modern
Languages Master in any other small private school. His costume is
neither very costly nor very fashionable, but on the other hand it is
not markedly cheap or shabby; his complexion, like his height and his
bearing, is inconspicuous. You would notice, perhaps that, like the
majority of people, his face was not absolutely symmetrical, his right
eye a little larger than the left, and his jaw a trifle heavier on the
right side. If you, as an ordinary careless person, were to bare his
chest and feel his heart beating, you would probably find it quite like
the heart of any one else. But here you and the trained observer would
part company. If you found his heart quite ordinary, the trained
observer would find it quite otherwise. And once the thing was pointed
out to you, you too would perceive the peculiarity easily enough. It is
that Gottfried's heart beats on the right side of his body.

Now, that is not the only singularity of Gottfried's structure, although
it is the only one that would appeal to the untrained mind. Careful
sounding of Gottfried's internal arrangements, by a well-known surgeon,
seems to point to the fact that all the other unsymmetrical parts of his
body are similarly misplaced. The right lobe of his liver is on the left
side, the left on his right; while his lungs too, are similarly
contraposed. What is still more singular, unless Gottfried is a
consummate actor, we must believe that his right hand has recently
become his left. Since the occurrences we are about to consider (as
impartially as possible), he has found the utmost difficulty in writing,
except from right to left across the paper with his left hand. He cannot
throw with his right hand, he is perplexed at meal times between knife
and fork, and his ideas of the rule of the road--he is a cyclist--are
still a dangerous confusion. And there is not a scrap of evidence to
show that before these occurrences Gottfried was at all left-handed.
There is yet another wonderful fact in this preposterous business.
Gottfried produces three photographs of himself. You have him at the age
of five or six, thrusting fat legs at you from under a plaid frock, and
scowling. In that photograph his left eye is a little larger than his
right, and his jaw is a trifle heavier on the left side. This is the
reverse of his present living conditions: The photograph of Gottfried at
fourteen seems to contradict these facts, but that is because it is one
of those cheap "Gem" photographs that were then in vogue, taken direct
upon metal, and therefore reversing things just as a looking-glass
would. A third photograph represents him at one-and-twenty and confirms
the record of the others. There seems here evidence of the strongest
confirmatory character that Gottfried has exchanged his left side for
his right. Yet how a human being can be so changed, short of a fantastic
and pointless miracle, it is exceedingly hard to suggest.

In one way, of course, these facts might be explicable on the
supposition that Plattner has undertaken an elaborate mystification, on
the strength of his heart's displacement. Photographs may be fudged, and
left-handedness imitated. But the character of the man does not lend
itself to any such theory. He is quiet, practical, unobtrusive and
thoroughly sane, from the Nordau standpoint. He likes beer, and smokes
moderately, takes walking exercise daily, and has a healthily high
estimate of the value of his teaching. He has a good but untrained tenor
voice, and takes a pleasure in singing airs of a popular and cheerful
character. He is fond, but not morbidly fond, of reading--, chiefly
fiction pervaded with a vaguely pious optimism--, sleeps well, and
rarely dreams. He is in fact, the very last person to evolve a fantastic
fable. Indeed, so far from forcing this story upon the world, he has
been singularly reticent on the matter. He meets enquirers with a
certain engaging--bashfulness is almost the word, that disarms the most
suspicious. He seems genuinely ashamed that anything so unusual has
occurred to him.

It is to be regretted that Plattner's aversion to the idea of
post-mortem dissection may postpone, perhaps for ever, the positive
proof that his entire body has had its left and right sides transposed.
Upon that fact mainly the credibility of his story hangs. There is no
way of taking a man and moving him about in space, as ordinary people
understand space, that will result in our changing his sides. Whatever
you do, his right is still his right, his left his left. You can do that
with a perfectly thin and flat thing, of course. If you were to cut a
figure out of paper, any figure with a right and left side, you could
change its sides simply by lifting it up and turning it over. But with a
solid it is different. Mathematical theorists tell us that the only way
in which the right and left sides of a solid body can be changed is by
taking that body clean out of space as we know it--, taking it out of
ordinary existence, that is, and turning it somewhere outside space.
This is a little abstruse, no doubt, but any one with any knowledge of
mathematical theory will assure the reader of its truth. To put the
thing in technical language, the curious inversion of Plattner's right
and left sides is proof that he has moved out of our space into what is
called the Fourth Dimension, and that he has returned again to our
world. Unless we choose to consider ourselves the victims of an
elaborate and motiveless fabrication, we are almost bound to believe
that this has occurred.

So much for the tangible facts. We come now to the account of the
phenomena that attended his temporary disappearance from the world. It
appears that in the Sussexville Proprietary School Plattner not only
discharged the duties of Modern Languages Master, but also taught
chemistry, commercial geography, book-keeping, shorthand, drawing, and
any other additional subject to which the changing fancies of the boys'
parents might direct attention. He knew little or nothing of these
various subjects, but in secondary as distinguished from Board or
elementary schools, knowledge in the teacher is, very properly, by no
means so necessary as high moral character and gentlemanly tone. In
chemistry he was particularly deficient, knowing he says, nothing beyond
the Three Gases (whatever the three gases may be). As however, his
pupils began by knowing nothing, and derived all their information from
him, this caused him (or any one) but little inconvenience for several
terms. Then a little boy named Whibble joined the school, who had been
educated (it seems) by some mischievous relative into an enquiring habit
of mind. This little boy followed Plattner's lessons with marked and
sustained interest, and in order to exhibit his zeal on the subject,
brought at various times, substances for Plattner to analyse. Plattner,
flattered by this evidence of his power of awakening interest, and
trusting to the boy's ignorance, analysed these, and even made general
statements as to their composition. Indeed he was so far stimulated by
his pupil as to obtain a work upon analytical chemistry and study it
during his supervision of the evening's preparation. He was surprised to
find chemistry quite an interesting subject.

So far the story is absolutely commonplace. But now the greenish powder
comes upon the scene. The source of that greenish powder seems,
unfortunately lost. Master Whibble tells a tortuous story of finding it
done up in a packet in a disused limekiln near the Downs. It would have
been an excellent thing for Plattner, and possibly for Master Whibble's
family, if a match could have been applied to that powder there and
then. The young gentleman certainly did not bring it to school in a
packet, but in a common eight-ounce graduated medicine bottle, plugged
with masticated newspaper. He gave it to Plattner at the end of the
afternoon school. Four boys had been detained after school prayers in
order to complete some neglected tasks, and Plattner was supervising
these in the small classroom in which the chemical teaching was
conducted. The appliances for the practical teaching of chemistry in the
Sussexville Proprietary School, as in most small schools in this
country, are characterised by a severe simplicity. They are kept in a
small cupboard standing in a recess, and having about the same capacity
as a common travelling trunk. Plattner, being bored with his passive
superintendence, seems to have welcomed the intervention of Whibble with
his green powder as an agreeable diversion, and unlocking this cupboard,
proceeded at once with his analytical experiments. Whibble sat, luckily
for himself, at a safe distance, regarding him. The four malefactors,
feigning a profound absorption in their work, watched him furtively with
the keenest interest. For even within the limits of the Three Gases,
Plattner's practical chemistry was, I understand, temerarious.

They are practically unanimous in their account of Plattner's
proceedings. He poured a little of the green powder into a test-tube,
and tried the substance with water, hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, and
sulphuric acid in succession. Getting no result, he emptied out a little
heap--nearly half the bottleful, in fact--upon a slate and tried a
match. He held the medicine bottle in his left hand. The stuff began to
smoke and melt, and then--exploded with deafening violence and a
blinding flash.

The five boys, seeing the flash and being prepared for catastrophes,
ducked below their desks, and were none of them seriously hurt. The
window was blown out into the playground, and the blackboard on its
easel was upset. The slate was smashed to atoms. Some plaster fell from
the ceiling. No other damage was done to the school edifice or
appliances, and the boys at first, seeing nothing of Plattner, fancied
he was knocked down and lying out of their sight below the desks. They
jumped out of their places to go to his assistance, and were amazed to
find the space empty. Being still confused by the sudden violence of the
report, they hurried to the open door, under the impression that he must
have been hurt, and have rushed out of the room. But Carson, the
foremost, nearly collided in the doorway with the principal, Mr.
Lidgett.

Mr. Lidgett is a corpulent, excitable man with one eye. The boys
describe him as stumbling into the room mouthing some of those tempered
expletives irritable schoolmasters accustom themselves to use--lest
worse befall. "Wretched mumchancer!" he said. "Where's Mr. Plattner?"
The boys are agreed on the very words. ("Wobbler," "snivelling puppy,"
and "mumchancer" are, it seems, among the ordinary small change of Mr.
Lidgett's scholastic commerce.)

Where's Mr. Plattner? That was a question that was to be repeated many
times in the next few days. It really seemed as though that frantic
hyperbole, "blown to atoms," had for once realise itself. There was not
a visible particle of Plattner to be seen; not a drop of blood nor a
stitch of clothing to be found. Apparently he had been blown clean out
of existence and left not a wrack behind. Not so much as would cover a
sixpenny piece, to quote a proverbial expression! The evidence of his
absolute disappearance, as a consequence of that explosion, is
indubitable.

It is not necessary to enlarge here upon the commotion excited in the
Sussexville Proprietary School, and in Sussexville and elsewhere, by
this event. It is quite possible indeed, that some of the readers of
these pages may recall the hearing of some remote and dying version of
that excitement during the last summer holidays. Lidgett, it would seem,
did everything in his power to suppress and minimise the story. He
instituted a penalty of twenty-five lines for any mention of Plattner's
name among the boys, and stated in the schoolroom that he was clearly
aware of his assistant's whereabouts. He was afraid, he explains, that
the possibility of an explosion happening, in spite of the elaborate
precautions taken to minimise the practical teaching of chemistry, might
injure the reputation of the school; and so might any mysterious quality
in Plattner's departure. Indeed, he did everything in his power to make
the occurrence seem as ordinary as possible. In particular, he
cross-examined the five eye-witnesses of the occurrence so searchingly
that they began to doubt the plain evidence of their senses. But in
spite of these efforts, the tale, in a magnified and distorted state,
made a nine days' wonder in the district, and several parents withdrew
their sons on colourable pretexts. Not the least remarkable point in the
matter is the fact that a large number of people in the neighbourhood
dreamed singularly vivid dreams of Plattner during the period of
excitement before his return, and that these dreams had a curious
uniformity. In almost all of them Plattner was seen, sometimes singly,
sometimes in company, wandering about through a coruscating iridescence.
In all cases his face was pale and distressed, and in some he
gesticulated towards the dreamer. One or two of the boys, evidently
under the influence of nightmare, fancied that Plattner approached them
with remarkable swiftness, and seemed to look closely into their very
eyes. Others fled with Plattner from the pursuit of vague and
extraordinary creatures of a globular shape. But all these fancies were
forgotten in enquiries and speculations when, on the Wednesday next, but
one after the Monday of the explosion, Plattner returned.

The circumstances of his return were as singular as those of his
departure. So far as Mr. Lidgett's somewhat choleric outline can be
filled in from Plattner's hesitating statements, it would appear that on
Wednesday evening, towards the hour of sunset, the former gentleman,
having dismissed evening preparation, was engaged in his garden, picking
and eating strawberries, a fruit of which he is inordinately fond. It is
a large old-fashioned garden, secured from observation fortunately, by a
high and ivy-covered red-brick wall. Just as he was stooping over a
particularly prolific plant, there was a flash in the air and a heavy
thud, and before he could look round, some heavy body struck him
violently from behind. He was pitched forward, crushing the strawberries
he held in his hand, and that so roughly, that his silk hat--Mr. Lidgett
adheres to the older ideas of scholastic costume--was driven violently
down upon his forehead, and almost over one eye. This heavy missile,
which slid over him sideways and collapsed into a sitting posture among
the strawberry plants, proved to be our long-lost Mr. Gottfried
Plattner, in an extremely dishevelled condition. He was collarless and
hatless, his linen was dirty, and there was blood upon his hands. Mr.
Lidgett was so indignant and surprised that he remained on all-fours,
and with his hat jammed down on his eye, while he expostulated
vehemently with Plattner for his disrespectful and unaccountable
conduct.

This scarcely idyllic scene completes what I may call the exterior
version of the Plattner story--its exoteric aspect. It is quite
unnecessary to enter here into all the details of his dismissal by Mr.
Lidgett. Such details, with the full names and dates and references,
will be found in the larger report of these occurrences that was laid
before the Society for the Investigation of Abnormal Phenomena. The
singular transposition of Plattner's right and left sides was scarcely
observed for the first day or so, and then first in connection with his
disposition to write from right to left across the blackboard. He
concealed rather than ostended this curious confirmatory circumstance,
as he considered it would unfavourably affect his prospects in a new
situation. The displacement of his heart was discovered some months
after, when he was having a tooth extracted under anaesthetics. He then,
very unwillingly, allowed a cursory surgical examination to be made of
himself, with a view to a brief account in the "Journal of Anatomy."
That exhausts the statement of the material facts; and we may now go on
to consider Plattner's account of the matter.

But first let us clearly differentiate between the preceding portion of
this story and what is to follow. All I have told thus far is
established by such evidence as even a criminal lawyer would approve.
Every one of the witnesses is still alive; the reader, if he have the
leisure, may hunt the lads out to-morrow, or even brave the terrors of
the redoubtable Lidgett, and cross-examine and trap and test to his
heart's content; Gottfried Plattner himself, and his twisted heart and
his three photographs are producible. It may be taken as proved that he
did disappear for nine days as the consequence of an explosion; that he
returned almost as violently, under circumstances in their nature
annoying to Mr. Lidgett, whatever the details of those circumstances may
be; and that he returned inverted, just as a reflection returns from a
mirror. From the last fact, as I have already stated, it follows almost
inevitably that Plattner, during those nine days, must have been in some
state of existence altogether out of space. The evidence to these
statements is indeed, far stronger than that upon which most murderers
are hanged. But for his own particular account of where he had been,
with its confused explanations and well-nigh self-contradictory details,
we have only Mr. Gottfried Plattner's word. I do not wish to discredit
that, but I must point out--what so many writers upon obscure psychic
phenomena fail to do--that we are passing here from the practically
undeniable to that kind of matter which any reasonable man is entitled
to believe or reject as he thinks proper. The previous statements render
it plausible; its discordance with common experience tilts it towards
the incredible. I would prefer not to sway the beam of the reader's
judgment either way, but simply to tell the story as Plattner told it
me. He gave me his narrative, I may state, at my house at Chislehurst,
and so soon as he had left me that evening, I went into my study and
wrote down everything as I remembered it. Subsequently he was good
enough to read over a type-written copy, so that its substantial
correctness is undeniable.

He states that at the moment of the explosion he distinctly thought he
was killed. He felt lifted off his feet and driven forcibly backward. It
is a curious fact for psychologists that he thought clearly during his
backward flight, and wondered whether he should hit the chemistry
cupboard or the blackboard easel. His heels struck ground, and he
staggered and fell heavily into a sitting position on something soft and
firm. For a moment the concussion stunned him. He became aware at once
of a vivid scent of singed hair, and he seemed to hear the voice of
Lidgett asking for him. You will understand that for a time his mind was
greatly confused.

At first he was distinctly under the impression that he was still in the
classroom. He perceived quite distinctly the surprise of the boys and
the entry of Mr. Lidgett. He is quite positive upon that score. He did
not hear their remarks; but that he ascribed to the deafening effect of
the experiment. Things about him seemed curiously dark and faint, but
his mind explained that on the obvious but mistaken idea that the
explosion had engendered a huge volume of dark smoke.

Through the dimness the figures of Lidgett and the boys moved, as faint
and silent as ghosts Plattner's face still tingled with the stinging
heat of the flash. He was, he says, "all muddled." His first definite
thoughts seem to have been of his personal safety. He thought he was
perhaps blinded and deafened. He felt his limbs and face in a gingerly
manner. Then his perceptions grew clearer, and he was astonished to miss
the old familiar desks and other schoolroom furniture about him. Only
dim, uncertain, grey shapes stood in the place of these. Then came a
thing that made him shout aloud, and awoke his stunned faculties to
instant activity. Two of the boys, gesticulating, walked one after the
other clean through him! Neither manifested the slightest consciousness
of his presence. It is difficult to imagine the sensation he felt. They
came against him, he says, with no more force than a wisp of mist.

Plattner's first thought after that was that he was dead. Having been
brought up with thoroughly sound views in these matters, however he was
a little surprised to find his body still about him. His second
conclusion was that he was not dead, but that the others were: that the
explosion had destroyed the Sussexville Proprietary School and every
soul in it except himself. But that too, was scarcely satisfactory. He
was thrown back upon astonished observation.

Everything about him was extraordinarily dark: at first it seemed to
have an altogether ebony blackness. Overhead was a black firmament. The
only touch of light in the scene was a faint greenish glow at the edge
of the sky in one direction, which threw into prominence a horizon of
undulating black hills. This I say, was his impression at first. As his
eye grew accustomed to the darkness, he began to distinguish a faint
quality of differentiating greenish colour in the circumambient night.
Against this background the furniture and occupants of the classroom, it
seems, stood out like phosphorescent spectres, faint and impalpable. He
extended his hand, and thrust it without an effort through the wall of
the room by the fireplace.

He describes himself as making a strenuous effort to attract attention.
He shouted to Lidgett, and tried to seize the boys as they went to and
fro. He only desisted from these attempts when Mrs. Lidgett, whom he (as
an Assistant Master) naturally disliked, entered the room. He says the
sensation of being in the world, and yet not a part of it, was an
extraordinarily disagreeable one. He compared his feelings, not inaptly,
to those of a cat watching a mouse through a window. Whenever he made a
motion to communicate with the dim, familiar world about him, he found
an invisible, incomprehensible barrier preventing intercourse. He then
turned his attention to his solid environment. He found the medicine
bottle still unbroken in his hand, with the remainder of the green
powder therein. He put this in his pocket, and began to feel about him.
Apparently, he was sitting on a boulder of rock covered with a velvety
moss. The dark country about him, he was unable to see, the faint, misty
picture of the schoolroom blotting it out, but he had a feeling (due
perhaps to a cold wind) that he was near the crest of a hill, and that a
steep valley fell away beneath his feet. The green glow along the edge
of the sky seemed to be growing in extent and intensity. He stood up,
rubbing his eyes.

It would seem that he made a few steps, going steeply downhill, and then
stumbled, nearly fell, and sat down again upon a jagged mass of rock to
watch the dawn. He became aware that the world about him was absolutely
silent. It was as still as it was dark, and though there was a cold wind
blowing up the hill-face, the rustle of grass, the soughing of the
boughs that should have accompanied it, were absent. He could hear,
therefore, if he could not see, that the hillside upon which he stood
was rocky and desolate. The green grew brighter every moment, and as it
did so, a faint, transparent blood-red mingled with, but did not
mitigate, the blackness of the sky overhead and the rocky desolations
about him. Having regard to what follows, I am inclined to think that,
that redness may have been an optical effect due to contrast. Something
black fluttered momentarily against the livid yellow-green of the lower
sky, and then the thin and penetrating voice of a bell rose out of the
black gulf below him. An oppressive expectation grew with the growing
light.

It is probable that an hour or more elapsed while he sat there, the
strange green light growing brighter every moment, and spreading slowly,
in flamboyant fingers, upward towards the zenith. As it grew, the
spectral vision of our world became relatively or absolutely fainter.
Probably both, for the time must have been about that of our earthly
sunset. So far as his vision of our world went, Plattner, by his few
steps downhill, had passed through the floor of the classroom, and was
now, it seemed, sitting in mid-air in the larger schoolroom downstairs.
He saw the boarders distinctly, but much more faintly than he had seen
Lidgett. They were preparing their evening tasks, and he noticed with
interest that several were cheating with their Euclid riders by means of
a crib, a compilation whose existence he had hitherto never suspected.
As the time passed, they faded steadily, as steadily as the light of the
green dawn increased.

Looking down into the valley, he saw that the light had crept far down
its rocky sides, and that the profound blackness of the abyss was now
broken by a minute green glow, like the light of a glow-worm. And almost
immediately the limb of a huge heavenly body of blazing green rose over
the basaltic undulations of the distant hills, and the monstrous
hill-masses about him came out gaunt and desolate, in green light and
deep, ruddy black shadows. He became aware of a vast number of
ball-shaped objects drifting as thistledown drifts over the high ground.
There were none of these nearer to him than the opposite side of the
gorge. The bell below twanged quicker and quicker, with something like
impatient insistence, and several lights moved hither and thither. The
boys at work at their desks were now almost imperceptibly faint.

This extinction of our world, when the green sun of this other universe
rose, is a curious point upon which Plattner insists. During the
Other-World night, it is difficult to move about, on account of the
vividness with which the things of this world are visible. It becomes a
riddle to explain why, if this is the case, we in this world catch no
glimpse of the Other-World. It is due, perhaps, to the comparatively
vivid illumination of this world of ours. Plattner describes the midday
of the Other-World, at its brightest as not being nearly so bright as
this world at full moon, while its night is profoundly black.
Consequently, the amount of light, even in an ordinary dark room, is
sufficient to render the things of the Other-World invisible, on the
same principle that faint phosphorescence is only visible in the
profoundest darkness. I have tried, since he told me his story, to see
something of the Other-World by sitting for a long space in a
photographer's dark room at night. I have certainly seen indistinctly
the form of greenish slopes and rocks, but only, I must admit, very
indistinctly indeed. The reader may possibly be more successful.
Plattner tells me that since his return he has dreamt and seen and
recognised places in the Other-World, but this is probably due to his
memory of these scenes. It seems quite possible that people with
unusually keen eyesight may occasionally catch a glimpse of this strange
Other-World about us.

However, this is a digression. As the green sun rose, a long street of
black buildings became perceptible, though only darkly and indistinctly,
in the gorge, and after some hesitation, Plattner began to clamber down
the precipitous descent towards them. The descent was long and
exceedingly tedious, being so not only by the extraordinary steepness,
but also by reason of the looseness of the boulders with which the whole
face of the hill was strewn. The noise of his descent--now and then his
heels struck fire from the rocks--seemed now the only sound in the
universe, for the beating of the bell had ceased. As he drew nearer, he
perceived that the various edifices had a singular resemblance to tombs
and mausoleums and monuments, saving only that they were all uniformly
black instead of being white, as most sepulchres are. And then he saw,
crowding out of the largest building, very much as people disperse from
church, a number of pallid, rounded, pale-green figures. These dispersed
in several directions about the broad street of the place, some going
through side alleys and reappearing upon the steepness of the hill,
others entering some of the small black buildings which lined the way.

At the sight of these things drifting up towards him, Plattner stopped
staring. They were not walking, they were indeed limbless, and they had
the appearance of human heads, beneath which a tadpole-like body swung.
He was too astonished at their strangeness, too full, indeed of
strangeness, to be seriously alarmed by them. They drove towards him, in
front of the chill wind that was blowing uphill, much as soap-bubbles
drive before a draught. And as he looked at the nearest of those
approaching, he saw it was indeed a human head, albeit with singularly
large eyes, and wearing such an expression of distress and anguish as he
had never seen before upon mortal countenance. He was surprised to find
that it did not turn to regard him, but seemed to be watching and
following some unseen moving thing. For a moment he was puzzled, and
then it occurred to him that this creature was watching with its
enormous eyes something that was happening in the world he had just
left. Nearer it came, and nearer, and he was too astonished to cry out.
It made a very faint fretting sound as it came close to him. Then it
struck his face with a gentle pat--, its touch was very cold--, and
drove past him, and upward towards the crest of the hill.

An extraordinary conviction flashed across Plattner's mind that this
head had a strong likeness to Lidgett. Then he turned his attention to
the other heads that were now swarming thickly up the hillside. None
made the slightest sign of recognition. One or two, indeed, came close
to his head and almost followed the example of the first, but he dodged
convulsively out of the way. Upon most of them he saw the same
expression of unavailing regret he had seen upon the first, and heard
the same faint sounds of wretchedness from them. One or two wept, and
one rolling swiftly uphill wore an expression of diabolical rage. But
others were cold, and several had a look of gratified interest in their
eyes. One at least, was almost in an ecstasy of happiness. Plattner does
not remember that he recognised any more likenesses in those he saw at
this time.

For several hours, perhaps Plattner watched these strange things
dispersing themselves over the hills, and not till long after they had
ceased to issue from the clustering black buildings in the gorge, did he
resume his downward climb. The darkness about him increased so much that
he had a difficulty in stepping true. Overhead the sky was now a bright,
pale green. He felt neither hunger nor thirst. Later, when he did, he
found a chilly stream running down the centre of the gorge, and the rare
moss upon the boulders, when he tried it at last in desperation, was
good to eat.

He groped about among the tombs that ran down the gorge, seeking vaguely
for some clue to these inexplicable things. After a long time he came to
the entrance of the big mausoleum-like building from which the heads had
issued. In this he found a group of green lights burning upon a kind of
basaltic altar, and a bell-rope from a belfry overhead hanging down into
the centre of the place. Round the wall ran a lettering of fire in a
character unknown to him. While he was still wondering at the purport of
these things, he heard the receding tramp of heavy feet echoing far down
the street. He ran out into the darkness again, but he could see
nothing. He had a mind to pull the bell-rope, and finally decided to
follow the footsteps. But, although he ran far, he never overtook them;
and his shouting was of no avail. The gorge seemed to extend an
interminable distance. It was as dark as earthly starlight throughout
its length, while the ghastly green day lay along the upper edge of its
precipices. There were none of the heads, now, below. They were all, it
seemed, busily occupied along the upper slopes. Looking up, he saw them
drifting hither and thither, some hovering stationary, some flying
swiftly through the air. It reminded him, he said, of "big snowflakes";
only these were black and pale green.

In pursuing the firm, undeviating footsteps that he never overtook, in
groping into new regions of this endless devil's dyke, in clambering up
and down the pitiless heights, in wandering about the summits, and in
watching the drifting faces, Plattner states that he spent the better
part of seven or eight days. He did not keep count, he says. Though once
or twice he found eyes watching him, he had word with no living soul. He
slept among the rocks on the hillside. In the gorge things earthly were
invisible, because from the earthly standpoint, it was far underground.
On the altitudes, so soon as the earthly day began, the world became
visible to him. He found himself sometimes stumbling over the dark green
rocks, or arresting himself on a precipitous brink, while all about him
the green branches of the Sussexville lanes were swaying; or again, he
seemed to be walking through the Sussexville streets, or watching unseen
the private business of some household. And then it was he discovered,
that to almost every human being in our world there pertained some of
these drifting heads: that every one in the world is watched
intermittently by these helpless disembodiments.

What are they--these Watchers of the Living? Plattner never learned. But
two, that presently found and followed him, were like his childhood's
memory of his father and mother. Now and then other faces turned their
eyes upon him: eyes like those of dead people who had swayed him, or
injured him, or helped him in his youth and manhood. Whenever they
looked at him, Plattner was overcome with a strange sense of
responsibility. To his mother he ventured to speak; but she made no
answer. She looked sadly, steadfastly, and tenderly--a little
reproachfully too, it seemed--into his eyes.

He simply tells this story: he does not endeavour to explain. We are
left to surmise who these Watchers of the Living may be, or if they are
indeed the Dead, why they should so closely and passionately watch a
world they have left for ever. It may be--indeed to my mind it seems
just--that, when our life has closed, when evil or good is no longer a
choice for us, we may still have to witness the working out of the train
of consequences we have laid. If human souls continue after death, then
surely human interests continue after death. But that is merely my own
guess at the meaning of the things seen. Plattner offers no
interpretation, for none was given him. It is well the reader should
understand this clearly. Day after day, with his head reeling, he
wandered about this green-lit world outside the world, weary and,
towards the end, weak and hungry. By day--by our earthly day, that
is--the ghostly vision of the old familiar scenery of Sussexville, all
about him, irked and worried him. He could not see where to put his
feet, and ever and again with a chilly touch one of these Watching Souls
would come against his face. And after dark the multitude of these
Watchers about him, and their intent distress, confused his mind beyond
describing. A great longing to return to the earthly life that was so
near and yet so remote consume him. The unearthliness of things about
him produced a positively painful mental distress. He was worried beyond
describing by his own particular followers. He would shout at them to
desist from staring at him, scold at them, hurry away from them. They
were always mute and intent. Run as he might over the uneven ground,
they followed his destinies.

On the ninth day, towards evening, Plattner heard the invisible
footsteps approaching, far away down the gorge. He was then wandering
over the broad crest of the same hill upon which he had fallen in his
entry into this strange Other-World of his. He turned to hurry down into
the gorge, feeling his way hastily, and was arrested by the sight of the
thing that was happening in a room in a back street near the school.
Both of the people in the room he knew by sight. The windows were open,
the blinds up, and the setting sun shone clearly into it, so that it
came out quite brightly at first, a vivid oblong of room, lying like a
magic-lantern picture upon the black landscape and the livid green dawn.
In addition to the sunlight, a candle had just been lit in the room.

On the bed lay a lank man, his ghastly white face terrible upon the
tumbled pillow. His clenched hands were raised above his head. A little
table beside the bed carried a few medicine bottles, some toast and
water, and an empty glass. Every now and then the lank man's lips fell
apart, to indicate a word he could not articulate. But the woman did not
notice that he wanted anything, because she was busy turning out papers
from an old-fashioned bureau in the opposite corner of the room. At
first the picture was very vivid indeed, but as the green dawn behind it
grew brighter and brighter, so it became fainter and more and more
transparent.

As the echoing footsteps paced nearer and nearer, those footsteps that
sound so loud in that Other-World and come so silently in this, Plattner
perceived about him a great multitude of dim faces gathering together
out of the darkness and watching the two people in the room. Never
before had he seen so many of the Watchers of the Living. A multitude
had eyes only for the sufferer in the room, another multitude, in
infinite anguish, watched the woman as she hunted with greedy eyes for
something she could not find. They crowded about Plattner, they came
across his sight and buffeted his face, the noise of their unavailing
regrets was all about him. He saw clearly only now and then. At other
times the picture quivered dimly, through the veil of green reflections
upon their movements. In the room it must have been very still, and
Plattner says the candle flame streamed up into a perfectly vertical
line of smoke, but in his ears each footfall and its echoes beat like a
clap of thunder. And the faces! Two, more particularly near the woman's:
one a woman's also, white and clear-featured, a face which might have
once been cold and hard, but which was now softened by the touch of a
wisdom strange to earth. The other might have been the woman's father.
Both were evidently absorbed in the contemplation of some act of hateful
meanness, so it seemed, which they could no longer guard against and
prevent. Behind were others, teachers, it may be, who had taught ill,
friends whose influence had failed. And over the man, too--a multitude,
but none that seemed to be parents or teachers! Faces that might once
have been coarse, now purged to strength by sorrow! And in the forefront
one face, a girlish one, neither angry nor remorseful, but merely
patient and weary, and as it seemed to Plattner, waiting for relief. His
powers of description fail him at the memory of this multitude of
ghastly countenances. They gathered on the stroke of the bell He saw
them all in the space of a second. It would seem that he was so worked
on by his excitement that, quite involuntarily, his restless fingers
took the bottle of green powder out of his pocket and held it before
him. But he does not remember that.

Abruptly the footsteps ceased. He waited for the next, and there was
silence, and then suddenly cutting through the unexpected stillness like
a keen, thin blade, came the first stroke of the bell. At that the
multitudinous faces swayed to and fro and a louder crying began all
about him. The woman did not hear; she was burning something now in the
candle flame. At the second stroke everything grew dim, and a breath of
wind, icy cold, blew through the host of watchers. They swirled about
him like an eddy of dead leaves in the spring, and at the third stroke
something was extended through them to the bed. You have heard of a beam
of light. This was like a beam of darkness, and looking again at it,
Plattner saw that it was a shadowy arm and hand.

The green sun was now topping the black desolations of the horizon, and
the vision of the room was very faint. Plattner could see that the white
of the bed struggled, and was convulsed; and that the woman looked round
over her shoulder at it, startled.

The cloud of watchers lifted high like a puff of green dust before the
wind, and swept swiftly downward towards the temple in the gorge. Then
suddenly Plattner understood the meaning of the shadowy black arm that
stretched across his shoulder and clutched its prey. He did not dare
turn his head to see the Shadow behind the arm. With a violent effort,
and covering his eyes, he set himself to run, made perhaps twenty
strides, then slipped on a boulder, and fell. He fell forward on his
hands; and the bottle smashed and exploded as he touched the ground.

In another moment he found himself, stunned and bleeding, sitting face
to face with Lidgett in the old walled garden behind the school.


There the story of Plattner's experiences ends. I have resisted, I
believe successfully, the natural disposition of a writer of fiction to
dress up incidents of this sort. I have told the thing as far as
possible in the order in which Plattner told it to me. I have carefully
avoided any attempt at style, effect, or construction. It would have
been easy, for instance, to have worked the scene of the death-bed into
a kind of plot in which Plattner might have been involved. But, quite
apart from the objectionableness of falsifying a most extraordinary true
story, any such trite devices would spoil to my mind, the peculiar
effect of this dark world, with its livid green illumination and its
drifting Watchers of the Living, which, unseen and unapproachable to us,
is yet lying all about us.

It remains to add, that a death did actually occur in Vincent Terrace,
just beyond the school garden, and so far as can be proved, at the
moment of Plattner's return. Deceased was a rate-collector and insurance
agent. His widow, who was much younger than himself, married last month
a Mr. Whymper, a veterinary surgeon of Allbeeding. As the portion of
this story given here has in various forms circulated orally in
Sussexville, she has consented to my use of her name, on condition that
I make it distinctly known that she emphatically contradicts every
detail of Plattner's account of her husband's last moments. She burnt no
will, she says, although Plattner never accused her of doing so; her
husband made but one will, and that just after their marriage.
Certainly, from a man who had never seen it, Plattner's account of the
furniture of the room was curiously accurate.

One other thing, even at the risk of an irksome repetition, I must
insist upon, lest I seem to favour the credulous, superstitious view.
Plattner's absence from the world for nine days is, I think, proved. But
that does not prove his story. It is quite conceivable that even outside
space hallucinations may be possible. That at least, the reader must
bear distinctly in mind.




THE ARGONAUTS OF THE AIR


One saw Monson's Flying Machine from the windows of the trains passing
either along the South-Western main line or along the line between
Wimbledon and Worcester Park--, to be more exact, one saw the huge
scaffolding which limited the flight of the apparatus. They rose over
the tree-tops, a massive alley of interlacing iron and timber, and an
enormous web of ropes and tackle, extending the best part of two miles.
From the Leatherhead branch this alley was foreshortened and in part
hidden by hill with villas; but from the main line one had it in
profile, a complex tangle of girders and curving bars, very impressive
to the excursionists from Portsmouth and Southampton and the West.
Monson had taken up the work where Maxim had left it, had gone on at
first with an utter contempt for the journalistic wit and ignorance that
had irritated and hampered his predecessor, and had spent (it was said)
rather more than half his immense fortune upon his experiments. The
results, to an impatient generation, seemed inconsiderable. When some
five years had passed after the growth of the colossal iron groves at
Worcester Park, and Monson still failed to put in a fluttering
appearance over Trafalgar Square, even the Isle of Wight trippers felt
their liberty to smile. And such intelligent people as did not consider
Monson a fool stricken with the mania for invention, denounced him as
being (for no particular reason) a self-advertising quack.

Yet now and again a morning trainload of season-ticket holders would see
a white monster rush headlong through the airy tracery of guides and
bars, and hear the further stays, nettings and buffers snap, creak, and
groan with the impact of the blow. Then there would be an efflorescence
of black-set white-rimmed faces along the sides of the train, and the
morning papers would be neglected for a vigorous discussion of the
possibility of flying (in which nothing new was ever said by any
chance), until the train reached Waterloo, and its cargo of
season-ticket holders dispersed themselves over London. Or the fathers
and mothers in some multitudinous train of weary excursionists returning
exhausted from a day of rest by the sea, would find the dark fabric,
standing out against the evening sky, useful in diverting some bilious
child from its introspection, and be suddenly startled by the swift
transit of a huge black flapping shape that strained upward against the
guides. It was a great and forcible thing beyond dispute, and excellent
for conversation; yet all the same, it was but flying in
leading-strings, and most of those who witnessed it scarcely counted its
flight as flying. More of a switchback it seemed to the run of the folk.

Monson, I say, did not trouble himself very keenly about the opinions of
the press at first. But possibly he, even had formed but a poor idea of
the time it would take before the tactics of flying were mastered, the
swift assured adjustment of the big soaring shape to every gust and
chance movement of the air; nor had he clearly reckoned the money this
prolonged struggle against gravitation would cost him. And he was not so
pachydermatous as he seemed. Secretly he had his periodical bundles of
cuttings sent him by Romeike, he had his periodical reminders from his
banker; and if he did not mind the initial ridicule and scepticism, he
felt the growing neglect as the months went by and the money dribbled
away. Time was when Monson had sent the enterprising journalist, keen
after readable matter, empty from his gates. But when the enterprising
journalist ceased from troubling, Monson was anything but satisfied in
his heart of hearts. Still day by day the work went on, and the
multitudinous subtle difficulties of steering diminished in number. Day
by day, too the money trickled away, until his balance was no longer a
matter of hundreds of thousands, but of tens. And at last came an
anniversary.

Monson, sitting in the little drawing-shed, suddenly noticed the date on
Woodhouse's calendar.

"It was five years ago to-day that we began," he said to Woodhouse
suddenly.

"Is it?" said Woodhouse.

"It's the alterations play the devil with us," said Monson, biting a
paper-fastener.

The drawings for the new vans to the hinder screw lay on the table
before him as he spoke. He pitched the mutilated brass paper-fastener
into the waste-paper basket and drummed with his fingers. "These
alterations! Will the mathematicians ever be clever enough to save us
all this patching and experimenting? Five years--learning by rule of
thumb, when one might think that it was possible to calculate the whole
thing out beforehand. The cost of it! I might have hired three senior
wranglers for life. But they'd only have developed some beautifully
useless theorems in pneumatics. What a time it has been, Woodhouse!"

"These mouldings will take three weeks," said Woodhouse. "At special
prices."

"Three weeks!" said Monson, and sat drumming.

"Three weeks certain," said Woodhouse, an excellent engineer, but no
good as a comforter. He drew the sheets towards him and began shading a
bar.

Monson stopped drumming, and began to bite his finger-nails, staring the
while at Woodhouse's head.

"How long have they been calling this Monson's Folly?" he said suddenly.

"Oh! Year or so," said Woodhouse carelessly, without looking up.

Monson sucked the air in between his teeth, and went to the window. The
stout iron columns carrying the elevated rails upon which the start of
the machine was made rose up close by, and the machine was hidden by the
upper edge of the window. Through the grove of iron pillars, red painted
and ornate with rows of bolts, one had a glimpse of the pretty scenery
towards Esher. A train went gliding noiselessly across the middle
distance, its rattle drowned by the hammering of the workmen overhead.
Monson could imagine the grinning faces at the windows of the carriages.
He swore savagely under his breath, and dabbed viciously at a blowfly
that suddenly became noisy on the window-pane.

"What's up?" said Woodhouse, staring in surprise at his employer.

"I'm about sick of this."

Woodhouse scratched his cheek. "Oh!" he said, after an assimilating
pause. He pushed the drawing away from him.

"Here these fools... I'm trying to conquer a new element--trying to do a
thing that will revolutionise life. And instead of taking an intelligent
interest, they grin and make their stupid jokes, and call me and my
appliances names."

"Asses!" said Woodhouse, letting his eye fall again on the drawing.

The epithet, curiously enough, made Monson wince. "I'm about sick of it,
Woodhouse, anyhow," he said, after a pause.

Woodhouse shrugged his shoulders.

"There's nothing for it but patience, I suppose," said Monson, sticking
his hands in his pockets. "I've started. I've made my bed, and I've got
to lie on it. I can't go back. I'll see it through, and spend every
penny I have and every penny I can borrow. But I tell you, Woodhouse,
I'm infernally sick of it, all the same. If I'd paid a tenth part of the
money towards some political greaser's expenses--I'd have been a baronet
before this."

Monson paused. Woodhouse stared in front of him with a blank expression
he always employed to indicate sympathy, and tapped his pencil-case on
the table. Monson stared at him for a minute.

"Oh, damn!" said Monson suddenly, and abruptly rushed out of the room.

Woodhouse continued his sympathetic rigour for perhaps half a minute.
Then he sighed and resumed the shading of the drawings. Something had
evidently upset Monson. Nice chap, and generous, but difficult to get on
with. It was the way with every amateur who had anything to do with
engineering--wanted everything finished at once. But Monson had usually
the patience of the expert. Odd he was so irritable. Nice and round that
aluminium rod did look now! Woodhouse threw back his head, and put it,
first this side and then that, to appreciate his bit of shading better.

"Mr. Woodhouse," said Hooper, the foreman of the labourers, putting his
head in at the door.

"Hullo!" said Woodhouse, without turning round.

"Nothing happened, sir?" said Hooper.

"Happened?" said Woodhouse.

"The governor just been up the rails swearing like a tornader."

"Oh!" said Woodhouse.

"It ain't like him, sir."

"No?"

"And I was thinking perhaps--"

"Don't think," said Woodhouse, still admiring the drawings.

Hooper knew Woodhouse, and shut the door suddenly with a vicious slam.
Woodhouse stared stonily before him for some further minutes, and then
made an ineffectual effort to pick his teeth with his pencil. Abruptly
he desisted, pitched that old, tried, and stumpy servitor across the
room, got up, stretched himself, and followed Hooper.

He looked ruffled--it was visible to every workman he met. When a
millionaire who has been spending thousands on experiments that employ
quite a little army of people suddenly indicates that he is sick of the
undertaking, there is almost invariably a certain amount of mental
friction in the ranks of the little army he employs. And even before he
indicates his intentions there are speculations and murmurs, a watching
of faces and a study of straws. Hundreds of people knew before the day
was out that Monson was ruffled, Woodhouse ruffled, Hooper ruffled. A
workman's wife, for instance (whom Monson had never seen), decided to
keep her money in the savings-bank instead of buying a velveteen dress.
So far-reaching are even the casual curses of a millionaire.

Monson found a certain satisfaction in going on the works and behaving
disagreeably to as many people as possible. After a time even that
palled upon him, and he rode off the grounds, to every one's relief
there, and through the lanes south-eastward, to the infinite tribulation
of his house steward at Cheam.


And the immediate cause of it all, the little grain of annoyance that
had suddenly precipitated all this discontent with his life-work
was--these trivial things that direct all our great decisions--! Half a
dozen ill-considered remarks made by a pretty girl, prettily dressed,
with a beautiful voice and something more than prettiness in
her soft grey eyes. And of these half-dozen remarks, two words
especially--"Monson's Folly." She had felt she was behaving charmingly
to Monson; she reflected the next day how exceptionally effective she
had been, and no one would have been more amazed than she, had she
learned the effect she had left on Monson's mind. I hope, considering
everything, that she never knew.

"How are you getting on with your flying-machine?" she asked. ("I wonder
if I shall ever meet any one with the sense not to ask that," thought
Monson.) "It will be very dangerous at first, will it not?" ("Thinks I'm
afraid.") "Jorgon is going to play presently; have you heard him
before?" ("My mania being attended to, we turn to rational
conversation.") Gush about Jorgon; gradual decline of conversation,
ending with--"You must let me know when your flying-machine is finished,
Mr. Monson, and then I will consider the advisability of taking a
ticket." ("One would think I was still playing inventions in the
nursery.") But the bitterest thing she said was not meant for Monson's
ears. To Phlox, the novelist, she was always conscientiously brilliant.
"I have been talking to Mr. Monson, and he can think of nothing,
positively nothing, but that flying-machine of his. Do you know, all his
workmen call that place of his 'Monson's Folly'? He is quite impossible.
It is really very, very sad. I always regard him myself in the light of
sunken treasure--the Lost Millionaire, you know."

She was pretty and well educated--, indeed, she had written an
epigrammatic novelette; but the bitterness was that she was typical. She
summarised what the world thought of the man who was working sanely,
steadily, and surely towards a more tremendous revolution in the
appliances of civilisation, a more far-reaching alteration in the ways
of humanity than has ever been effected since history began. They did
not even take his seriously. In a little while he would be proverbial.
"I must fly now," he said on his way home, smarting with a sense of
absolute social failure. "I must fly soon. If it doesn't come off soon,
by God! I shall run amuck."

He said that before he had gone through his pass-book and his litter of
papers. Inadequate as the cause seems, it was that girl's voice and the
expression of her eyes that precipitated his discontent. But certainly
the discovery that he had no longer even one hundred thousand pounds'
worth of realisable property behind him was the poison that made the
wound deadly.

It was the next day after this that he exploded upon Woodhouse and his
workmen, and thereafter his bearing was consistently grim for three
weeks, and anxiety dwelt in Cheam and Ewell, Maldon, Morden, and
Worcester Park, places that had thriven mightily on his experiments.

Four weeks after that first swearing of his, he stood with Woodhouse by
the reconstructed machine as it lay across the elevated railway, by
means of which it gained its initial impetus. The new propeller
glittered a brighter white than the rest of the machine, and a gilder,
obedient to a whim of Monson's was picking out the aluminium bars with
gold. And looking down the long avenue between the ropes (gilded now
with the sunset), one saw red signals, and two miles away an ant-hill of
workmen busy altering the last falls of the run into a rising slope.

"I'll come," said Woodhouse. "I'll come right enough. But I tell you
it's infernally foolhardy. If only you would give another year--"

"I tell you I won't. I tell you the thing works. I've given years
enough--"

"It's not that," said Woodhouse. "We're all right with the machine. But
it's the steering--"

"Haven't I been rushing, night and morning, backwards and forwards,
through the squirrel's cage? If the thing steers true here, it will
steer true all across England. It's just funk, I tell you, Woodhouse. We
could have gone a year ago. And besides--"

"Well?" said Woodhouse.

"The money!" snapped Monson over his shoulder.

"Hang it! I never thought of the money," said Woodhouse, and then,
speaking now in a very different tone to that with which he said the
words before, he repeated, "I'll come. Trust me."

Monson turned suddenly, and saw all that Woodhouse had not the dexterity
to say, shining on his sunset-lit face. He looked for a moment, then
impulsively extended his hand. "Thanks," he said.

"All right," said Woodhouse, gripping the hand, and with a queer
softening of his features. "Trust me."

Then both men turned to the big apparatus that lay with its flat wings
extended upon the carrier, and stared at it meditatively. Monson, guided
perhaps by a photographic study of flight of birds, and by Lilienthal's
methods, had gradually drifted from Maxim's shapes towards the bird form
again. The thing, however, was driven by a huge screw behind in the
place of the tail; and so hovering, which needs an almost vertical
adjustment of a flat tail, was rendered impossible. The body of the
machine was small, almost cylindrical, and pointed. Forward and aft on
the pointed ends were two small petroleum engines for the screw, and the
navigators sat deep in a canoe-like recess, the foremost one steering,
and being protected by a low screen, with two plate-glass windows, from
the blinding rush of air. On either side a monstrous flat framework with
a curved front border could be adjusted so as either to lie
horizontally, or to be tilted upward or down. These wings worked rigidly
together, or by releasing a pin, one could be tilted through a small
angle independently of its fellow. The front edge of either wing could
also be shifted back so as to diminish the wing-area about one-sixth.
The machine was not only not designed to hover, but it was also
incapable of fluttering. Monson's idea was to get into the air with the
initial rush of the apparatus, and then to skim, much as a playing-card
may be skimmed, keeping up the rush by means of the screw at the stern.
Rooks and gulls fly enormous distances in that way with scarcely a
perceptible movement of the wings. The bird really drives along on an
aerial switchback. It glides slanting downward for a space, until it has
gained considerable momentum, and then altering the inclination of its
wings, glides up again almost to its original altitude. Even a Londoner
who has watched the birds in the aviary in Regent's Park knows that.

But the bird is practising this art from the moment it leaves its nest.
It has not only the perfect apparatus, but the perfect instinct to use
it. A man off his feet has the poorest skill in balancing. Even the
simple trick of the bicycle costs him some hours of labour. The
instantaneous adjustments of the wings, the quick response to a passing
breeze, the swift recovery of equilibrium, the giddy, eddying movements
that require such absolute precision--all that he must learn, learn with
infinite labour and infinite danger, if ever he is to conquer flying.
The flying-machine that will start off some fine day, driven by neat
"little levers," with a nice open deck like a liner, and all loaded up
with bombshells and guns, is the easy dreaming of a literary man. In
lives and in treasure the cost of the conquest of the empire of air may
even exceed all that has been spent in man's great conquest of the sea.
Certainly it will be costlier than the greatest war that has ever
devastated the world.

No one knew these things better than these two practical men. And they
knew they were in the front rank of the coming army. Yet there is hope
even in a forlorn hope. Men are killed outright in the reserves
sometimes, while others who have been left for dead in the thickest
corner crawl out and survive.

"If we miss these meadows--" said Woodhouse presently in his slow way.

"My dear chap," said Monson, whose spirits had been rising fitfully
during the last few days, "we mustn't miss these meadows. There's a
quarter of a square mile for us to hit, fences removed, ditches
levelled. We shall come down all right--rest assured. And if we don't--"

"Ah!" said Woodhouse. "If we don't!"

Before the day of the start, the newspaper people got wind of the
alterations at northward end of the framework, and Monson was cheered by
a decided change in the comments Romeike forwarded him. "He will be off
some day," said the papers. "He will be off some day," said the
South-Western season-ticket holders one to another; the seaside
excursionists, the Saturday-to-Monday trippers from Sussex and Hampshire
and Dorset and Devon, the eminent literary people from Haslemere, all
remarked eagerly one to another, "He will be off some day," as the
familiar scaffolding came in sight. And actually, one bright morning, in
full view of the ten-past-ten train from Basingstoke, Monson's
flying-machine started on its journey.

They saw the carrier running swiftly along its rail, and the white and
gold screw spinning in the air. They heard the rapid rumble of wheels,
and thud as the carrier reached the buffers at the end of its run. Then
a whirr as the Flying-Machine was shot forward into the networks. All
that the majority of them had seen and heard before. The thing went with
a dropping flight through the framework and rose again, and then every
beholder shouted, or screamed, or yelled, or shrieked after his kind.
For instead of the customary concussion and stoppage, the Flying-Machine
flew out of its five years' cage like a bolt from a crossbow, and drove
slantingly upward into the air, curved round a little, so as to cross
the line, and soared in the direction of Wimbledon Common.

It seemed to hang momentarily in the air and grow smaller, then it
ducked and vanished over the clustering blue tree-tops to the east of
Coombe Hill, and no one stopped staring and gasping until long after it
had disappeared.

That was what the people in the train from Basingstoke saw. If you had
drawn a line down the middle of that train, from engine to guard's van,
you would not have found a living soul on the opposite side to the
flying-machine. It was a mad rush from window to window as the thing
crossed the line. And the engine-driver and stoker never took their eyes
off the low hills about Wimbledon, and never noticed that they had run
clean through Coombe and Malden and Raynes Park, until with returning
animation, they found themselves pelting, at the most indecent pace,
into Wimbledon station.

From the moment when Monson had started the carrier with a "Now!"
neither he nor Woodhouse said a word. Both men sat with clenched teeth.
Monson had crossed the line with a curve that was too sharp, and
Woodhouse had opened and shut his white lips; but neither spoke.
Woodhouse simply gripped his seat, and breathed sharply through his
teeth, watching the blue country to the west rushing past, and down, and
away from him. Monson knelt at his post forward, and his hands trembled
on the spoked wheel that moved the wings. He could see nothing before
him but a mass of white clouds in the sky.

The machine went slanting upward, travelling with an enormous speed
still, but losing momentum every moment. The land ran away underneath
with diminishing speed.

"Now!" said Woodhouse at last, and with a violent effort Monson wrenched
over the wheel and altered the angle of the wings. The machine seemed to
hang for half a minute motionless in mid-air, and then he saw the hazy
blue house-covered hills of Kilburn and Hampstead jump up before his
eyes and rise steadily, until the little sunlit dome of the Albert Hall
appeared through his windows. For a moment he scarcely understood the
meaning of this upward rush of the horizon, but as the nearer and nearer
houses came into view, he realised what he had done. He had turned the
wings over too far, and they were swooping steeply downward towards the
Thames.

The thought, the question, the realisation were all the business of a
second of time. "Too much!" gasped Woodhouse. Monson brought the wheel
halfway back with a jerk, and forthwith the Kilburn and Hampstead ridge
dropped again to the lower edge of his windows. They had been a thousand
feet above Coombe and Malden station; fifty seconds after they whizzed,
at a frightful pace, not eighty feet above the East Putney station, on
the Metropolitan District line, to the screaming astonishment of a
platformful of people. Monson flung up the vans against the air, and
over Fulham they rushed up their atmospheric switchback again,
steeply--too steeply. The 'buses went floundering across the Fulham
Road, the people yelled.

Then down again, too steeply still, and the distant trees and houses
about Primrose Hill leapt up across Monson's window, and then suddenly
he saw straight before him the greenery of Kensington Gardens and the
towers of the Imperial Institute. They were driving straight down upon
South Kensington. The pinnacles of the Natural History Museum rushed up
into view. There came one fatal second of swift thought, a moment of
hesitation. Should he try and clear the towers, or swerve eastward?

He made a hesitating attempt to release the right wing, left the catch
half released, and gave a frantic clutch at the wheel.

The nose of the machine seemed to leap up before him. The wheel pressed
his hand with irresistible force, and jerked itself out of his control.

Woodhouse, sitting crouched together, gave a hoarse cry, and sprang up
towards Monson. "Too far!" he cried, and then he was clinging to the
gunwale for dear life, and Monson had been jerked clean overhead, and
was falling backwards upon him.

So swiftly had the thing happened that barely a quarter of the people
going to and fro in Hyde Park, and Brompton Road, and the Exhibition
Road saw anything of the aerial catastrophe. A distant winged shape had
appeared above the clustering houses to the south, had fallen and risen,
growing larger as it did so; had swooped swiftly down towards the
Imperial Institute, a broad spread of flying wings, had swept round in a
quarter circle, dashed eastward, and then suddenly sprang vertically
into the air. A black object shot out of it, and came spinning downward.
A man! Two men clutching each other! They came whirling down, separated
as they struck the roof of Students' Club, and bounded off into the
green bushes on its southward side.

For perhaps half a minute, the pointed stem of the big machine still
pierced vertically upward, the screw spinning desperately. For one brief
instant, that yet seemed an age to all who watched, it had hung
motionless in mid-air. Then a spout of yellow flame licked up its length
from the stern engine, and swift, swifter, swifter, and flaring like a
rocket, it rushed down upon the solid mass of masonry which was formerly
the Royal College of Science. The big screw of white and gold touched
the parapet, and crumpled up like wet linen. Then the blazing
spindle-shaped body smashed and splintered, smashing and splintering in
its fall, upon the north-westward angle of the building.

But the crash, the flame of blazing paraffin that shot heavenward from
the shattered engines of the machine, the crushed horrors that were
found in the garden beyond the Students' Club, the masses of yellow
parapet and red brick that fell headlong into the roadway, the running
to and fro of people like ants in a broken ant-hill, the galloping of
fire-engines, the gathering of crowds--all these things do not belong to
this story, which was written only to tell how the first of all
successful flying-machines was launched and flew. Though he failed, and
failed disastrously, the record of Monson's work remains a sufficient
monument--to guide the next of that band of gallant experimentalists who
will sooner or later master this great problem of flying. And between
Worcester Park and Malden there still stands that portentous avenue of
iron-work, rusting now, and dangerous here and there, to witness to the
first desperate struggle for man's right of way through the air.




THE STORY OF THE LATE MR. ELVESHAM


I set this story down, not expecting it will be believed, but if
possible, to prepare a way of escape for the next victim. He perhaps,
may profit by my misfortune. My own case, I know is hopeless, and I am
now in some measure prepared to meet my fate.

My name is Edward George Eden. I was born at Trentham, in Staffordshire,
my father being employed in the gardens there. I lost my mother when I
was three years old, and my father when I was five, my uncle, George
Eden, then adopting me as his own son. He was a single man,
self-educated, and well-known in Birmingham as an enterprising
journalist; he educated me generously, fired my ambition to succeed in
the world, and at his death, which happened four years ago, left me his
entire fortune, a matter of about five hundred pounds after all outgoing
charges were paid. I was then eighteen. He advised me in his will to
expend the money in completing my education. I had already chosen the
profession of medicine, and through his posthumous generosity and my
good fortune in a scholarship competition, I became a medical student at
University College, London. At the time of the beginning of my story I
lodged at 11A University Street in a little upper room, very shabbily
furnished and draughty, overlooking the back of Shoolbred's premises. I
used this little room both to live in and sleep in, because I was
anxious to eke out my means to the very last shillingsworth.

I was taking a pair of shoes to be mended at a shop in the Tottenham
Court Road when I first encountered the little old man with the yellow
face, with whom my life has now become so inextricably entangled. He was
standing on the kerb, and staring at the number on the door in a
doubtful way, as I opened it. His eyes--they were dull grey eyes, and
reddish under the rims--fell to my face, and his countenance immediately
assumed an expression of corrugated amiability.

"You come," he said, "apt to the moment. I had forgotten the number of
your house. How do you do, Mr. Eden?"

I was a little astonished at his familiar address, for I had never set
eyes on the man before. I was a little annoyed too, at his catching me
with my boots under my arm. He noticed my lack of cordiality.

"Wonder who the deuce I am, eh? A friend, let me assure you. I have seen
you before, though you haven't seen me. Is there anywhere where I can
talk to you?"

I hesitated. The shabbiness of my room upstairs was not a matter for
every stranger. "Perhaps," said I, "we might walk down the street. I'm
unfortunately prevented--" My gesture explained the sentence before I
had spoken it.

"The very thing," he said, and faced this way, and then that. "The
street? Which way shall we go?" I slipped my boots down in the passage.
"Look here!" he said abruptly; "this business of mine is a rigmarole.
Come and lunch with me, Mr. Eden. I'm an old man, a very old man, and
not good at explanations, and what with my piping voice and the clatter
of the traffic--"

He laid a persuasive skinny hand that trembled a little upon my arm.

I was not so old that an old man might not treat me to a lunch. Yet at
the same time I was not altogether pleased by this abrupt invitation. "I
had rather--" I began. "But I had rather," he said, catching me up, "and
a certain civility is surely due to my grey hairs."

And so I consented, and went with him.

He took me to Blavitiski's; I had to walk slowly to accommodate myself
to his paces; and over such a lunch as I had never tasted before, he
fended off my leading question, and I took a better note of his
appearance. His clean-shaven face was lean and wrinkled, his shrivelled,
lips fell over a set of false teeth, and his white hair was thin and
rather long; he seemed small to me--though, indeed, most people seemed
small to me--and his shoulders were rounded and bent. And watching him,
I could not help but observe that he too was taking note of me, running
his eyes, with a curious touch of greed in them, over me, from my broad
shoulders to my sun-tanned hands, and up to my freckled face again. "And
now," said he, as we lit our cigarettes, "I must tell you of the
business in hand.

"I must tell you then, that I am an old man, a very old man." He paused
momentarily. "And it happens that I have money that I must presently be
leaving, and never a child have I to leave it to." I thought of the
confidence trick, and resolved I would be on the alert for the vestiges
of my five hundred pounds. He proceeded to enlarge on his loneliness,
and the trouble he had to find a proper disposition of his money. "I
have weighed this plan and that plan, charities, institutions, and
scholarships, and libraries, and I have come to this conclusion at
last--," he fixed his eyes on my face--, "that I will find some young
fellow, ambitious, pure-minded, and poor, healthy in body and healthy in
mind, and in short, make him my heir, give him all that I have." He
repeated, "Give him all that I have. So that he will suddenly be lifted
out of all the trouble and struggle in which his sympathies have been
educated, to freedom and influence."

I tried to seem disinterested. With a transparent hypocrisy I said, "And
you want my help, my professional services maybe, to find that person."

He smiled, and looked at me over his cigarette, and I laughed at his
quiet exposure of my modest pretence.

"What a career such a man might have!" he said. "It fills me with envy
to think how I have accumulated that another man may spend--

"But there are conditions, of course, burdens to be imposed. He must,
for instance, take my name. You cannot expect everything without some
return. And I must go into all the circumstances of his life before I
can accept him. He must be sound. I must know his heredity, how his
parents and grandparents died, have the strictest inquiries made into
his private morals--"

This modified my secret congratulations a little.

"And do I understand," said I, "that I--?"

"Yes," he said, almost fiercely. "You. You."

I answered never a word. My imagination was dancing wildly, my innate
scepticism was useless to modify its transports. There was not a
particle of gratitude in my mind--I did not know what to say nor how to
say it. "But why me in particular?" I said at last.

He had chanced to hear of me from Professor Haslar, he said, as a
typically sound and sane young man, and he wished, as far as possible,
to leave his money where health and integrity were assured.

That was my first meeting with the little old man. He was mysterious
about himself; he would not give his name yet, he said, and after I had
answered some questions of his, he left me at the Blavitski portal. I
noticed that he drew a handful of gold coins from his pocket when it
came to paying for the lunch. His insistence upon bodily health was
curious. In accordance with an arrangement we had made I applied that
day for a life policy in the Loyal Insurance Company for a large sum,
and I was exhaustively overhauled by the medical advisers of that
company in the subsequent week. Even that did not satisfy him, and he
insisted I must be re-examined by the great Doctor Henderson. It was
Friday in Whitsun week before he came to a decision. He called me down,
quite late in the evening--, nearly nine it was--, from cramming
chemical equations for my Preliminary Scientific examination. He was
standing in the passage under the feeble gas-lamp, and his face was a
grotesque interplay of shadows. He seemed more bowed than when I had
first seen him, and his cheeks had sunk in a little.

His voice shook with emotion. "Everything is satisfactory, Mr. Eden," he
said. "Everything is quite, quite satisfactory. And this night of all
nights, you must dine with me and celebrate your--accession." He was
interrupted by a cough. "You won't have long to wait, either," he said,
wiping his handkerchief across his lips, and gripping my hand with his
long bony claw that was disengaged. "Certainly not very long to wait."

We went into the street and called a cab. I remember every incident of
that drive vividly, the swift, easy motion, the vivid contrast of gas
and oil and electric light, the crowds of people in the streets, the
place in Regent Street to which we went, and the sumptuous dinner we
were served with there. I was disconcerted at first by the well-dressed
waiter's glances at my rough clothes, bothered by the stones of the
olives, but as the champagne warmed my blood, my confidence revived. At
first the old man talked of himself. He had already told me his name in
the cab; he was Egbert Elvesham, the great philosopher, whose name I had
known since I was a lad at school. It seemed incredible to me that this
man, whose intelligence had so early dominated mine, this great
abstraction, should suddenly realise itself as this decrepit, familiar
figure. I dare say every young fellow who has suddenly fallen among
celebrities has felt something of my disappointment. He told me now of
the future that the feeble streams of his life would presently leave dry
for me, houses, copyrights, investments; I had never suspected that
philosophers were so rich. He watched me drink and eat with a touch of
envy. "What a capacity for living you have!" he said; and then with a
sigh, a sigh of relief I could have thought it, "It will not be long."

"Ay," said I, my head swimming now with champagne; "I have a future
perhaps--of a fairly agreeable sort, thanks to you. I shall now have the
honour of your name. But you have a past. Such a past as is worth all my
future."

He shook his head and smiled, as I thought, with half-sad appreciation
of my flattering admiration. "That future," he said, "would you in truth
change it?" The waiter came with liqueurs. "You will not perhaps mind
taking my name, taking my position, but would you indeed--willingly--take
my years?"

"With your achievements," said I gallantly.

He smiled again. "Kummel--both," he said to the waiter, and turned his
attention to a little paper packet he had taken from his pocket. "This
hour," said he, "this after-dinner hour is the hour of small things.
Here is a scrap of my unpublished wisdom." He opened the packet with his
shaking yellow fingers, and showed a little pinkish powder on the paper.
"This," said he--"well, you must guess what it is. But Kummel--put but a
dash of this powder in it--is Himmel." His large greyish eyes watched
mine with an inscrutable expression.

It was a bit of a shock to me to find this great teacher gave his mind
to the flavour of liqueurs. However, I feigned an interest in his
weakness, for I was drunk enough for such small sycophancy.

He parted the powder between the little glasses, and rising suddenly,
with a strange unexpected dignity, held out his hand towards me. I
imitated his action, and the glasses rang. "To a quick succession," said
he, and raised his glass towards his lips.

"Not that," I said hastily. "Not that."

He paused with the liqueur at the level of his chin, and his eyes
blazing into mine.

"To a long life," said I.

He hesitated. "To a long life," said he, with a sudden bark of laughter,
and with eyes fixed on one another we tilted the little glasses. His
eyes looked straight into mine, and as I drained the stuff off, I felt a
curiously intense sensation. The first touch of it set my brain in a
furious tumult; I seemed to feel an actual physical stirring in my
skull, and a seething humming filled my ears. I did not notice the
flavour in my mouth, the aroma that filled my throat; I saw only the
grey intensity of his gaze that burnt into mine. The draught, the mental
confusion, the noise and stirring in my head, seemed to last an
interminable time. Curious vague impressions of half-forgotten things
danced and vanished on the edge of my consciousness. At last he broke
the spell. With a sudden explosive sigh he put down his glass.

"Well?" he said.

"It's glorious," said I, though I had not tasted the stuff.

My head was spinning. I sat down. My brain was chaos. Then my perception
grew clear and minute as though I saw things in a concave mirror. His
manner seemed to have changed into something nervous and hasty. He
pulled out his watch and grimaced at it. "Eleven-seven! And to-night I
must--Seven-twenty-five. Waterloo! I must go at once." He called for the
bill, and struggled with his coat. Officious waiters came to our
assistance. In another moment I was wishing him good-bye, over the apron
of a cab, and still with an absurd feeling of minute distinctness, as
though--how can I express it--? I not only saw but felt through an
inverted opera-glass.

"That stuff," he said. He put his hand to his forehead. "I ought not to
have given it to you. It will make your head split to-morrow. Wait a
minute. Here." He handed me out a little flat thing like a
seidlitz-powder. "Take that in water as you are going to bed. The other
thing was a drug. Not till you're ready to go to bed, mind. It will
clear your head. That's all. One more shake--Futurus!"

I gripped his shrivelled claw. "Good-bye," he said, and by the droop of
his eyelids I judged he too was a little under the influence of that
brain-twisting cordial.

He recollected something else with a start, felt in his breast-pocket,
and produced another packet, this time a cylinder the size and shape of
a shaving-stick. "Here," said he. "I'd almost forgotten. Don't open this
until I come to-morrow--but take it now."

It was so heavy that I well-nigh dropped it. "All ri'!" said I, and he
grinned at me through the cab window as the cabman flicked his horse
into wakefulness. It was a white packet he had given me, with red seals
at either end and along its edge. "If this isn't money," said I, "it's
platinum or lead."

I stuck it with elaborate care into my pocket, and with a whirling brain
walked home through the Regent Street loiterers and the dark back
streets beyond Portland Road. I remember the sensations of that walk
very vividly, strange as they were. I was still so far myself that I
could notice my strange mental state, and wonder whether this stuff I
had, had was opium--a drug beyond my experience. It is hard now to
describe the peculiarity of my mental strangeness--mental doubling
vaguely expresses it. As I was walking up Regent Street I found in my
mind a queer persuasion that it was Waterloo Station, and had an odd
impulse to get into the Polytechnic as a man might get into a train. I
put a knuckle in my eye, and it was Regent Street. How can I express it?
You see a skilful actor looking quietly at you, he pulls a grimace, and
lo--! Another person. Is it too extravagant if I tell you that it seemed
to me as if Regent Street had, for the moment, done that? Then, being
persuaded it was Regent Street again, I was oddly muddled about some
fantastic reminiscences that cropped up. "Thirty years ago," thought I,
"it was here that I quarrelled with my brother." Then I burst out
laughing, to the astonishment and encouragement of a group of night
prowlers. Thirty years ago I did not exist, and never in my life had I
boasted a brother. The stuff was surely liquid folly, for the poignant
regret for that lost brother still clung to me. Along Portland Road the
madness took another turn. I began to recall vanished shops, and to
compare the street with what it used to be. Confused, troubled thinking
is comprehensible enough after the drink I had taken, but what puzzled
me were these curiously vivid phantasm memories that had crept into my
mind, and not only the memories that had crept in, but also the memories
that had slipped out. I stopped opposite Stevens', the natural history
dealer's, and cudgelled my brains to think what he had to do with me. A
'bus went by, and sounded exactly like the rumbling of a train. I seemed
to be dipping into some dark, remote pit for the recollection. "Of
course," said I, at last, "he has promised me three frogs to-morrow. Odd
I should have forgotten."

Do they still show children dissolving views? In those I remember one
view would begin like a faint ghost, and grow and oust another. In just
that way it seemed to me that a ghostly set of new sensations was
struggling with those of my ordinary self.

I went on through Euston Road to Tottenham Court Road, puzzled, and a
little frightened, and scarcely noticed the unusual way I was taking,
for commonly I used to cut through the intervening network of back
streets. I turned into University Street, to discover that I had
forgotten my number. Only by a strong effort did I recall 11A, and even
then it seemed to me that it was a thing some forgotten person had told
me. I tried to steady my mind by recalling the incidents of the dinner,
and for the life of me I could conjure up no picture of my host's face;
I saw him only as a shadowy outline, as one might see oneself reflected
in a window through which one was looking. In his place however, I had a
curious exterior vision of myself, sitting at a table, flushed,
bright-eyed, and talkative.

"I must take this other powder," said I. "This is getting impossible."

I tried the wrong side of the hall for my candle and the matches, and
had a doubt of which landing my room might be on. "I'm drunk," I said,
"that's certain," and blundered needlessly on the staircase to sustain
the proposition.

At the first glance my room seemed unfamiliar. "What rot!" I said, and
stared about me. I seemed to bring myself back by the effort, and the
odd phantasmal quality passed into the concrete familiar. There was the
old looking-glass, with my notes on the albumens stuck in the corner of
the frame, my old everyday suit of clothes pitched about the floor. And
yet it was not so real after all. I felt an idiotic persuasion trying to
creep into my mind, as it were, that I was in a railway carriage in a
train just stopping, that I was peering out of the window at some
unknown station. I gripped the bed-rail firmly to reassure myself. "It's
clairvoyance, perhaps," I said. "I must write to the Psychical Research
Society."

I put the rouleau on my dressing-table, sat on my bed, and began to take
off my boots. It was as if the picture of my present sensations was
painted over some other picture that was trying to show through. "Curse
it!" Said I; "My wits are going, or am I in two places at once?"
Half-undressed, I tossed the powder into a glass and drank it off. It
effervesced, and became a fluorescent amber colour. Before I was in bed
my mind was already tranquillised. I felt the pillow at my cheek, and
thereupon I must have fallen asleep.


I awoke abruptly out of a dream of strange beasts, and found myself
lying on my back. Probably every one knows that dismal, emotional dream
from which one escapes, awake indeed, but strangely cowed. There was a
curious taste in my mouth, a tired feeling in my limbs, a sense of
cutaneous discomfort. I lay with my head motionless on my pillow,
expecting that my feeling of strangeness and terror would pass away, and
that I should then doze off again to sleep. But instead of that, my
uncanny sensations increased. At first I could perceive nothing wrong
about me. There was a faint light in the room, so faint that it was the
very next thing to darkness, and the furniture stood out in it as vague
blots of absolute darkness. I stared with my eyes just over the
bedclothes.

It came into my mind that some one had entered the room to rob me of my
rouleau of money, but after lying for some moments, breathing regularly
to simulate sleep, I realised this was mere fancy. Nevertheless, the
uneasy assurance of something wrong kept fast hold of me. With an effort
I raised my head from the pillow, and peered about me at the dark. What
it was I could not conceive. I looked at the dim shapes around me, the
greater and lesser darknesses that indicated curtains, table, fireplace,
bookshelves, and so forth. Then I began to perceive something unfamiliar
in the forms of the darkness. Had the bed turned round? Yonder should be
the bookshelves, and something shrouded and pallid rose there, something
that would not answer to the bookshelves, however I looked at it. It was
far too big to be my shirt thrown on a chair.

Overcoming a childish terror, I threw back the bedclothes and thrust my
leg out of bed. Instead of coming out of my truckle-bed upon the floor,
I found my foot scarcely reached the edge of the mattress. I made
another step, as it were, and sat up on the edge of the bed. By the side
of my bed should be the candle, and the matches upon the broken chair. I
put out my hand and touched--nothing. I waved my hand in the darkness,
and it came against some heavy hanging, soft and thick in texture, which
gave a rustling noise at my touch. I grasped this and pulled it; it
appeared to be a curtain suspended over the head of my bed.

I was now thoroughly awake, and beginning to realise that I was in a
strange room. I was puzzled. I tried to recall the overnight
circumstances, and I found them now, curiously enough, vivid in my
memory: the supper, my reception of the little packages, my wonder
whether I was intoxicated, my slow undressing, the coolness to my
flushed face of my pillow. I felt a sudden distrust. Was that last
night, or the night before? At any rate, this room was strange to me,
and I could not imagine how I had got into it. The dim, pallid outline
was growing paler, and I perceived it was a window, with the dark shape
of an oval toilet-glass against the weak intimation of the dawn that
filtered through the blind. I stood up, and was surprised by a curious
feeling of weakness and unsteadiness. With trembling hands outstretched,
I walked slowly towards the window, getting, nevertheless, a bruise on
the knee from a chair by the way. I fumbled round the glass, which was
large, with handsome brass sconces, to find the blind-cord. I could not
find any. By chance I took hold of the tassel, and with the click of a
spring the blind ran up.

I found myself looking out upon a scene that was altogether strange to
me. The night was overcast, and through the flocculent grey of the
heaped clouds there filtered a faint half-light of dawn. Just at the
edge of the sky the cloud-canopy had a blood-red rim. Below everything
was dark and indistinct, dim hills in the distance, a vague mass of
buildings running up into pinnacles, trees like spilt ink, and below the
window a tracery of black bushes and pale grey paths. It was so
unfamiliar that for the moment I thought myself still dreaming. I felt
the toilet-table; it appeared to be made of some polished wood, and was
rather elaborately furnished--there were little cut-glass bottles and a
brush upon it. There was also a queer little object, horse-shoe-shaped
it felt, with smooth, hard projections, lying in a saucer. I could find
no matches nor candlestick.

I turned my eyes to the room again. Now the blind was up, faint spectres
of its furnishing came out of the darkness. There was a huge curtained
bed, and the fireplace at its foot had a large white mantel with
something of the shimmer of marble.

I leant against the toilet-table, shut my eyes and opened them again,
and tried to think. The whole thing was far too real for dreaming. I was
inclined to imagine there was still some hiatus in my memory, as a
consequence of my draught of that strange liqueur; that I had come into
my inheritance perhaps, and suddenly lost my recollection of everything
since my good fortune had been announced. Perhaps if I waited a little,
things would be clearer to me again. Yet my dinner with old Elvesham was
now singularly vivid and recent. The champagne, the observant waiters,
the powder, and the liqueurs--I could have staked my soul it all
happened a few hours ago.

And then occurred a thing so trivial and yet so terrible to me that I
shiver now to think of that moment. I spoke aloud. I said, "How the
devil did I get here...?" And the voice was not my own.

It was not my own, it was thin, the articulation was slurred, the
resonance of my facial bones was different. Then to reassure myself, I
ran one hand over the other, and felt loose folds of skin, the bony
laxity of age. "Surely," I said, in that horrible voice that had somehow
established itself in my throat, "surely this thing is a dream!" Almost
as quickly as if I did it involuntarily, I thrust my fingers into my
mouth. My teeth had gone. My finger-tips ran on the flaccid surface of
an even row of shrivelled gums. I was sick with dismay and disgust.

I felt then a passionate desire to see myself, to realise at once in its
full horror the ghastly change that had come upon me. I tottered to the
mantel, and felt along it for matches. As I did so, a barking cough
sprang up in my throat, and I clutched the thick flannel nightdress I
found about me. There were no matches there, and I suddenly realised
that my extremities were cold. Sniffing and coughing, whimpering a
little, perhaps, I fumbled back to bed. "It is surely a dream," I
whispered to myself as I clambered back, "surely a dream." It was a
senile repetition. I pulled the bedclothes over my shoulders, over my
ears, I thrust my withered hand under the pillow, and determined to
compose myself to sleep. Of course it was a dream. In the morning the
dream would be over, and I should wake up strong and vigorous again to
my youth and studies. I shut my eyes, breathed regularly, and finding
myself wakeful, began to count slowly through the powers of three.

But the thing I desired would not come. I could not get to sleep. And
the persuasion of the inexorable reality of the change that had happened
to me grew steadily. Presently I found myself with my eyes wide open,
the powers of three forgotten, and my skinny fingers upon my shrivelled
gums, I was indeed, suddenly and abruptly, an old man. I had in some
unaccountable manner fallen through my life and come to old age, in some
way I had been cheated of all the best of my life, of love, of struggle,
of strength, and hope. I grovelled into the pillow and tried to persuade
myself that such hallucination was possible. Imperceptibly, steadily,
the dawn grew clearer.

At last, despairing of further sleep, I sat up in bed and looked about
me. A chill twilight rendered the whole chamber visible. It was spacious
and well-furnished, better furnished than any room I had ever slept in
before. A candle and matches became dimly visible upon a little pedestal
in a recess. I threw back the bedclothes, and shivering with the rawness
of the early morning, albeit it was summer-time, I got out and lit the
candle. Then trembling horribly, so that the extinguisher rattled on its
spike, I tottered to the glass and saw--Elvesham's face! It was none the
less horrible because I had already dimly feared as much. He had already
seemed physically weak and pitiful to me, but seen now, dressed only in
a coarse flannel nightdress, that fell apart and showed the stringy
neck, seen now as my own body, I cannot describe its desolate
decrepitude. The hollow cheeks, the straggling tail of dirty grey hair,
the rheumy bleared eyes, the quivering, shrivelled lips, the lower
displaying a gleam of the pink interior lining, and those horrible dark
gums showing. You who are mind and body together, at your natural years,
cannot imagine what this fiendish imprisonment meant to me. To be young
and full of the desire and energy of youth, and to be caught, and
presently to be crushed in this tottering ruin of a body...

But I wander from the course of my story. For some time I must have been
stunned at this change that had come upon me. It was daylight when I did
so far gather myself together as to think. In some inexplicable way I
had been changed, though how short of magic, the thing had been done, I
could not say. And as I thought, the diabolical ingenuity of Elvesham
came home to me. It seemed plain to me that as I found myself in his, so
he must be in possession of my body, of my strength, that is, and my
future. But how to prove it? Then, as I thought, the thing became so
incredible, even to me, that my mind reeled, and I had to pinch myself,
to feel my toothless gums, to see myself in the glass, and touch the
things about me, before I could steady myself to face the facts again.
Was all life hallucination? Was I indeed Elvesham, and he me? Had I been
dreaming of Eden overnight? Was there any Eden? But if I was Elvesham, I
should remember where I was on the previous morning, the name of the
town in which I lived, what happened before the dream began. I struggled
with my thoughts. I recalled the queer doubleness of my memories
overnight. But now my mind was clear. Not the ghost of any memories but
those proper to Eden could I raise.

"This way lies insanity!" I cried in my piping voice. I staggered to my
feet, dragged my feeble, heavy limbs to the washhand-stand, and plunged
my grey head into a basin of cold water. Then, towelling myself, I tried
again. It was no good. I felt beyond all question that I was indeed
Eden, not Elvesham. But Eden in Elvesham's body!

Had I been a man of any other age, I might have given myself up to my
fate as one enchanted. But in these sceptical days miracles do not pass
current. Here was some trick of psychology. What a drug and a steady
stare could do, a drug and a steady stare, or some similar treatment,
could surely undo. Men have lost their memories before. But to exchange
memories as one does umbrellas! I laughed. Alas! Not a healthy laugh,
but a wheezing, senile titter. I could have fancied old Elvesham
laughing at my plight, and a gust of petulant anger, unusual to me,
swept across my feelings. I began dressing eagerly in the clothes I
found lying about on the floor, and only realised when I was dressed
that it was an evening suit I had assumed. I opened the wardrobe and
found some more ordinary clothes, a pair of plaid trousers, and an
old-fashioned dressing-gown. I put a venerable smoking-cap on my
venerable head, and coughing a little from my exertions, tottered out
upon the landing.

It was then, perhaps a quarter to six, and the blinds were closely drawn
and the house quite silent. The landing was a spacious one, a broad,
richly-carpeted staircase went down into the darkness of the hall below,
and before me a door ajar showed me a writing-desk, a revolving
bookcase, the back of a study chair, and a fine array of bound books,
shelf upon shelf.

"My study," I mumbled, and walked across the landing. Then at the sound
of my voice a thought struck me, and I went back to the bedroom and put
in the set of false teeth. They slipped in with the ease of old, habit.
"That's better," said I, gnashing them, and so returned to the study.

The drawers of the writing-desk were locked. Its revolving top was also
locked. I could see no indications of the keys, and there were none in
the pockets of my trousers. I shuffled back at once to the bedroom, and
went through the dress suit, and afterwards the pockets of all the
garments I could find. I was very eager, and one might have imagined
that burglars had been at work, to see my room when I had done. Not only
were there no keys to be found, but not a coin, nor a scrap of
paper--save only the receipted bill of the overnight dinner.

A curious weariness asserted itself. I sat down and stared at the
garments flung here and there, their pockets turned inside out. My first
frenzy had already flickered out. Every moment I was beginning to
realise the immense intelligence of the plans of my enemy, to see more
and more clearly the hopelessness of my position. With an effort I rose
and hurried hobbling into the study again. On the staircase was a
housemaid pulling up the blinds. She stared, I think, at the expression
of my face. I shut the door of the study behind me, and seizing a poker,
began an attack upon the desk. That is how they found me. The cover of
the desk was split, the lock smashed, the letters torn out of the
pigeon-holes, and tossed about the room. In my senile rage I had flung
about the pens and other such light stationery, and overturned the ink.
Moreover, a large vase upon the mantel had got broken--I do not know
how. I could find no cheque-book, no money, no indications of the
slightest use for the recovery of my body. I was battering madly at the
drawers, when the butler, backed by two women-servants, intruded upon
me.


That simply is the story of my change. No one will believe my frantic
assertions. I am treated as one demented, and even at this moment I am
under restraint. But I am sane, absolutely sane, and to prove it I have
sat down to write this story minutely as the things happened to me. I
appeal to the reader, whether there is any trace of insanity in the
style or method, of the story he has been reading. I am a young man
locked away in an old man's body. But the clear fact is incredible to
everyone. Naturally I appear demented to those who will not believe
this, naturally I do not know the names of my secretaries, of the
doctors who come to see me, of my servants and neighbours, of this town
(wherever it is) where I find myself. Naturally I lose myself in my own
house, and suffer inconveniences of every sort. Naturally I ask the
oddest questions. Naturally I weep and cry out, and have paroxysms of
despair. I have no money and no cheque-book. The bank will not recognise
my signature, for I suppose that, allowing for the feeble muscles I now
have, my handwriting is still Eden's. These people about me will not let
me go to the bank personally. It seems, indeed, that there is no bank in
this town, and that I have an account in some part of London. It seems
that Elvesham kept the name of his solicitor secret from all his
household--I can ascertain nothing. Elvesham was, of course, a profound
student of mental science, and all my declarations of the facts of the
case merely confirm the theory that my insanity is the outcome of
overmuch brooding upon psychology. Dreams of the personal identity
indeed! Two days ago I was a healthy youngster, with all life before me;
now I am a furious old man, unkempt, and desperate, and miserable,
prowling about a great, luxurious, strange house, watched, feared, and
avoided as a lunatic by everyone about me. And in London, there is
Elvesham beginning life again in a vigorous body, and with all the
accumulated knowledge and wisdom of threescore and ten. He has stolen my
life.

What has happened I do not clearly know. In the study are volumes of
manuscript notes referring chiefly to the psychology of memory, and
parts of what may be either calculations or ciphers in symbols
absolutely strange to me. In some passages there are indications that he
was also occupied with the philosophy of mathematics. I take it he has
transferred the whole of his memories, the accumulation that makes up
his personality, from this old withered brain of his to mine, and
similarly, that he has transferred mine to his discarded tenement.
Practically, that is, he has changed bodies. But how such a change may
be possible is without the range of my philosophy. I have been a
materialist for all my thinking life, but here suddenly, is a clear case
of man's detachability from matter.

One desperate experiment I am about to try. I sit writing here before
putting the matter to issue. This morning, with the help of a
table-knife that I had secreted at breakfast, I succeeded in breaking
open a fairly obvious secret drawer in this wrecked writing-desk. I
discovered nothing save a little green glass phial containing a white
powder. Round the neck of the phial was a label, and thereon was written
this one word, "Release." This may be--is most probably, poison. I can
understand Elvesham placing poison in my way, and I should be sure that
it was his intention so to get rid of the only living witness against
him, were it not for this careful concealment. The man has practically
solved the problem of immortality. Save for the spite of chance, he will
live in my body until it has aged, and then, again throwing that aside,
he will assume some other victim's youth and strength. When one
remembers his heartlessness, it is terrible to think of the ever-growing
experience that... How long has he been leaping from body to body...?
But I tire of writing. The powder appears to be soluble in water. The
taste is not unpleasant.


There the narrative found upon Mr. Elvesham's desk ends. His dead body
lay between the desk and the chair. The latter had been pushed back,
probably by his last convulsions. The story was written in pencil and in
a crazy hand, quite unlike his usual minute characters. There remain
only two curious facts to record. Indisputably there was some connection
between Eden and Elvesham, since the whole of Elvesham's property was
bequeathed to the young man. But he never inherited. When Elvesham
committed suicide, Eden was, strangely enough, already dead. Twenty-four
hours before, he had been knocked down by a cab and killed instantly, at
the crowded crossing at the intersection of Gower Street and Euston
Road. So that the only human being who could have thrown light upon this
fantastic narrative is beyond the reach of questions.




IN THE ABYSS


The lieutenant stood in front of the steel sphere and gnawed a piece of
pine splinter. "What do you think of it, Steevens?" he said.

"It's an idea," said Steevens, in the tone of one who keeps an open
mind.

"I believe it will smash--flat," said the lieutenant.

"He seems to have calculated it all out pretty well," said Steevens,
still impartial.

"But think of the pressure," said the lieutenant. "At the surface of the
water it's fourteen pounds to the inch, thirty feet down it's double
that; sixty, treble; ninety, four times; nine hundred, forty times; five
thousand, three hundred--that's a mile--it's two hundred and forty times
fourteen pounds; that's--let's see--thirty hundredweight--a ton and a
half, Steevens; a ton and a half to the square inch. And the ocean where
he's going is five miles deep. That's seven and a half--"

"Sounds a lot," said Steevens, "but it's jolly thick steel."

The lieutenant made no answer, but resumed his pine splinter. The object
of their conversation was a huge ball of steel, having an exterior
diameter of perhaps nine feet. It looked like the shot for some Titanic
piece of artillery. It was elaborately nested in a monstrous scaffolding
built into the framework of the vessel, and the gigantic spars that were
presently to sling it overboard gave the stern of the ship an appearance
that had raised the curiosity of every decent sailor who had sighted it,
from the Pool of London to the Tropic of Capricorn. In two places, one
above the other, the steel gave place to a couple of circular windows of
enormously thick glass, and one of these, set in steel frame of great
solidity, was now partially unscrewed. Both the men had seen the
interior of this globe for the first time that morning. It was
elaborately padded with air cushions, with little studs sunk between
bulging pillows to work the simple mechanism of the affair. Everything
was elaborately padded, even the Myers apparatus which was to absorb
carbonic acid and replace the oxygen inspired by its tenant, when he had
crept in by the glass manhole, and had been screwed in. It was so
elaborately padded that a man might have been fired from a gun in it
with perfect safety. And it had need to be, for presently a man was to
crawl in through that glass manhole, to be screwed up tightly, and to be
flung overboard, and to sink down--down--down, for five miles, even as
the lieutenant said. It had taken the strongest hold of his imagination;
it made him a bore at mess; and he found Steevens the new arrival
aboard, a godsend to talk to about it, over and over again.

"It's my opinion," said the lieutenant, "that, that glass will simply
bend in and bulge and smash, under a pressure of that sort. Daubree has
made rocks run like water under big pressures--and you mark my words--"

"If the glass did break in," said Steevens, "what then?"

"The water would shoot in like a jet of iron. Have you ever felt a
straight jet of high pressure water? It would hit as hard as a bullet.
It would simply smash him and flatten him. It would tear down his
throat, and into his lungs; it would blow in his ears--"

"What a detailed imagination you have!" protested Steevens, who saw
things vividly.

"It's a simple statement of the inevitable," said the lieutenant.

"And the globe?"

"Would just give out a few little bubbles, and it would settle down
comfortably against the Day of Judgment, among the oozes and the bottom
clay--with poor Elstead spread over his own smashed cushions like butter
over bread."

He repeated this sentence as though he liked it very much. "Like butter
over bread," he said.

"Having a look at the jigger?" said a voice, and Elstead stood behind
them, spick and span in white, with a cigarette between his teeth, and
his eyes smiling out of the shadow of his ample hat-brim. "What's that
about bread and butter, Weybridge? Grumbling as usual about the
insufficient pay of naval officers? It won't be more than a day now
before I start. We are to get the slings ready to-day. This clean sky
and gentle swell is just the kind of thing for swinging off a dozen tons
of lead and iron, isn't it?"

"It won't affect you much," said Weybridge.

"No. Seventy or eighty feet down, and I shall be there in a dozen
seconds, there's not a particle moving, though the wind shriek itself
hoarse up above, and the water lifts halfway to the clouds. No. Down
there--" He moved to the side of the ship and the other two followed
him. All three leant forward on their elbows and stared down into the
yellow-green water.

"Peace," said Elstead, finishing his thought aloud.

"Are you dead certain that clockwork will act?" asked Weybridge
presently.

"It has worked thirty-five times," said Elstead. "It's bound to work."

"But if it doesn't?"

"Why shouldn't it?"

"I wouldn't go down in that confounded thing," said Weybridge, "for
twenty thousand pounds."

"Cheerful chap you are," said Elstead, and spat sociably at a bubble
below.

"I don't understand yet how you mean to work the thing," said Steevens.

"In the first place, I'm screwed into the sphere," said Elstead, "and
when I've turned the electric light off on three times to show I'm
cheerful, I'm swung out over the stern by that crane, with all those big
lead sinkers slung below me. The top lead weight has a roller carrying a
hundred fathoms of strong cord rolled up, and that's all that joins the
sinkers to the sphere, except the slings that will be cut when the
affair is dropped. We use cord rather than wire rope because it's easier
to cut and more buoyant--necessary points, as you will see.

"Through each of these lead weights you notice there is a hole, and an
iron rod will be run through that and will project six feet on the lower
side. If that rod is rammed up from below, it knocks up a lever and sets
the clockwork in motion at the side of the cylinder on which the cord
winds.

"Very well. The whole affair is lowered gently into the water, and the
slings are cut. The sphere floats--, with the air in it, it's lighter
than water--, but the lead weights go down straight and the cord runs
out. When the cord is all paid out, the sphere will go down too, pulled
down by the cord."

"But why the cord?" asked Steevens. "Why not fasten the weights directly
to the sphere?"

"Because of the smash down below. The whole affair will go rushing down,
mile after mile, at a headlong pace at last. It would be knocked to
pieces on the bottom if it wasn't for that cord. But the weights will
hit the bottom, and directly they do, the buoyancy of the sphere will
come into play. It will go on sinking slower and slower; come to stop at
last, and then begin to float upward again.

"That's where the clockwork comes in. Directly the weights smash against
the sea bottom, the rod will be knocked through and will kick up the
clockwork, and the cord will be rewound on the reel. I shall be lugged
down to the sea bottom. There I shall stay for half an hour, with the
electric light on, looking about me. Then the clockwork will release a
spring knife, the cord will be cut, and up I shall rush again, like a
soda-water bubble. The cord itself will help the flotation."

"And if you should chance to hit a ship?" said Weybridge.

"I should come up at such a pace, I should go clean through it," said
Elstead, "like a cannon ball. You needn't worry about that."

"And suppose some nimble crustacean should wriggle into your
clockwork--"

"It would be a pressing sort of invitation for me to stop," said
Elstead, turning his back on the water and staring at the sphere.


They had swung Elstead overboard by eleven o'clock. The day was serenely
bright and calm, with the horizon lost in haze. The electric glare in
the little upper compartment beamed cheerfully three times. Then they
let him down slowly to the surface of the water, and a sailor in the
stern chains hung ready to cut the tackle that held the lead weights and
the sphere together. The globe, which had looked so large on deck,
looked the smallest thing conceivable under the stern of the ship. It
rolled a little, and its two dark windows, which floated uppermost,
seemed like eyes turned up in round wonderment at the people who crowded
the rail. A voice wondered how Elstead liked the rolling. "Are you
ready?" sang out the commander. "Ay, ay, sir!" "Then let her go!"

The rope of the tackle tightened against the blade and was cut, and an
eddy rolled over the globe in a grotesquely helpless fashion. Someone
waved a handkerchief, someone else tried an ineffectual cheer, a middy
was counting slowly, "Eight, nine, ten!" Another roll, then a jerk and a
splash the thing righted itself.

It seemed to be stationary for a moment, to grow rapidly smaller, and
then the water closed over it, and it became visible, enlarged by
refraction and dimmer, below the surface. Before one could count three
it had disappeared. There was a flicker of white light far down in the
water, that diminished to a speck and vanished. Then there was nothing
but a depth of water going down into blackness, through which a shark
was swimming.

Then suddenly the screw of the cruiser began to rotate, the water was
crickled, the shark disappeared in a wrinkled confusion, and a torrent
of foam rushed across the crystalline clearness that had swallowed up
Elstead. "What's the idea?" said one A.B. to another.

"We're going to lay off about a couple of miles, 'fear he should hit us
when he comes up," said his mate.

The ship steamed slowly to her new position. Aboard her almost everyone
who was unoccupied remained watching the breathing swell into which the
sphere had sunk. For the next half-hour it is doubtful if a word was
spoken that did not bear directly or indirectly on Elstead. The December
sun was now high in the sky, and the heat very considerable.

"He'll be cold enough down there," said Weybridge. "They say that below
a certain depth sea water's always just about freezing."

"Where'll he come up?" asked Steevens. "I've lost my bearings."

"That's the spot," said the commander, who prided himself on his
omniscience. He extended a precise finger south-eastward. "And this, I
reckon, is pretty nearly the moment," he said. "He's been thirty-five
minutes."

"How long does it take to reach the bottom of the ocean?" asked
Steevens.

"For a depth of five miles, and reckoning--as we did--an acceleration of
two feet per second, both ways, is just about three-quarters of a
minute."

"Then he's overdue," said Weybridge.

"Pretty nearly," said the commander. "I suppose it takes a few minutes
for that cord of his to wind in."

"I forgot that," said Weybridge, evidently relieved.

And then began the suspense. A minute slowly dragged itself out, and no
sphere shot out of the water. Another followed, and nothing broke the
low oily swell. The sailors explained to one another that little point
about the winding-in of the cord. The rigging was dotted with expectant
faces. "Come up, Elstead!" called one hairy-chested salt impatiently,
and the others caught it up, and shouted as though they were waiting for
the curtain of a theatre to rise.

The commander glanced irritably at them.

"Of course, if the acceleration's less than two," he said, "he'll be all
the longer. We aren't absolutely certain that was the proper figure. I'm
no slavish believer in calculations."

Steevens agreed concisely. No one on the quarter-deck spoke for a couple
of minutes. Then Steevens' watchcase clicked.

When, twenty-one minutes after the sun reached the zenith, they were
still waiting for the globe to reappear, and not a man aboard had dared
to whisper that hope was dead. It was Weybridge who first gave
expression to that realisation. He spoke while the sound of eight bells
still hung in the air. "I always distrusted that window," he said quite
suddenly to Steevens.

"Good God!" said Steevens; "you don't think--?"

"Well!" said Weybridge, and left the rest to his imagination.

"I'm no great believer in calculations myself," said the commander
dubiously, "so that I'm not altogether hopeless yet." And at midnight
the gunboat was steaming slowly in a spiral round the spot where the
globe had sunk, and the white beam of the electric light fled and halted
and swept discontentedly onward again over the waste of phosphorescent
waters under the little stars.

"If his window hasn't burst and smashed him," said Weybridge, "then it's
a cursed sight worse, for his clockwork has gone wrong, and he's alive
now, five miles under our feet, down there in the cold and dark,
anchored in that little bubble of his, where never a ray of light has
shone or a human being lived, since the waters were gathered together.
He's there without food, feeling hungry and thirsty and scared,
wondering whether he'll starve or stifle. Which will it be? The Myers
apparatus is running out, I suppose. How long do they last?"

"Good heavens!" he exclaimed; "What little things we are! What daring
little devils! Down there, miles and miles of water--all water, and all
this empty water about us and this sky. Gulfs!" He threw his hands out,
and as he did so, a little white streak swept noiselessly up the sky,
travelled more slowly, stopped, became a motionless dot, as though a new
star had fallen up into the sky. Then it went sliding back again and
lost itself amidst the reflections of the stars and the white haze of
the sea's phosphorescence.

At the sight he stopped, arm extended and mouth open. He shut his mouth,
opened it again, and waved his arms with an impatient gesture. Then he
turned, shouted "Elstead ahoy!" to the first watch, and went at a run
to Lindley and the search-light. "I saw him," he said "Starboard there!
His light's on, and he's just shot out of the water. Bring the light
round. We ought to see him drifting, when he lifts on the swell."

But they never picked up the explorer until dawn. Then they almost ran
him down. The crane was swung out and a boat's crew hooked the chain to
the sphere. When they had shipped the sphere, they unscrewed the manhole
and peered into the darkness of the interior (for the electric light
chamber was intended to illuminate the water about the sphere, and was
shut off entirely from its general cavity).

The air was very hot within the cavity, and the indiarubber at the lip
of the manhole was soft. There was no answer to their eager questions
and no sound of movement within. Elstead seemed to be lying motionless,
crumpled in the bottom of the globe. The ship's doctor crawled in and
lifted him out to the men outside. For a moment or so they did not know
whether Elstead was alive or dead. His face, in the yellow light of the
ship's lamps, glistened with perspiration. They carried him down to his
own cabin.

He was not dead, they found, but in a state of absolute nervous
collapse, and besides cruelly bruised. For some days he had to lie
perfectly still. It was a week before he could tell his experiences.

Almost his first words were that he was going down again. The sphere
would have to be altered, he said, in order to allow him to throw off
the cord if need be, and that was all. He had, had the most marvellous
experience. "You thought I should find nothing but ooze," he said. "You
laughed at my explorations, and I've discovered a new world!" He told
his story in disconnected fragments, and chiefly from the wrong end, so
that it is impossible to re-tell it in his words. But what follows is
the narrative of his experience.


It began atrociously, he said. Before the cord ran out, the thing kept
rolling over. He felt like a frog in a football. He could see nothing
but the crane and the sky overhead, with an occasional glimpse of people
on the ships rail. He couldn't tell a bit which way the thing would roll
next. Suddenly he would find his footing going up, and try to step, and
over he went rolling, head over heels, and just anyhow, on the padding.
Any other shape would have been more comfortable, but no other shape was
to be relied upon under the huge pressure of the nethermost abyss.

Suddenly the swaying ceased; the globe righted, and when he had picked
himself up, he saw the water all about him greeny-blue, with an
attenuated light filtering down from above, and a shoal of little
floating things went rushing up past him, as it seemed to him, towards
the light. And even as he looked, it grew darker and darker, until the
water above was as dark as the midnight sky, albeit of greener shade,
and the water below black. And little transparent things in the water
developed a faint glint of luminosity, and shot past him in faint
greenish streaks.

And the feeling of falling! It was just like the start of a lift, he
said, only it kept on. One has to imagine what that means, that keeping
on. It was then of all times that Elstead repented of his adventure. He
saw the chances against him in an altogether new light. He thought of
the big cuttle-fish people knew to exist in the middle waters, the kind
of things they find half digested in whales at times, or floating dead
and rotten and half eaten by fish. Suppose one caught hold and wouldn't
let go. And had the clockwork really been sufficiently tested? But
whether he wanted to go on or go back mattered not the slightest now.

In fifty seconds everything was as black as night outside, except where
the beam from his light struck through the waters, and picked out every
now and then some fish or scrap of sinking matter. They flashed by too
fast for him to see what they were. Once he thinks he passed a shark.
And then the sphere began to get hot by friction against the water. They
had underestimated this, it seems.

The first thing he noticed was that he was perspiring, and then he heard
a hissing growing louder under his feet, and saw a lot of little
bubbles--very little bubbles they were--rushing upward like a fan
through the water outside. Steam! He felt the window, and it was hot. He
turned on the minute glow-lamp that lit his own cavity, looked at the
padded watch by the studs, and saw he had been travelling now for two
minutes. It came into his head that the window would crack through the
conflict of temperatures, for he knew the bottom water is very near
freezing.

Then suddenly the floor of the sphere seemed to press against his feet,
the rush of bubbles outside grew slower and slower, and the hissing
diminished. The sphere rolled a little. The window had not cracked,
nothing had given, and he knew that the dangers of sinking, at any rate,
were over.

In another minute or so he would be on the floor of the abyss. He
thought, he said, of Steevens and Weybridge and the rest of them five
miles overhead, higher to him than the highest clouds that ever floated
over land are to us, steaming slowly and staring down and wondering what
had happened to him.

He peered out of the window. There were no more bubbles now, and the
hissing had stopped. Outside there was a heavy blackness--as black as
black velvet--except where the electric light pierced the empty water
and showed the colour of it--a yellow-green. Then three things like
shapes of fire swam into sight, following each other through the water.
Whether they were little and near or big and far off he could not tell.

Each was outlined in a bluish light almost as bright as the lights of a
fishing smack, a light which seemed to be smoking greatly, and all along
the sides of them were specks of this, like the lighter portholes of a
ship. Their phosphorescence seemed to go out as they came into the
radiance of his lamp, and he saw then that they were little fish of some
strange sort, with huge heads, vast eyes, and dwindling bodies and
tails. Their eyes were turned towards him, and he judged they were
following him down. He supposed they were attracted by his glare.

Presently others of the same sort joined them. As he went on down, he
noticed that the water became of a pallid colour, and that little specks
twinkled in his ray like motes in a sunbeam. This was probably due to
the clouds of ooze and mud that the impact of his leaden sinkers had
disturbed.

By the time he was drawn down to the lead weights he was in a dense fog
of white that his electric light failed altogether to pierce for more
than a few yards, and many minutes elapsed before the hanging sheets of
sediment subsided to any extent. Then, lit by his light and by the
transient phosphorescence of a distant shoal of fishes, he was able to
see under the huge blackness of the super-incumbent water an undulating
expanse of greyish-white ooze, broken here and there by tangled thickets
of a growth of sea lilies, waving hungry tentacles in the air.

Farther away were the graceful, translucent outlines of a group of
gigantic sponges. About this floor there were scattered a number of
bristling flattish tufts of rich purple and black, which he decided must
be some sort of sea-urchin, and small, large-eyed or blind things having
a curious resemblance, some to woodlice, and others to lobsters, crawled
sluggishly across the track of the light and vanished into the obscurity
again, leaving furrowed trails behind them.

Then suddenly the hovering swarm of little fishes veered about and came
towards him as a flight of starlings might do. They passed over him like
a phosphorescent snow, and then he saw behind them some larger creature
advancing towards the sphere.

At first he could see it only dimly, a faintly moving figure remotely
suggestive of a walking man, and then it came into the spray of light
that the lamp shot out. As the glare struck it, it shut its eyes,
dazzled. He stared in rigid astonishment.

It was a strange vertebrated animal. Its dark purple head was dimly
suggestive of a chameleon, but it had such a high forehead and such a
braincase as no reptile ever displayed before; the vertical pitch of its
face gave it a most extraordinary resemblance to a human being.

Two large and protruding eyes projected from sockets in chameleon
fashion, and it had a broad reptilian mouth with horny lips beneath its
little nostrils. In the position of the ears were two huge gill-covers,
and out of these floated a branching tree of coralline filaments, almost
like the tree-like gills that very young rays and sharks possess.

But the humanity of the face was not the most extraordinary thing about
the creature. It was a biped; its almost globular body was poised on a
tripod of two frog-like legs and a long thick tail, and its fore limbs,
which grotesquely caricatured the human hand, much as a frog's do,
carried a long shaft of bone, tipped with copper. The colour of the
creature was variegated; its head, hands and legs were purple; but its
skin, which hung loosely upon it, even as clothes might do, was a
phosphorescent grey. And it stood there blinded by the light.

At last this unknown creature of the abyss blinked its eyes open, and
shading them with its disengaged hand, opened its mouth and gave vent to
a shouting noise, articulate almost as speech might be, that penetrated
even the steel case and padded jacket of the sphere. How a shouting may
be accomplished without lungs Elstead does not profess to explain. It
then moved sideways out of the glare into the mystery of shadow that
bordered it on either side, and Elstead felt rather than saw that it was
coming towards him. Fancying the light had attracted it, he turned the
switch that cut off the current. In another moment something soft dabbed
upon the steel, and the globe swayed.

Then the shouting was repeated, and it seemed to him that a distant echo
answered it. The dabbing recurred, and the whole globe swayed and ground
against the spindle over which the wire was rolled. He stood in the
blackness and peered out into the everlasting night of the abyss. And
presently he saw, very faint and remote, other phosphorescent
quasi-human forms hurrying towards him.

Hardly knowing what he did, he felt about in his swaying prison for the
stud of the exterior electric light, and came by accident against his
own small glow-lamp in its padded recess. The sphere twisted, and then
threw him down; he heard shouts like shouts of surprise, and when he
rose to his feet, he saw two pairs of stalked eyes peering into the
lower window and reflecting his light.

In another moment hands were dabbing vigorously at his steel casing, and
there was a sound, horrible enough in his position, of the metal
protection of the clockwork being vigorously hammered. That indeed sent
his heart into his mouth, for if these strange creatures succeeded in
stopping that, his release would never occur. Scarcely had he thought as
much when he felt the sphere sway violently, and the floor of it press
hard against his feet. He turned off the small glow-lamp that lit the
interior, and sent the ray of the large light in the separate
compartment, out into the water. The sea-floor and the man-like
creatures had disappeared, and a couple of fish chasing each other
dropped suddenly by the window.

He thought at once that these strange denizens of the deep sea had broke
the rope, and that he had escaped. He drove up faster and faster, and
then stopped with a jerk that sent him flying against the padded roof of
his prison. For half a minute perhaps, he was too astonished to think.

Then he felt that the sphere was spinning slowly, and rocking, and it
seemed to him that it was also being drawn through the water. By
crouching close to the window, he managed to make his weight effective
and roll that part of the sphere downward, but he could see nothing save
the pale ray of his light striking down ineffectively into the darkness.
It occurred to him that he would see more if he turned the lamp off, and
allowed his eyes to grow accustomed to the profound obscurity.

In this he was wise. After some minutes the velvety blackness became a
translucent blackness, and then, far away, and as faint as zodiacal
light of an English summer evening, he saw shapes moving below. He
judged these creatures had detached his cable, and were towing him along
the sea bottom.

And then he saw something faint and remote across the undulations of the
submarine plain, a broad horizon of pale luminosity that extended this
way and that way as far as the range of his little window permitted him
to see. To this he was being towed, as a balloon might be towed by men
out of the open country into a town. He approached it very slowly, and
very slowly the dim irradiation was gathered together into more definite
shapes.

It was nearly five o'clock before he came over this luminous area, and
by that time he could make out an arrangement suggestive of streets and
houses grouped about a vast roofless erection that was grotesquely
suggestive of a ruined abbey. It was spread out like a map below him.
The houses were all roofless enclosures of walls, and their substance
being, as he afterwards saw, of phosphorescent bones, gave the place an
appearance as if it were built of drowned moonshine.

Among the inner caves of the place waving trees of crinoid stretched
their tentacles, and tall, slender, glassy sponges shot like shining
minarets and lilies of filmy light out of the general glow of the city.
In the open spaces of the place he could see a stirring movement as of
crowds of people, but he was too many fathoms above them to distinguish
the individuals in those crowds.

Then slowly they pulled him down, and as they did so, the details of the
place crept slowly upon his apprehension. He saw that the courses of the
cloudy buildings were marked out with beaded lines of round objects, and
then he perceived that at several points below him, in broad open
spaces, were forms like the encrusted shapes of ships.

Slowly and surely he was drawn down, and the forms below him became
brighter, clearer, more distinct. He was being pulled down, he
perceived, towards the large building in the centre of the town, and he
could catch a glimpse ever and again of the multitudinous forms that
were lugging at his cord. He was astonished to see that the rigging of
one of the ships, which formed such a prominent feature of the place,
was crowded with a host of gesticulating figures regarding him, and then
the walls of the great building rose about him silently, and hid the
city from his eyes.

And such walls they were, of water-logged wood, and twisted wire-rope,
and iron spars, and copper, and the bones and skulls of dead men. The
skulls ran in zigzag lines and spirals and fantastic curves over the
building; and in and out of their eye-sockets, and over the whole
surface of the place, lurked and played a multitude of silvery little
fishes.

Suddenly his ears were filled with a low shouting and a noise like the
violent blowing of horns, and this gave place to a fantastic chant. Down
the sphere sank, past the huge pointed windows, through which he saw
vaguely a great number of these strange, ghostlike people regarding him,
and at last he came to rest, as it seemed, on a kind of altar that stood
in the centre of the place.

And now he was at such a level that he could see these strange people of
the abyss plainly once more. To his astonishment, he perceived that they
were prostrating themselves before him, all save one, dressed as it
seemed in a robe of placoid scales, and crowned with a luminous diadem,
who stood with his reptilian mouth opening and shutting, as though he
led the chanting of the worshippers.

A curious impulse made Elstead turn on his small glow-lamp again, so
that he became visible to these creatures of the abyss, albeit the glare
made them disappear forthwith into night. At this sudden sight of him,
the chanting gave place to a tumult of exultant shouts; and Elstead,
being anxious to watch them, turned his light off again, and vanished
from before their eyes. But for a time he was too blind to make out what
they were doing, and when at last he could distinguish them, they were
kneeling again. And thus they continued worshipping him, without rest or
intermission, for a space of three hours.

Most circumstantial was Elstead's account of this astounding city and
its people, these people of perpetual night, who have never seen sun or
moon or stars, green vegetation, nor any living, air-breathing
creatures, who know nothing of fire, nor any light but the
phosphorescent light of living things.

Startling as is his story, it is yet more startling to find that
scientific men, of such eminence as Adams and Jenkins, find nothing
incredible in it. They tell me they see no reason why intelligent,
water-breathing, vertebrated creatures, inured to a low temperature and
enormous pressure, and of such a heavy structure, that neither alive nor
dead would they float, might not live upon the bottom of the deep sea,
and quite unsuspected by us, descendants like ourselves of the great
Theriomorpha of the New Red Sandstone age.

We should be known to them however, as strange, meteoric creatures, wont
to fall catastrophically dead out of the mysterious blackness of their
watery sky. And not only we ourselves, but our ships, our metals, our
appliances, would come raining down out of the night. Sometimes sinking
things would smite down and crush them, as if it were the judgment of
some unseen power above, and sometimes would come things of utmost
rarity or utility, or shapes of inspiring suggestion. One can
understand, perhaps, something of their behaviour at the descent of a
living man, if one thinks what a barbaric people might do, to whom an
enhaloed, shining creature came suddenly out of the sky.

At one time or another Elstead probably told the officers of the
'Ptarmigan' every detail of his strange twelve hours in the abyss. That
he also intended to write them down is certain, but he never did, and so
unhappily we have to piece together the discrepant fragments of his
story from the reminiscences of Commander Simmons, Weybridge, Steevens,
Lindley, and the others.

We see the thing darkly in fragmentary glimpses--the huge ghostly
building, the bowing, chanting people, with their dark chameleon-like
heads and faintly luminous clothing, and Elstead, with his light turned
on again, vainly trying to convey to their minds that the cord by which
the sphere was held was to be severed. Minute after minute slipped away,
and Elstead, looking at his watch, was horrified to find that he had
oxygen only for four hours more. But the chant in his honour kept on as
remorselessly as if it was the marching song of his approaching death.

The manner of his release he does not understand, but to judge by the
end of cord that hung from the sphere, it had been cut through by
rubbing against the edge of the altar. Abruptly the sphere rolled over,
and he swept up, out of their world, as an ethereal creature clothed in
a vacuum would sweep through our own atmosphere back to its native ether
again. He must have torn out of their sight as a hydrogen bubble hastens
upwards from our air. A strange ascension it must have seemed to them.

The sphere rushed up with even greater velocity than, when weighted with
the lead sinkers, it had rushed down. It became exceedingly hot. It
drove up with the windows uppermost, and he remembers the torrent of
bubbles frothing against the glass. Every moment he expected this to
fly. Then suddenly something like a huge wheel seemed to be released in
his head, the padded compartment began spinning about him, and he
fainted. His next recollection was of his cabin, and of the doctor's
voice.

But that is the substance of the extraordinary story that Elstead
related in fragments to the officers of the 'Ptarmigan'. He promised to
write it all down at a later date. His mind was chiefly occupied with
the improvement of his apparatus, which was effected at Rio.

It remains only to tell that on February 2, 1896, he made his second
descent into the ocean abyss, with the improvements his first experience
suggested. What happened we shall probably never knew. He never
returned. The 'Ptarmigan' beat about over the point of his submersion,
seeking him in vain for thirteen days. Then she returned to Rio, and the
news was telegraphed to his friends. So the matter remains for the
present. But it is hardly probable that no further attempt will be made
to verify his strange story of these hitherto unsuspected cities of the
deep sea.




THE APPLE


"I must get rid of it," said the man in the corner of the carriage,
abruptly breaking the silence.

Mr. Hinchcliff looked up, hearing imperfectly. He had been lost in the
rapt contemplation of the college cap tied by a string to his
portmanteau handles--the outward and visible sign of his newly-gained
pedagogic position--in the rapt appreciation of the college cap and the
pleasant anticipations it excited. For Mr. Hinchcliff had just
matriculated at London University, and was going to be junior assistant
at the Holmwood Grammar School--a very enviable position. He stared
across the carriage at his fellow-traveller.

"Why not give it away?" said this person. "Give it away! Why not?"

He was a tall, dark sunburnt man with a pale face. His arms were folded
tightly, and his feet were on the seat in front of him. He was pulling
at a lank black moustache. He stared hard at his toes.

"Why not?" he said.

Mr. Hinchcliff coughed.

The stranger lifted his eyes--they were curious, dark-grey eyes--and
stared blankly at Mr. Hinchcliff for the best part of a minute, perhaps.
His expression grew to interest.

"Yes," he said slowly. "Why not? And end it."

"I don't quite follow you, I'm afraid," said Mr. Hinchcliff, with
another cough.

"You don't quite follow me?" said the stranger quite mechanically, his
singular eyes wandering from Mr. Hinchcliff to the bag with its
ostentatiously displayed cap, and back to Mr. Hinchcliff's downy face.

"You're so abrupt, you know," apologised Mr. Hinchcliff.

"Why shouldn't I?" said the stranger, following his thoughts. "You are a
student?" he said, addressing Mr. Hinchcliff.

"I am--by Correspondence--of the London University," said Mr.
Hinchcliff, with irrepressible pride, and feeling nervously at his tie.

"In pursuit of knowledge," said the stranger, and suddenly took his feet
off the seat, put his fist on his knees, and stared at Mr. Hinchcliff as
though he had never seen a student before. "Yes," he said, and flung out
an index finger. Then he rose, took a bag from the hat-rack, and
unlocked it. Quite silently he drew out something round and wrapped in a
quantity of silver-paper, and unfolded this carefully. He held it out
towards Mr. Hinchcliff--a small, very smooth, golden-yellow fruit.

Mr. Hinchcliff's eyes and mouth were open. He did not offer to take this
object--if he was intended to take it.

"That," said this fantastic stranger, speaking very slowly, "is the
Apple of the Tree of Knowledge. Look at it--small, and bright, and
wonderful--Knowledge--and I am going to give it to you."

Mr. Hinchcliff's mind worked painfully for a minute, and then the
sufficient explanation, "Mad!" flashed across his brain, and illuminated
the whole situation. One humoured madmen. He put his head a little on
one side.

"The Apple of the Tree of Knowledge, eigh!" said Mr. Hinchcliff,
regarding it with a finely assumed air of interest, and then looking at
the interlocutor. "But don't you want to eat it yourself? And
besides--how did you come by it?"

"It never fades. I have had it now for three months. And it is ever
bright and smooth and ripe and desirable, as you see it." He laid his
hand on his knee and regarded the fruit musingly. Then he began to wrap
it again in the papers, as though he had abandoned his intention of
giving it away.

"But how did you come by it?" said Mr. Hinchcliff, who had his
argumentative side. "And how do you know that it is the Fruit of the
Tree?"

"I bought this fruit," said the stranger, "three months ago--for a drink
of water and a crust of bread. The man who gave it to me--because I kept
the life in him--was an Armenian. Armenia! That wonderful country, the
first of all countries, where the ark of the Flood remains to this day,
buried in the glaciers of Mount Ararat. This man I say, fleeing with
others from Kurds who had come upon them, went up into desolate places
among the mountains--places beyond the common knowledge of men. And
fleeing from imminent pursuit, they came to a slope, high among the
mountain-peaks, green with a grass like knife-blades, that cut and
slashed most pitilessly at anyone who went into it. The Kurds were close
behind, and there was nothing for it but to plunge in, and the worst of
it was that the paths they made through it, at the price of their blood,
served for the Kurds to follow. Every one of the fugitives was killed
save this Armenian and another. He heard the screams and cries of his
friends, and the swish of the grass about those who were pursuing
them--it was tall grass rising overhead. And then a shouting and
answers, and when presently he paused, everything was still. He pushed
out again, not understanding, cut and bleeding, until he came out on a
steep slope of rocks below a precipice, and then he saw the grass was
all on fire, and the smoke of it rose like a veil between him and his
enemies."

The stranger paused. "Yes?" said Mr. Hinchcliff. "Yes?"

"There he was, all torn and bloody from the knife-blades of the grass,
the rocks blazing under the afternoon sun--the sky molten brass--and the
smoke of the fire driving towards him. He dared not stay there. Death he
did not mind, but torture! Far away beyond the smoke he heard shouts and
cries. Women screaming. So he went clambering up a gorge in the
rocks--everywhere were bushes with dry branches that stuck like thorns
among the leaves--until he clambered over the brow of a ridge that hid
him. And then he met his companion, a shepherd, who had also escaped.
And counting cold and famine and thirst as nothing against the Kurds,
they went on into the heights, and among the snow and ice. They wandered
three whole days.

"The third day came the vision. I suppose hungry men often do see
visions, but then there is this fruit." He lifted the wrapped globe in
his hand. "And I have heard it too, from other mountaineers who have
known something of the legend. It was in the evening time, when the
stars were increasing, that they came down a slope of polished rock into
a huge dark valley all set about with strange, contorted trees and in
these hung little globes like glow-worm spheres, strange round yellow
lights.

"Suddenly this valley was lit far away, many miles away, far down it,
with a golden flame marching slowly athwart it, that made the stunted
trees against it black as night, and turned the slopes all about them
and their figures to the likeness of fiery gold. And at the vision they,
knowing the legends of mountains, instantly knew that it was Eden they
saw, or the sentinel of Eden, and they fell upon their faces like men
struck dead.

"When they dared to look again the valley was dark for a space, and then
the light came again--returning, a burning amber.

"At that the shepherd sprang to his feet, and with a shout began to run
down towards the light, but the other man was too fearful to follow him.
He stood stunned, amazed, and terrified, watching his companion recede
towards the marching glare. And hardly had the shepherd set out when
there came a noise like thunder, the beating of invisible wings hurrying
up the valley, and a great and terrible fear; and at that the man who
gave me the fruit turned--if he might still escape. And hurrying
headlong up the slope again, with that tumult sweeping after him, he
stumbled against one of these stunted bushes, and a ripe fruit came off
it into his hand. This fruit. Forthwith, the wings and thunder rolled
all about him. He fell and fainted, and when he came to his senses, he
was back among the blackened ruins of his own village, and I and the
others were attending to the wounded. A vision? But the golden fruit of
the tree was still clutched in his hand. There were others there who
knew the legend, knew what that strange fruit might be." He paused. "And
this is it," he said.

It was a most extraordinary story to be told in a third-class carriage
on a Sussex railway. It was as if the real was a mere veil to the
fantastic, and here was the fantastic poking through. "Is it?" was all
Mr. Hinchcliff could say.

"The legend," said the stranger, "tells that those thickets of dwarfed
trees growing about the garden sprang from the apple that Adam carried
in his hand when he and Eve were driven forth. He felt something in his
hand, saw the half-eaten apple, and flung it petulantly aside. And there
they grow, in that desolate valley, girdled round with the everlasting
snows, and there the fiery swords keep ward against the Judgment Day."

"But I thought these things were--" Mr Hinchcliff
paused--"fables--parables rather. Do you mean to tell me that there in
Armenia--"

The stranger answered the unfinished question with the fruit in his open
hand.

"But you don't know," said Mr. Hinchcliff, "that, that is the fruit of
the Tree of Knowledge. The man may have had--a sort of mirage, say.
Suppose--"

"Look at it," said the stranger.

It was certainly a strange-looking globe, not really an apple, Mr.
Hinchcliff saw and a curious glowing golden colour, almost as though
light itself was wrought into its substance. As he looked at it, he
began to see more vividly the desolate valley among the mountains, the
guarding swords of fire, the strange antiquities of the story he had
just heard. He rubbed a knuckle into his eye. "But--" said he.

"It has kept like that, smooth and full, three months. Longer than that
it is now by some days. No drying, withering, no decay."

"And you yourself," said Mr. Hinchcliff, "really believe that--"

"Is the Forbidden Fruit."

There was no mistaking the earnestness of the man's manner and his
perfect sanity. "The Fruit of Knowledge," he said.

"Suppose it was?" said Mr. Hinchcliff, after a pause, still staring at
it. "But after all," said Mr. Hinchcliff, "it's not my kind of
knowledge--not the sort of knowledge. I mean, Adam and Eve have eaten it
already."

"We inherit their sins--not their knowledge," said the stranger. "That
would make it clear and bright again. We should see into everything,
through everything, into the deepest meaning of everything--"

"Why don't you eat it then?" said Mr. Hinchcliff, with an inspiration.

"I took it intending to eat it," said the stranger. "Man has fallen.
Merely to eat again could scarcely--"

"Knowledge is power," said Mr. Hinchcliff.

"But is it happiness? I am older than you--more than twice as old. Time
after time I have held this in my hand, and my heart has failed me at
the thought of all that one might know, that terrible lucidity--Suppose
suddenly all the world became pitilessly clear?"

"That, I think, would be a great advantage," said Mr. Hinchcliff, "on
the whole."

"Suppose you saw into the hearts and minds of everyone about you, into
their most secret recesses--people you loved, whose love you valued?"

"You'd soon find out the humbugs," said Mr. Hinchcliff, greatly struck
by the idea.

"And worse--to know yourself, bare of your most intimate illusions. To
see yourself in your place. All that your lusts and weaknesses prevented
your doing. No merciful perspective."

"That might be an excellent thing too. 'Know thyself,' you know."

"You are young," said the stranger.

"If you don't care to eat it, and it bothers you, why don't you throw it
away?"

"There again, perhaps, you will not understand me. To me, how could one
throw away a thing like that, glowing, wonderful? Once one has it, one
is bound. But, on the other hand, to give it away! To give it away to
someone who thirsted after knowledge, who found no terror in the thought
of that clear perception--"

"Of course," said Mr. Hinchcliff thoughtfully, "it might be sort of
poisonous fruit."

And then his eye caught something motionless, the end of a white board
black-lettered outside the carriage window. "--mwood," he saw. He
started convulsively. "Gracious!" said Mr. Hinchcliff. "Holmwood--!" And
the practical present blotted out the mystic realisations that had been
stealing upon him.

In another moment he was opening the carriage-door, portmanteau in hand.
The guard was already fluttering his green flag. Mr. Hinchcliff jumped
out. "Here!" said a voice behind him, and he saw the dark eyes of the
stranger shining and the golden fruit, bright and bare, held out of the
open carriage-door. He took it instinctively, the train was already
moving.

"No!" shouted the stranger, and made a snatch at it as if to take it
back.

"Stand away," cried a country porter, thrusting forward to close the
door. The stranger shouted something Mr. Hinchcliff did not catch, head
and arm thrust excitedly out of the window, and then the shadow of the
bridge fell on him, and in a trice he was hidden. Mr. Hinchcliff stood
astonished, staring at the end of the last waggon receding round the
bend, and with the wonderful fruit in his hand. For the fraction of a
minute his mind was confused, and then he became aware that two or three
people on the platform were regarding him with interest. Was he not the
new Grammar School master making his debut? It occurred to him that, so
far as they could tell, the fruit might very well be the naive
refreshment of an orange. He flushed at the thought, and thrust the
fruit into his side pocket, where it bulged undesirably. But there was
no help for it, so he went towards them, awkwardly concealing his sense
of awkwardness, to ask the way to the Grammar School, and the means of
getting his portmanteau and the two tin boxes which lay up the platform
thither. Of all the odd and fantastic yarns to tell a fellow!

His luggage could be taken on a truck for sixpence, he found, and he
could precede it on foot. He fancied an ironical note in the voices. He
was painfully aware of his contour.

The curious earnestness of the man in the train, and the glamour of the
story he told, had for a time, diverted the current of Mr. Hinchcliff's
thoughts. It drove like a mist before his immediate concerns. Fires that
went to and fro! But the preoccupation of his new position, and the
impression he was to produce upon Holmwood generally, and the school
people in particular, returned upon him with reinvigorating power before
he left the station and cleared his mental atmosphere. But it is
extraordinary what an inconvenient thing the addition of a soft and
rather brightly-golden fruit, not three inches in diameter, may prove to
a sensitive youth on his best appearance. In the pocket of his black
jacket it bulged dreadfully, spoilt the lines altogether. He passed a
little old lady in black, and he felt her eye drop upon the excrescence
at once. He was wearing one glove and carrying the other, together with
his stick, so that to bear the fruit openly was impossible. In one
place, were the road into the town seemed suitably secluded, he took his
encumbrance out of his pocket and tried it in his hat. It was just too
large, the hat wobbled ludicrously, and just as he was taking it out
again, a butcher's boy came driving round the corner.

"Confound it!" said Mr. Hinchcliff.

He would have eaten the thing, and attained omniscience there and then,
but it would seem so silly to go into town sucking a juicy fruit--and it
certainly felt juicy. If one of the boys should come by, it might do him
a serious injury with his discipline so to be seen. And the juice might
make his face sticky and get upon his cuffs--or it might be an acid
juice as potent as lemon, and take all the colour out of his clothes.

Then round a bend in the lane came two pleasant sunlit girlish figures.
They were walking slowly towards the town and chattering--at any moment
they might look round and see a hot-faced young man behind them carrying
a kind of phosphorescent yellow tomato! They would be sure to laugh.

"Hang!" said Mr. Hinchcliff, and with a swift jerk sent the encumbrance
flying over the stone wall of an orchard that there abutted on the road.
As it vanished, he felt a faint twinge of loss that lasted scarcely a
moment. He adjusted the stick and glove in his hand, and walked on,
erect and self-conscious, to pass the girls.

But in the darkness of the night Mr. Hinchcliff had a dream, and saw the
valley, and the flaming swords, and the contorted trees, and knew that
it really was the Apple of the Tree of Knowledge that he had thrown
regardlessly away. And he awoke very unhappy.

In the morning his regret had passed, but afterwards it returned and
troubled him; never however when he was happy or busily occupied. At
last, one moonlight night about eleven, when all Holmwood was quiet, his
regrets returned with redoubled force, and therewith an impulse to
adventure. He slipped out of the house and over the playground wall,
went through the silent town to Station Lane, and climbed into the
orchard where he had thrown the fruit. But nothing was to be found of it
there among the dewy grass and the faint intangible globes of dandelion
down.




UNDER THE KNIFE


"What if I die under it?" The thought recurred again and again, as I
walked home from Haddon's. It was a purely personal question. I was
spared the deep anxieties of a married man, and I knew there were few of
my intimate friends but would find my death troublesome chiefly on
account of their duty of regret. I was surprised indeed, and perhaps a
little humiliated, as I turned the matter over, to think how few could
possibly exceed the conventional requirement. Things came before me
stripped of glamour, in a clear dry light, during that walk from
Haddon's house over Primrose Hill. There were the friends of my youth: I
perceived now that our affection was a tradition, which we foregathered
rather laboriously to maintain. There were the rivals and helpers of my
later career: I suppose I had been cold-blooded or undemonstrative--one
perhaps implies the other. It may be that even the capacity for
friendship is a question of physique. There had been a time in my own
life when I had grieved bitterly enough at the loss of a friend; but as
I walked home that afternoon the emotional side of my imagination was
dormant. I could not pity myself, nor feel sorry for my friends, nor
conceive of them as grieving for me.

I was interested in this deadness of my emotional nature--no doubt a
concomitant of my stagnating physiology; and my thoughts wandered off
along the line it suggested. Once before, in my hot youth, I had
suffered a sudden loss of blood, and had been within an ace of death. I
remembered now that my affections as well as my passions had drained out
of me, leaving scarce anything but a tranquil resignation, a dreg of
self-pity. It had been weeks before the old ambitions and tendernesses,
and all the complex moral interplay of a man had reasserted themselves.
It occurred to me that the real meaning of this numbness might be a
gradual slipping away from the pleasure-pain guidance of the animal man.
It has been proven, I take it, as thoroughly as anything can be proven
in this world, that the higher emotions, the moral feelings, even the
subtle unselfishness of love, are evolved from the elemental desires and
fears of the simple animal: they are the harness in which man's mental
freedom goes. And it may be that as death overshadows us, as our
possibility of acting diminishes, this complex growth of balanced
impulse, propensity and aversion, whose interplay inspires our acts,
goes with it. Leaving what?

I was suddenly brought back to reality by an imminent collision with the
butcher-boy's tray. I found that I was crossing the bridge over the
Regent's Park Canal, which runs parallel with that in the Zoological
Gardens. The boy in blue had been looking over his shoulder at a black
barge advancing slowly, towed by a gaunt white horse. In the Gardens a
nurse was leading three happy little children over the bridge. The trees
were bright green; the spring hopefulness was still unstained by the
dusts of summer; the sky in the water was bright and clear, but broken
by long waves, by quivering bands of black, as the barge drove through.
The breeze was stirring; but it did not stir me as the spring breeze
used to do.

Was this dulness of feeling in itself an anticipation? It was curious
that I could reason and follow out a network of suggestion as clearly as
ever: so at least, it seemed to me. It was calmness rather than dulness
that was coming upon me. Was there any ground for the relief in the
presentiment of death? Did a man near to death begin instinctively to
withdraw himself from the meshes of matter and sense, even before the
cold hand was laid upon his? I felt strangely isolated--isolated without
regret--from the life and existence about me. The children playing in
the sun and gathering strength and experience for the business of life,
the park-keeper gossiping with a nursemaid, the nursing mother, the
young couple intent upon each other as they passed me, the trees by the
wayside spreading new pleading leaves to the sunlight, the stir in their
branches--I had been part of it all, but I had nearly done with it now.

Some way down the Broad Walk I perceived that I was tired, and that my
feet were heavy. It was hot that afternoon, and I turned aside and sat
down on one of the green chairs that line the way. In a minute I had
dozed into a dream, and the tide of my thoughts washed up a vision of
the resurrection. I was still sitting in the chair, but I thought myself
actually dead, withered, tattered, dried, one eye (I saw) pecked out by
birds. "Awake!" cried a voice; and incontinently the dust of the path
and the mould under the grass became insurgent. I had never before
thought of Regent's Park as a cemetery, but now, through the trees,
stretching as far as eye could see, I beheld a flat plain of writhing
graves and heeling tombstones. There seemed to be some trouble: the
rising dead appeared to stifle as they struggled upward, they bled in
their struggles, the red flesh was torn away from the white bones.
"Awake!" cried a voice; but I determined I would not rise to such
horrors. "Awake!" They would not let me alone. "Wake up!" said an angry
voice. A cockney angel! The man who sells the tickets was shaking me,
demanding my penny.

I paid my penny, pocketed my ticket, yawned, stretched my legs, and
feeling now rather less torpid, got up and walked on towards Langham
Place. I speedily lost myself again in a shifting maze of thoughts about
death. Going across Marylebone Road into that crescent at the end of
Langham Place, I had the narrowest escape from the shaft of a cab, and
went on my way with a palpitating heart and a bruised shoulder. It
struck me that it would have been curious if my meditations on my death
on the morrow had led to my death that day.

But I will not weary you with more of my experiences that day and the
next. I knew more and more certainly that I should die under the
operation; at times I think I was inclined to pose to myself. At home I
found everything prepared; my room cleared of needless objects and hung
with white sheets; a nurse installed and already at loggerheads with my
housekeeper. They wanted me to go to bed early, and after a little
resistance I obeyed.

In the morning I was very indolent, and though I read my newspapers and
the letters that came by the first post, I did not find them very
interesting. There was a friendly note from Addison, my old school
friend, calling my attention to two discrepancies and a printer's error
in my new book, with one from Langridge venting some vexation over
Minton. The rest were business communications. I breakfasted in bed. The
glow of pain at my side seemed more massive. I knew it was pain, and
yet, if you can understand, I did not find it very painful. I had been
awake and hot and thirsty in the night, but in the morning bed felt
comfortable. In the night-time I had lain thinking of things that were
past; in the morning I dozed over the question of immortality. Haddon
came, punctual to the minute, with a neat black bag; and Mowbray soon
followed. Their arrival stirred me up a little. I began to take a more
personal interest in the proceedings. Haddon moved the little octagonal
table close to the bedside, and with his broad back to me, began taking
things out of his bag. I heard the light click of steel upon steel. My
imagination, I found, was not altogether stagnant. "Will you hurt me
much?" I said in an off-hand tone.

"Not a bit," Haddon answered over his shoulder. "We shall chloroform
you. Your heart's as sound as a bell." And as he spoke, I had a whiff of
the pungent sweetness of the anaesthetic.

They stretched me out, with a convenient exposure of my side, and,
almost before I realised what was happening, the chloroform was being
administered. It stings the nostrils, and there is a suffocating
sensation at first. I knew I should die--that this was the end of
consciousness for me. And suddenly I felt that I was not prepared for
death: I had a vague sense of a duty overlooked--I knew not what. What
was it I had not done? I could think of nothing more to do, nothing
desirable left in life; and yet I had the strangest disinclination to
death. And the physical sensation was painfully oppressive. Of course
the doctors did not know they were going to kill me. Possibly I
struggled. Then I fell motionless, and a great silence, a monstrous
silence, and an impenetrable blackness came upon me.

There must have been an interval of absolute unconsciousness, seconds or
minutes. Then with a chilly, unemotional clearness, I perceived that I
was not yet dead. I was still in my body; but all the multitudinous
sensations that come sweeping from it to make up the background of
consciousness had gone, leaving me free of it all. No, not free of it
all; for as yet something still held me to the poor stark flesh upon the
bed--held me, yet not so closely that I did not feel myself external to
it, independent of it, straining away from it. I do not think I saw, I
do not think I heard; but I perceived all that was going on, and it was
as if I both heard and saw. Haddon was bending over me, Mowbray behind
me; the scalpel--it was a large scalpel--was cutting my flesh at the
side under the flying ribs. It was interesting to see myself cut like
cheese, without a pang, without even a qualm. The interest was much of a
quality with that one might feel in a game of chess between strangers.
Haddon's face was firm and his hand steady; but I was surprised to
perceive (how I know not) that he was feeling the gravest doubt as to
his own wisdom in the conduct of the operation.

Mowbray's thoughts too, I could see. He was thinking that Haddon's
manner showed too much of the specialist. New suggestions came up like
bubbles through a stream of frothing meditation, and burst one after
another in the little bright spot of his consciousness. He could not
help noticing and admiring Haddon's swift dexterity, in spite of his
envious quality and his disposition to detract. I saw my liver exposed.
I was puzzled at my own condition. I did not feel that I was dead, but I
was different in some way from my living self. The grey depression, that
had weighed on me for a year or more and coloured all my thoughts, was
gone. I perceived and thought without any emotional tint at all. I
wondered if everyone perceived things in this way under chloroform, and
forgot it again when he came out of it. It would be inconvenient to look
into some heads, and not forget.

Although I did not think that I was dead, I still perceived quite
clearly that I was soon to die. This brought me back to the
consideration of Haddon's proceedings. I looked into his mind, and saw
that he was afraid of cutting a branch of the portal vein. My attention
was distracted from details by the curious changes going on in his mind.
His consciousness was like the quivering little spot of light which is
thrown by the mirror of a galvanometer. His thoughts ran under it like a
stream, some through the focus bright and distinct, some shadowy in the
half-light of the edge. Just now the little glow was steady; but the
least movement on Mowbray's part, the slightest sound from outside, even
a faint difference in the slow movement of the living flesh he was
cutting, set the light-spot shivering and spinning. A new
sense-impression came rushing up through the flow of thoughts; and lo!
The light-spot jerked away towards it, swifter than a frightened fish.
It was wonderful to think that upon that unstable, fitful thing depended
all the complex motions of the man; that for the next five minutes,
therefore, my life hung upon its movements. And he was growing more and
more nervous in his work. It was as if a little picture of a cut vein
grew brighter, and struggled to oust from his brain another picture of a
cut falling short of the mark. He was afraid: his dread of cutting too
little was battling with his dread of cutting too far.

Then, suddenly, like an escape of water from under a lock-gate, a great
uprush of horrible realisation set all his thoughts swirling, and
simultaneously I perceived that the vein was cut. He started back with a
hoarse exclamation, and I saw the brown-purple blood gather in a swift
bead, and run trickling. He was horrified. He pitched the red-stained
scalpel on to the octagonal table; and instantly both doctors flung
themselves upon me, making hasty and ill-conceived efforts to remedy the
disaster. "Ice!" said Mowbray, gasping. But I knew that I was killed,
though my body still clung to me.

I will not describe their belated endeavours to save me, though I
perceived every detail. My perceptions were sharper and swifter than
they had ever been in life; my thoughts rushed through my mind with
incredible swiftness, but with perfect definition. I can only compare
their crowded clarity to the effects of a reasonable dose of opium. In a
moment it would all be over, and I should be free. I knew I was
immortal, but what would happen I did not know. Should I drift off
presently, like a puff of smoke from a gun, in some kind of
half-material body, an attenuated version of my material self? Should I
find myself suddenly among the innumerable hosts of the dead, and know
the world about me for the phantasmagoria it had always seemed? Should I
drift to some spiritualistic seance, and there make foolish,
incomprehensible attempts to affect a purblind medium? It was a state of
unemotional curiosity, of colourless expectation. And then I realised a
growing stress upon me, a feeling as though some huge human magnet was
drawing me upward out of my body. The stress grew and grew. I seemed an
atom for which monstrous forces were fighting. For one brief, terrible
moment sensation came back to me. That feeling of falling headlong which
comes in nightmares, that feeling a thousand times intensified, that and
a black horror swept across my thoughts in a torrent. Then the two
doctors, the naked body with its cut side, the little room, swept away
from under me and vanished, as a speck of foam vanishes down an eddy.

I was in mid-air. Far below was the West End of London, receding
rapidly--, for I seemed to be flying swiftly upward--, and as it
receded, passing westward like a panorama. I could see, through the
faint haze of smoke, the innumerable roofs chimney-set, the narrow
roadways, stippled with people and conveyances, the little specks of
squares, and the church steeples like thorns sticking out of the fabric.
But it spun away as the earth rotated on its axis, and in a few seconds
(as it seemed) I was over the scattered clumps of town about Ealing, the
little Thames a thread of blue to the south, and the Chiltern Hills and
the North Downs coming up like the rim of a basin, far away and faint
with haze. Up I rushed. And at first I had not the faintest conception
what this headlong rush upward could mean.

Every moment the circle of scenery beneath me grew wider and wider, and
the details of town and field, of hill and valley, got more and more
hazy and pale and indistinct, a luminous grey was mingled more and more
with the blue of the hills and the green of the open meadows; and a
little patch of cloud, low and far to the west, shone ever more
dazzlingly white. Above, as the veil of atmosphere between myself and
outer space grew thinner, the sky, which had been a fair springtime blue
at first, grew deeper and richer in colour, passing steadily through the
intervening shades, until presently it was as dark as the blue sky of
midnight, and presently as black as the blackness of a frosty starlight,
and at last as black as no blackness I had ever beheld. And first one
star, and then many, and at last an innumerable host broke out upon the
sky: more stars than anyone has ever seen from the face of the earth.
For the blueness of the sky in the light of the sun and stars sifted and
spread abroad blindingly: there is diffused light even in the darkest
skies of winter, and we do not see the stars by day only because of the
dazzling irradiation of the sun. But now I saw things--I know not how;
assuredly with no mortal eyes--and that defect of bedazzlement blinded
me no longer. The sun was incredibly strange and wonderful. The body of
it was a disc of blinding white light: not yellowish, as it seems to
those who live upon the earth, but livid white, all streaked with
scarlet streaks and rimmed about with a fringe of writhing tongues of
red fire. And shooting halfway across the heavens from either side of it
and brighter than the Milky Way, were two pinions of silver-white,
making it look more like those winged globes I have seen in Egyptian
sculpture than anything else I can remember upon earth. These I knew for
the solar corona, though I had never seen anything of it but a picture
during the days of my earthly life.

When my attention came back to the earth again, I saw that it had fallen
very far away from me. Field and town were long since indistinguishable,
and all the varied hues of the country were merging into a uniform
bright grey, broken only by the brilliant white of the clouds that lay
scattered in flocculent masses over Ireland and the west of England. For
now I could see the outlines of the north of France and Ireland, and all
this Island of Britain, save where Scotland passed over the horizon to
the north, or where the coast was blurred or obliterated by cloud. The
sea was a dull grey, and darker than the land; and the whole panorama
was rotating slowly towards the east.

All this had happened so swiftly that until I was some thousand miles or
so from the earth I had no thought for myself. But now I perceived I had
neither hands nor feet, neither parts nor organs, and that I felt
neither alarm nor pain. All about me I perceived that the vacancy (for I
had already left the air behind) was cold beyond the imagination of man;
but it troubled me not. The sun's rays shot through the void, powerless
to light or heat until they should strike on matter in their course. I
saw things with a serene self-forgetfulness, even as if I were God. And
down below there, rushing away from me--, countless miles in a second--,
where a little dark spot on the grey marked the position of London, two
doctors were struggling to restore life to the poor hacked and outworn
shell I had abandoned. I felt then such release, such serenity as I can
compare to no mortal delight I have ever known.

It was only after I had perceived all these things that the meaning of
that headlong rush of the earth grew into comprehension. Yet it was so
simple, so obvious, that I was amazed at my never anticipating the thing
that was happening to me. I had suddenly been cut adrift from matter:
all that was material of me was there upon earth, whirling away through
space, held to the earth by gravitation, partaking of the earth's
inertia, moving in its wreath of epicycles round the sun, and with the
sun and the planets on their vast march through space. But the
immaterial has no inertia, feels nothing of the pull of matter for
matter: where it parts from its garment of flesh, there it remains (so
far as space concerns it any longer) immovable in space. I was not
leaving the earth: the earth was leaving me, and not only the earth but
the whole solar system was streaming past. And about me in space,
invisible to me, scattered in the wake of the earth upon its journey,
there must be an innumerable multitude of souls, stripped like myself of
the material, stripped like myself of the passions of the individual and
the generous emotions of the gregarious brute, naked intelligences,
things of newborn wonder and thought, marvelling at the strange release
that had suddenly come on them!

As I receded faster and faster from the strange white sun in the black
heavens, and from the broad and shining earth upon which my being had
begun, I seemed to grow in some incredible manner vast: vast as regards
this world I had left, vast as regards the moments and periods of a
human life. Very soon I saw the full circle of the earth, slightly
gibbous, like the moon when she nears her full, but very large; and the
silvery shape of America was now in the noonday blaze wherein (as it
seemed) little England had been basking but a few minutes ago. At first
the earth was large, and shone in the heavens, filling a great part of
them; but every moment she grew smaller and more distant. As she shrank,
the broad moon in its third quarter crept into view over the rim of her
disc. I looked for the constellations. Only that part of Aries directly
behind the sun and the Lion, which the earth covered, were hidden. I
recognised the tortuous, tattered band of the Milky Way with Vega very
bright between sun and earth; and Sirius and Orion shone splendid
against the unfathomable blackness in the opposite quarter of the
heavens. The Pole Star was overhead, and the Great Bear hung over the
circle of the earth. And away beneath and beyond the shining corona of
the sun were strange groupings of stars I had never seen in my
life--notably a dagger-shaped group that I knew for the Southern Cross.
All these were no larger than when they had shone on earth, but the
little stars that one scarce sees shone now against the setting of black
vacancy as brightly as the first-magnitudes had done, while the larger
worlds were points of indescribable glory and colour. Aldebaran was a
spot of blood-red fire, and Sirius condensed to one point the light of
innumerable sapphires. And they shone steadily: they did not
scintillate, they were calmly glorious. My impressions had an adamantine
hardness and brightness: there was no blurring softness, no atmosphere,
nothing but infinite darkness set with the myriads of these acute and
brilliant points and specks of light. Presently, when I looked again,
the little earth seemed no bigger than the sun, and it dwindled and
turned as I looked, until in a second's space (as it seemed to me), it
was halved; and so it went on swiftly dwindling. Far away in the
opposite direction, a little pinkish pin's head of light, shining
steadily, was the planet Mars. I swam motionless in vacancy, and without
a trace of terror or astonishment, watched the speck of cosmic dust, we
call the world fall away from me.

Presently it dawned upon me that my sense of duration had changed; that
my mind was moving not faster but infinitely slower, that between each
separate impression there was a period of many days. The moon spun once
round the earth as I noted this; and I perceived clearly the motion of
Mars in his orbit. Moreover, it appeared as if the time between thought
and thought grew steadily greater, until at last a thousand years was
but a moment in my perception.

At first the constellations had shone motionless against the black
background of infinite space; but presently it seemed as though the
group of stars about Hercules and the Scorpion was contracting, while
Orion and Aldebaran and their neighbours were scattering apart. Flashing
suddenly out of the darkness there came a flying multitude of particles
of rock, glittering like dust-specks in a sunbeam, and encompassed in a
faintly luminous cloud. They swirled all about me, and vanished again in
a twinkling far behind. And then I saw that a bright spot of light, that
shone a little to one side of my path, was growing very rapidly larger,
and perceived that it was the planet Saturn rushing towards me. Larger
and larger it grew, swallowing up the heavens behind it, and hiding
every moment a fresh multitude of stars. I perceived its flattened,
whirling body, its disc-like belt, and seven of its little satellites.
It grew and grew, till it towered enormous; and then I plunged amid a
streaming multitude of clashing stones and dancing dust-particles and
gas-eddies, and saw for a moment the mighty triple belt like three
concentric arches of moonlight above me, its shadow black on the boiling
tumult below. These things happened in one-tenth of the time it takes to
tell them. The planet went by like a flash of lightning; for a few
seconds it blotted out the sun, and there and then became a mere black,
dwindling, winged patch against the light. The earth, the mother mote of
my being, I could no longer see.

So with a stately swiftness, in the profoundest silence, the solar
system fell from me as it had been a garment, until the sun was a mere
star amid the multitude of stars, with its eddy of planet-specks lost in
the confused glittering of the remoter light. I was no longer a denizen
of the solar system: I had come to the outer Universe, I seemed to grasp
and comprehend the whole world of matter. Ever more swiftly the stars
closed in about the spot where Antares and Vega had vanished in a
phosphorescent haze, until that part of the sky had the semblance of a
whirling mass of nebulae, and ever before me yawned vaster gaps of
vacant blackness, and the stars shone fewer and fewer. It seemed as if I
moved towards a point between Orion's belt and sword; and the void about
that region opened vaster and vaster every second, an incredible gulf of
nothingness into which I was falling. Faster and ever faster the
universe rushed by, a hurry of whirling motes at last, speeding silently
into the void. Stars glowing brighter and brighter, with their circling
planets catching the light in a ghostly fashion as I neared them, shone
out and vanished again into inexistence; faint comets, clusters of
meteorites, winking specks of matter, eddying light-points, whizzed
past, some perhaps a hundred millions of miles or so from me at most,
few nearer, travelling with unimaginable rapidity, shooting
constellations, momentary darts of fire, through that black, enormous
night. More than anything else it was like a dusty draught, sunbeam-lit.
Broader and wider and deeper grew the starless space, the vacant Beyond,
into which I was being drawn. At last a quarter of the heavens was black
and blank, and the whole headlong rush of stellar universe closed in
behind me like a veil of light that is gathered together. It drove away
from me like a monstrous jack-o'-lantern driven by the wind. I had come
out into the wilderness of space. Ever the vacant blackness grew
broader, until the hosts of the stars seemed only like a swarm of fiery
specks hurrying away from me, inconceivably remote, and the darkness,
the nothingness and emptiness, was about me on every side. Soon the
little universe of matter, the cage of points in which I had begun to
be, was dwindling, now to a whirling disc of luminous glittering, and
now to one minute disc of hazy light. In a little while it would shrink
to a point, and at last would vanish altogether.

Suddenly feeling came back to me--feeling in the shape of overwhelming
terror; such a dread of those dark vastitudes as no words can describe,
a passionate resurgence of sympathy and social desire. Were there other
souls, invisible to me as I to them, about me in the blackness? Or was I
indeed, even as I felt, alone? Had I passed out of being into something
that was neither being nor not-being? The covering of the body, the
covering of matter, had been torn from me, and the hallucinations of
companionship and security. Everything was black and silent. I had
ceased to be. I was nothing. There was nothing, save only that
infinitesimal dot of light that dwindled in the gulf. I strained myself
to hear and see, and for a while there was naught but infinite silence,
intolerable darkness, horror, and despair.

Then I saw that about the spot of light into which the whole world of
matter had shrunk there was a faint glow. And in a band on either side
of that the darkness was not absolute. I watched it for ages, as it
seemed to me, and through the long waiting the haze grew imperceptibly
more distinct. And then about the band appeared an irregular cloud of
the faintest, palest brown. I felt a passionate impatience; but the
things grew brighter so slowly that they scarce seemed to change. What
was unfolding itself? What was this strange reddish dawn in the
interminable night of space?

The cloud's shape was grotesque. It seemed to be looped along its lower
side into four projecting masses, and above, it ended in a straight
line. What phantom was it? I felt assured I had seen that figure before;
but I could not think what, nor where, nor when it was. Then the
realisation rushed upon me. It was a clenched Hand. I was alone in
space, alone with this huge, shadowy Hand, upon which the whole Universe
of Matter lay like an unconsidered speck of dust. It seemed as though I
watched it through vast periods of time. On the forefinger glittered a
ring; and the universe from which I had come was but a spot of light
upon the ring's curvature. And the thing that the hand gripped had the
likeness of a black rod. Through a long eternity I watched this Hand,
with the ring and the rod, marvelling and fearing and waiting helplessly
on what might follow. It seemed as though nothing could follow: that I
should watch for ever, seeing only the Hand and the thing it held, and
understanding nothing of its import. Was the whole universe but a
refracting speck upon some greater Being? Were our worlds but the atoms
of another universe, and those again of another, and so on through an
endless progression? And what was I? Was I indeed immaterial? A vague
persuasion of a body gathering about me came into my suspense. The
abysmal darkness about the Hand filled with impalpable suggestions, with
uncertain, fluctuating shapes.

Came a sound, like the sound of a tolling bell: faint, as if infinitely
far; muffled, as though heard through thick swathings of darkness: a
deep, vibrating resonance, with vast gulfs of silence between each
stroke. And the Hand appeared to tighten on the rod. And I saw far above
the Hand, towards the apex of the darkness, a circle of dim
phosphorescence, a ghostly sphere whence these sounds came throbbing;
and at the last stroke the Hand vanished, for the hour had come, and I
heard a noise of many waters. But the black rod remained as a great band
across the sky. And then a voice, which seemed to run to the uttermost
parts of space, spoke, saying, "There will be no more pain."

At that an almost intolerable gladness and radiance rushed in upon me,
and I saw the circle shining white and bright, and the rod black and
shining, and many things else distinct and clear. And the circle was the
face of the clock, and the rod the rail of my bed. Haddon was standing
at the foot, against the rail, with a small pair of scissors on his
fingers; and the hands of my clock on the mantel over his shoulder were
clasped together over the hour of twelve. Mowbray was washing something
in a basin at the octagonal table, and at my side I felt a subdued
feeling that could scarce be spoken of as pain.

The operation had not killed me. And I perceived, suddenly, that the
dull melancholy of half a year was lifted from my mind.




THE SEA RAIDERS


1.

Until the extraordinary affair at Sidmouth, the peculiar species
Haploteuthis ferox was known to science only generically, on the
strength of a half-digested tentacle obtained near the Azores, and a
decaying body pecked by birds and nibbled by fish, found early in 1896
by Mr. Jennings, near Land's End.

In no department of zoological science, indeed are we quite so much in
the dark as with regard to the deep-sea cephalopods. A mere accident,
for instance, it was that led to the Prince of Monaco's discovery of
nearly a dozen new forms in the summer of 1895, a discovery in which the
before-mentioned tentacle was included. It chanced that a cachalot was
killed off Terceira by some sperm whalers, and in its last struggles
charged almost to the Prince's yacht, missed it, rolled under, and died
within twenty yards of his rudder. And in its agony it threw up a number
of large objects, which the Prince, dimly perceiving they were strange
and important, was by a happy expedient, able to secure before they
sank. He set his screws in motion, and kept them circling in the
vortices thus created until a boat could be lowered. And these specimens
were whole cephalopods and fragments of cephalopods, some of gigantic
proportions, and almost all of them unknown to science!

It would seem, indeed, that these large and agile creatures, living in
the middle depths of the sea, must to a large extent, for ever remain
unknown to us, since under water they are too nimble for nets, and it is
only by such rare, unlooked-for accidents that specimens can be
obtained. In the case of Haploteuthis ferox, for instance, we are still
altogether ignorant of its habitat, as ignorant as we are of the
breeding-ground of the herring or the sea-ways of the salmon. And
zoologists are altogether at a loss to account for its sudden appearance
on our coast. Possibly it was the stress of a hunger migration that
drove it hither out of the deep. But it will be, perhaps, better to
avoid necessarily inconclusive discussion, and to proceed at once with
our narrative.

The first human being to set eyes upon a living Haploteuthis--the first
human being to survive, that is, for there can be little doubt now that
the wave of bathing fatalities and boating accidents that travelled
along the coast of Cornwall and Devon in early May was due to this
cause--was a retired tea-dealer of the name of Fison, who was stopping
at a Sidmouth boarding-house. It was in the afternoon, and he was
walking along the cliff path between Sidmouth and Ladram Bay. The cliffs
in this direction are very high, but down the red face of them in one
place a kind of ladder staircase has been made. He was near this when
his attention was attracted by what at first he thought to be a cluster
of birds struggling over a fragment of food that caught the sunlight,
and glistened pinkish-white. The tide was right out, and this object was
not only far below him, but remote across a broad waste of rock reefs
covered with dark seaweed and interspersed with silvery shining tidal
pools. And he was, moreover dazzled by the brightness of the further
water.

In a minute, regarding this again, he perceived that his judgment was in
fault, for over this struggle circled a number of birds, jackdaws and
gulls for the most part, the latter gleaming blindingly when the
sunlight smote their wings, and they seemed minute in comparison with
it. And his curiosity was, perhaps aroused all the more strongly because
of his first insufficient explanations.

As he had nothing better to do than amuse himself, he decided to make
this object, whatever it was, the goal of his afternoon walk, instead of
Ladram Bay, conceiving it might perhaps be a great fish of some sort,
stranded by some chance, and flapping about in its distress. And so he
hurried down the long steep ladder, stopping at intervals of thirty feet
or so to take breath and scan the mysterious movement.

At the foot of the cliff he was, of course, nearer his object than he
had been; but, on the other hand, it now came up against the
incandescent sky, beneath the sun, so as to seem dark and indistinct.
Whatever was pinkish of it was now hidden by a skerry of weedy boulders.
But he perceived that it was made up of seven rounded bodies distinct or
connected, and that the birds kept up a constant croaking and screaming,
but seemed afraid to approach it too closely.

Mr. Fison, torn by curiosity, began picking his way across the wave-worn
rocks, and finding the wet seaweed that covered them thickly rendered
them extremely slippery, he stopped, removed his shoes and socks, and
rolled his trousers above his knees. His object was, of course, merely
to avoid stumbling into the rocky pools about him, and perhaps he was
rather glad, as all men are, of an excuse to resume, even for a moment,
the sensations of his boyhood. At any rate, it is to this, no doubt,
that he owes his life.

He approached his mark with all the assurance which the absolute
security of this country against all forms of animal life gives its
inhabitants. The round bodies moved to and fro, but it was only when he
surmounted the skerry of boulders, I have mentioned, that he realised
the horrible nature of the discovery. It came upon him with some
suddenness.

The rounded bodies fell apart as he came into sight over the ridge, and
displayed the pinkish object to be the partially devoured body of a
human being, but whether of a man or woman he was unable to say. And the
rounded bodies were new and ghastly-looking creatures, in shape somewhat
resembling an octopus, with huge and very long and flexible tentacles,
coiled copiously on the ground. The skin had a glistening texture,
unpleasant to see, like shiny leather. The downward bend of the
tentacle-surrounded mouth, the curious excrescence at the bend, the
tentacles, and the large intelligent eyes, gave the creatures a
grotesque suggestion of a face. They were the size of a fair-sized swine
about the body, and the tentacles seemed to him to be many feet in
length. There were, he thinks, seven or eight at least of the creatures.
Twenty yards beyond them, amid the surf of the now returning tide, two
others were emerging from the sea.

Their bodies lay flatly on the rocks, and their eyes regarded him with
evil interest; but it does not appear that Mr. Fison was afraid, or that
he realised that he was in any danger. Possibly his confidence is to be
ascribed to the limpness of their attitudes. But he was horrified, of
course, and intensely excited and indignant, at such revolting creatures
preying upon human flesh. He thought they had chanced upon a drowned
body. He shouted to them, with the idea of driving them off, and finding
they did not budge, cast about him, picked up a big rounded lump of
rock, and flung it at one.

And then, slowly uncoiling their tentacles, they all began moving
towards him--creeping at first deliberately, and making a soft purring
sound to each other.

In a moment Mr. Fison realised that he was in danger. He shouted again,
threw both his boots, and started off, with a leap, forthwith. Twenty
yards off he stopped and faced about, judging them slow, and behold! The
tentacles of their leader were already pouring over the rocky ridge on
which he had just been standing!

At that he shouted again, but this time not threatening, but a cry of
dismay, and began jumping, striding, slipping, wading across the uneven
expanse between him and the beach. The tall red cliffs seemed suddenly
at a vast distance, and he saw, as though they were creatures in another
world, two minute workmen engaged in the repair of the ladder-way, and
little suspecting the race for life that was beginning below them. At
one time he could hear the creatures splashing in the pools not a dozen
feet behind him, and once he slipped and almost fell.

They chased him to the very foot of the cliffs, and desisted only when
he had been joined by the workmen at the foot of the ladder-way up the
cliff. All three of the men pelted them with stones for a time, and then
hurried to the cliff top and along the path towards Sidmouth, to secure
assistance and a boat, and to rescue the desecrated body from the
clutches of these abominable creatures.


2.

And as if he had not already been in sufficient peril that day, Mr.
Fison went with the boat to point out the exact spot of his adventure.

As the tide was down, it required a considerable detour to reach the
spot, and when at last they came off the ladder-way, the mangled body
had disappeared. The water was now running in, submerging first one slab
of slimy rock and then another, and the four men in the boat--the
workmen, that is, the boatman, and Mr. Fison--now turned their attention
from the bearings off shore to the water beneath the keel.

At first they could see little below them, save a dark jungle of
laminaria, with an occasional darting fish. Their minds were set on
adventure, and they expressed their disappointment freely. But presently
they saw one of the monsters swimming through the water seaward, with a
curious rolling motion that suggested to Mr. Fison the spinning roll of
a captive balloon. Almost immediately after, the waving streamers of
laminaria were extraordinarily perturbed, parted for a moment, and three
of these beasts became darkly visible, struggling for what was probably
some fragment of the drowned man. In a moment the copious olive-green
ribbons had poured again over this writhing group.

At that all four men, greatly excited, began beating the water with oars
and shouting, and immediately they saw a tumultuous movement among the
weeds. They desisted to see more clearly, and as soon as the water was
smooth, they saw, as it seemed to them, the whole sea bottom among the
weeds set with eyes.

"Ugly swine!" cried one of the men. "Why, there's dozens!"

And forthwith the things began to rise through the water about them. Mr.
Fison has since described to the writer this startling eruption out of
the waving laminaria meadows. To him it seemed to occupy a considerable
time, but it is probable that really it was an affair of a few seconds
only. For a time nothing but eyes, and then he speaks of tentacles
streaming out and parting the weed fronds this way and that. Then these
things, growing larger, until at last the bottom was hidden by their
intercoiling forms, and the tips of tentacles rose darkly here and there
into the air above the swell of the waters.

One came up boldly to the side of the boat, and clinging to this with
three of its sucker-set tentacles, threw four others over the gunwale,
as if with an intention either of oversetting the boat or of clambering
into it. Mr. Fison at once caught up the boathook, and jabbing furiously
at the soft tentacles, forced it to desist. He was struck in the back
and almost pitched overboard by the boatman, who was using his oar to
resist a similar attack on the other side of the boat. But the tentacles
on either side at once relaxed their hold, slid out of sight, and
splashed into the water.

"We'd better get out of this," said Mr. Fison, who was trembling
violently. He went to the tiller, while the boatman and one of the
workmen seated themselves and began rowing. The other workman stood up
in the fore part of the boat, with the boathook, ready to strike any
more tentacles that might appear. Nothing else seems to have been said.
Mr. Fison had expressed the common feeling beyond amendment. In a
hushed, scared mood, with faces white and drawn, they set about escaping
from the position into which they had so recklessly blundered.

But the oars had scarcely dropped into the water before dark, tapering,
serpentine ropes had bound them, and were about the rudder; and creeping
up the sides of the boat with a looping motion came the suckers again.
The men gripped their oars and pulled, but it was like trying to move a
boat in a floating raft of weeds. "Help here!" cried the boatman, and
Mr. Fison and the second workman rushed to help lug at the oar.

Then the man with the boathook--his name was Ewan, or Ewen--sprang up
with a curse and began striking downward over the side, as far as he
could reach, at the bank of tentacles that now clustered along the
boat's bottom. And, at the same time, the two rowers stood up to get a
better purchase for the recovery of their oars. The boatman handed his
to Mr. Fison, who lugged desperately, and meanwhile, the boatman opened
a big clasp-knife, and leaning over the side of the boat, began hacking
at the spiralling arms upon the oar shaft.

Mr. Fison, staggering with the quivering rocking of the boat, his teeth
set, his breath coming short, and the veins starting on his hands as he
pulled at his oar, suddenly cast his eyes seaward. And there, not fifty
yards off, across the long rollers of the incoming tide, was a large
boat standing in towards them, with three women and a little child in
it. A boatman was rowing, and a little man in a pink-ribboned straw hat
and whites stood in the stern hailing them. For a moment, of course, Mr.
Fison thought of help, and then he thought of the child. He abandoned
his oar forthwith, threw up his arms in a frantic gesture, and screamed
to the party in the boat to keep away "for God's sake!" It says much for
the modesty and courage of Mr. Fison that he does not seem to be aware
that there was any quality of heroism in his action at this juncture.
The oar he had abandoned was at once drawn under, and presently
reappeared floating about twenty yards away.

At the same moment Mr. Fison felt the boat under him lurch violently,
and a hoarse scream, a prolonged cry of terror from Hill, the boatman,
caused him to forget the party of excursionists altogether. He turned,
and saw Hill crouching by the forward rowlock, his face convulsed with
terror, and his right arm over the side and drawn tightly down. He gave
now a succession of short, sharp cries, "Oh! Oh! Oh--! Oh!" Mr. Fison
believes that he must have been hacking at the tentacles below the
water-line, and have been grasped by them, but of course, it is quite
impossible to say now certainly what had happened. The boat was heeling
over, so that the gunwale was within ten inches of the water, and both
Ewan and the other labourer were striking down into the water, with oar
and boathook, on either side of Hill's arm. Mr. Fison instinctively
placed himself to counterpoise them.

Then Hill, who was a burly, powerful man, made a strenuous effort, and
rose almost to a standing position. He lifted his arm, indeed, clean out
of the water. Hanging to it was a complicated tangle of brown ropes, and
the eyes of one of the brutes that had hold of him, glaring straight and
resolute, showed momentarily above the surface. The boat heeled more and
more, and the green-brown water came pouring in a cascade over the side.
Then Hill slipped and fell with his ribs across the side, and his arm
and the mass of tentacles about it splashed back into the water. He
rolled over; his boot kicked Mr. Fison's knee as that gentleman rushed
forward to seize him, and in another moment fresh tentacles had whipped
about his waist and neck, and after a brief, convulsive struggle, in
which the boat was nearly capsized, Hill was lugged overboard. The boat
righted with a violent jerk that all but sent Mr. Fison over the other
side, and hid the struggle in the water from his eyes.

He stood staggering to recover his balance for a moment, and as he did
so he became aware that the struggle and the inflowing tide had carried
them close upon the weedy rocks again. Not four yards off a table of
rock still rose in rhythmic movements above the in-wash of the tide. In
a moment Mr. Fison seized the oar from Ewan, gave one vigorous stroke,
then dropping it, ran to the bows and leapt. He felt his feet slide over
the rock, and by a frantic effort, leapt again towards a further mass.
He stumbled over this, came to his knees, and rose again.

"Look out!" cried someone, and a large drab body struck him. He was
knocked flat into a tidal pool by one of the workmen, and as he went
down he heard smothered, choking cries, that he believed at the time
came from Hill. Then he found himself marvelling at the shrillness and
variety of Hill's voice. Someone jumped over him, and a curving rush of
foamy water poured over him, and passed. He scrambled to his feet
dripping, and without looking seaward, ran as fast as his terror would
let him shoreward. Before him, over the flat space of scattered rocks,
stumbled the two workmen--one a dozen yards in front of the other.

He looked over his shoulder at last, and seeing that he was not pursued,
faced about. He was astonished. From the moment of the rising of the
cephalopods out of the water he had been acting too swiftly to fully
comprehend his actions. Now it seemed to him as if he had suddenly
jumped out of an evil dream.

For there were the sky, cloudless and blazing with the afternoon sun,
the sea weltering under its pitiless brightness, the soft creamy foam of
the breaking water, and the low, long, dark ridges of rock. The righted
boat floated, rising and falling gently on the swell about a dozen yards
from shore. Hill and the monsters, all the stress and tumult of that
fierce fight for life, had vanished as though they had never been.

Mr. Fison's heart was beating violently; he was throbbing to the
finger-tips, and his breath came deep.

There was something missing. For some seconds he could not think clearly
enough what this might be. Sun, sky, sea, rocks--what was it? Then he
remembered the boatload of excursionists. It had vanished. He wondered
whether he had imagined it. He turned, and saw the two workmen standing
side by side under the projecting masses of the tall pink cliffs. He
hesitated whether he should make one last attempt to save the man Hill.
His physical excitement seemed to desert him suddenly, and leave him
aimless and helpless. He turned shoreward, stumbling and wading towards
his two companions.

He looked back again, and there were now two boats floating, and the one
farthest out at sea pitched clumsily, bottom upward.


3.

So it was Haploteuthis ferox made its appearance upon the Devonshire
coast. So far, this has been its most serious aggression. Mr. Fison's
account, taken together with the wave of boating and bathing casualties
to which I have already alluded, and the absence of fish from the
Cornish coasts that year, points clearly to a shoal of these voracious
deep-sea monsters prowling slowly along the sub-tidal coastline. Hunger
migration has, I know, been suggested as the force that drove them
hither; but, for my own part, I prefer to believe the alternative theory
of Hemsley. Hemsley holds that a pack or shoal of these creatures may
have become enamoured of human flesh by the accident of a foundered ship
sinking among them, and have wandered in search of it out of their
accustomed zone; first way-laying and following ships, and so coming to
our shores in the wake of the Atlantic traffic. But to discuss Hemsley's
cogent and admirably-stated arguments would be out of place here.

It would seem that the appetites of the shoal were satisfied by the
catch of eleven people--for, so far as can be ascertained, there were
ten people in the second boat, and certainly these creatures gave no
further signs of their presence off Sidmouth that day. The coast between
Seaton and Budleigh Salterton was patrolled all that evening and night
by four Preventive Service boats, the men in which were armed with
harpoons and cutlasses, and as the evening advanced, a number of more or
less similarly equipped expeditions, organised by private individuals,
joined them. Mr. Fison took no part in any of these expeditions.

About midnight excited hails were heard from a boat about a couple of
miles out at sea to the south-east of Sidmouth, and a lantern was seen
waving in a strange manner to and fro and up and down. The nearer boats
at once hurried towards the alarm. The venturesome occupants of the
boat, a seaman, a curate, and two schoolboys, had actually seen the
monsters passing under their boat. The creatures, it seems, like most
deep-sea organisms, were phosphorescent, and they had been floating,
five fathoms deep or so, like creatures of moonshine through the
blackness of the water, their tentacles retracted and as if asleep,
rolling over and over, and moving slowly in a wedge-like formation
towards the south-east.

These people told their story in gesticulated fragments, as first one
boat drew alongside and then another. At last there was a little fleet
of eight or nine boats collected together, and from them a tumult, like
the chatter of a marketplace, rose into the stillness of the night.
There was little or no disposition to pursue the shoal, the people had
neither weapons nor experience for such a dubious chase, and
presently--even with a certain relief, it may be--the boats turned
shoreward.

And now to tell what is perhaps the most astonishing fact in this whole
astonishing raid. We have not the slightest knowledge of the subsequent
movements of the shoal, although the whole south-west coast was now
alert for it. But it may, perhaps, be significant that a cachalot was
stranded off Sark on June 3. Two weeks and three days after this
Sidmouth affair, a living Haploteuthis came ashore on Calais sands. It
was alive, because several witnesses saw its tentacles moving in a
convulsive way. But it is probable that it was dying. A gentleman named
Pouchet obtained a rifle and shot it.

That was the last appearance of a living Haploteuthis. No others were
seen on the French coast. On the 15th of June a dead carcass, almost
complete, was washed ashore near Torquay, and a few days later a boat
from the Marine Biological station, engaged in dredging off Plymouth,
picked up a rotting specimen, slashed deeply with a cutlass wound. How
the former had come by its death it is impossible to say. And on the
last day of June, Mr. Egbert Caine, an artist, bathing near Newlyn,
threw up his arms, shrieked, and was drawn under. A friend bathing with
him made no attempt to save him, but swam at once for the shore. This is
the last fact to tell of this extraordinary raid from the deeper sea.
Whether it is really the last of these horrible creatures it is, as yet,
premature to say. But it is believed, and certainly it is to be hoped,
that they have returned now, and returned for good, to the sunless
depths of the middle seas, out of which they have so strangely and so
mysteriously arisen.




POLLOCK AND THE PORROH MAN


It was in a swampy village on the lagoon river behind the Turner
Peninsula that Pollock's first encounter with the Porroh man occurred.
The women of that country are famous for their good looks--they are
Gallinas with a dash of European blood that dates from the days of Vasco
da Gama and the English slave-traders, and the Porroh man too, was
possibly inspired by a faint Caucasian taint in his composition. (It's a
curious thing to think that some of us may have distant cousins eating
men on Sherboro Island or raiding with the Sofas.) At anyrate, the
Porroh man stabbed the woman to the heart as though he had been a mere
low-class Italian, and very narrowly missed Pollock. But Pollock, using
his revolver to parry the lightning stab which was aimed at his deltoid
muscle, sent the iron dagger flying, and firing, hit the man in the
hand.

He fired again and missed, knocking a sudden window out of the wall of
the hut. The Porroh man stooped in the doorway, glancing under his arm
at Pollock. Pollock caught a glimpse of his inverted face in the
sunlight, and then the Englishman was alone, sick and trembling with the
excitement of the affair, in the twilight of the place. It had all
happened in less time than it takes to read about it.

The woman was quite dead, and having ascertained this, Pollock went to
the entrance of the hut and looked out. Things outside were dazzling
bright. Half a dozen of the porters of the expedition were standing up
in a group near the green huts they occupied, and staring towards him,
wondering what the shots might signify. Behind the little group of men
was the broad stretch of black fetid mud by the river, a green carpet of
rafts of papyrus and water-grass, and then the leaden water. The
mangroves beyond the stream loomed indistinctly through the blue haze.
There were no signs of excitement in the squat village, whose fence was
just visible above the cane-grass.

Pollock came out of the hut cautiously and walked towards the river,
looking over his shoulder at intervals. But the Porroh man had vanished
Pollock clutched his revolver nervously in his hand.

One of his men came to meet him, and as he came, pointed to the bushes
behind the hut in which the Porroh man had disappeared. Pollock had an
irritating persuasion of having made an absolute fool of himself; he
felt bitter, savage, at the turn things had taken. At the same time, he
would have to tell Waterhouse--the moral, exemplary, cautious
Waterhouse--who would inevitably take the matter seriously. Pollock
cursed bitterly at his luck, at Waterhouse, and especially at the West
Coast of Africa. He felt consummately sick of the expedition. And in the
back of his mind all the time was a speculative doubt where precisely
within the visible horizon the Porroh man might be.

It is perhaps rather shocking, but he was not at all upset by the murder
that had just happened. He had seen so much brutality during the last
three months, so many dead women, burnt huts, drying skeletons, up the
Kittam River in the wake of the Sofa cavalry, that his senses were
blunted. What disturbed him was the persuasion that this business was
only beginning.

He swore savagely at the black, who ventured to ask a question, and went
on into the tent under the orange-trees where Waterhouse was lying,
feeling exasperatingly like a boy going into the headmaster's study.

Waterhouse was still sleeping off the effects of his last dose of
chlorodyne, and Pollock sat down on a packing-case beside him, and
lighting his pipe, waited for him to awake. About him were scattered the
pots and weapons Waterhouse had collected from the Mendi people, and
which he had been repacking for the canoe voyage to Sulyma.

Presently Waterhouse woke up, and after judicial stretching, decided he
was all right again. Pollock got him some tea. Over the tea, the
incidents of the afternoon were described by Pollock, after some
preliminary beating about the bush. Waterhouse took the matter even more
seriously than Pollock had anticipated. He did not simply disapprove, he
scolded, he insulted.

"You're one of those infernal fools who think a black man isn't a human
being," he said. "I can't be ill a day without you must get into some
dirty scrape or other. This is the third time in a month that you have
come crossways-on with a native, and this time you're in for it with a
vengance. Porroh, too! They're down upon you enough as it is, about that
idol you wrote your silly name on. And they're the most vindictive
devils on earth! You make a man ashamed of civilisation. To think you
come of a decent family! If ever I cumber myself up with a vicious,
stupid young lout like you again--"

"Steady on, now," snarled Pollock, in the tone that always exasperated
Waterhouse; "steady on."

At that Waterhouse became speechless. He jumped to his feet.

"Look here, Pollock," he said, after a struggle to control his breath.
"You must go home. I won't have you any longer. I'm ill enough as it is,
through you--"

"Keep your hair on," said Pollock, staring in front of him. "I'm ready
enough to go."

Waterhouse became calmer again. He sat down on the camp-stool. "Very
well," he said. "I don't want a row, Pollock you know, but it's
confoundedly annoying to have one's plans put out by this kind of thing.
I'll come to Sulyma with you, and see you safe aboard--"

"You needn't," said Pollock. "I can go alone. From here."

"Not far," said Waterhouse. "You don't understand this Porroh business."

"How should I know she belonged to a Porroh man?" said Pollock bitterly.

"Well, she did," said Waterhouse; "and you can't undo the thing. Go
alone, indeed! I wonder what they'd do to you. You don't seem to
understand that this Porroh hokey-pokey rules this country, is its law,
religion, constitution, medicine, magic... They appoint the chiefs. The
Inquisition, at its best, couldn't hold a candle to these chaps. He will
probably set Awajale, the chief here, on to us. It's lucky our porters
are Mendis. We shall have to shift this little settlement of ours...
Confound you, Pollock! And, of course, you must go and miss him."

He thought, and his thoughts seemed disagreeable. Presently he stood up
and took his rifle. "I'd keep close for a bit, if I were you," he said,
over his shoulder, as he went out. "I'm going out to see what I can find
out about it."

Pollock remained sitting in the tent, meditating. "I was meant for a
civilised life," he said to himself, regretfully, as he filled his pipe.
"The sooner I get back to London or Paris the better for me."

His eye fell on the sealed case in which Waterhouse had put the
featherless poisoned arrows they had bought in the Mendi country. "I
wish I had hit the beggar somewhere vital," said Pollock viciously.

Waterhouse came back after a long interval. He was not communicative,
though Pollock asked him questions enough. The Porroh man, it seems was
a prominent member of that mystical society. The village was interested,
but not threatening. No doubt the witch-doctor had gone into the bush.
He was a great witch-doctor. "Of course, he's up to something," said
Waterhouse, and became silent.

"But what can he do?" asked Pollock, unheeded.

"I must get you out of this. There's something brewing, or things would
not be so quiet," said Waterhouse, after a gap of silence. Pollock
wanted to know what the brew might be. "Dancing in a circle of skulls",
said Waterhouse; "brewing a stink in a copper pot." Pollock wanted
particulars. Waterhouse was vague, Pollock pressing. At last Waterhouse
lost his temper. "How the devil should I know?" he said to Pollock's
twentieth inquiry what the Porroh man would do. "He tried to kill you
off-hand in the hut. Now, I fancy he will try something more elaborate.
But you'll see fast enough. I don't want to help unnerve you. It's
probably all nonsense."

That night, as they were sitting at their fire, Pollock again tried to
draw Waterhouse out on the subject of Porroh methods. "Better get to
sleep," said Waterhouse, when Pollock's bent became apparent; "we start
early to-morrow. You may want all your nerve about you."

"But what line will he take?"

"Can't say. They're versatile people. They know a lot of rum dodges.
You'd better get that copper-devil, Shakespear, to talk."

There was a flash and a heavy bang, out of the darkness behind the huts,
and a clay bullet came whistling close to Pollock's head. This, at
least, was crude enough. The blacks and half-breeds sitting and yarning
round their own fire jumped up, and someone fired into the dark.

"Better go into one of the huts," said Waterhouse quietly, still sitting
unmoved.

Pollock stood up by the fire and drew his revolver. Fighting, at least,
he was not afraid of. But a man in the dark is in the best of armour.
Realising the wisdom of Waterhouse's advice, Pollock went into the tent
and lay down there.

What little sleep he had was disturbed by dreams, variegated dreams, but
chiefly of the Porroh man's face, upside down, as he went out of the
hut, and looked up under his arm. It was odd that this transitory
impression should have stuck so firmly in Pollock's memory. Moreover, he
was troubled by queer pains in his limbs.

In the white haze of the early morning, as they were loading the canoes,
a barbed arrow suddenly appeared quivering in the ground close to
Pollock's foot. The boys made a perfunctory effort to clear out the
thicket, but it led to no capture.

After these two occurrences, there was a disposition on the part of the
expedition to leave Pollock to himself, and Pollock became, for the
first time in his life, anxious to mingle with blacks. Waterhouse took
one canoe, and Pollock, in spite of a friendly desire to chat with
Waterhouse, had to take the other. He was left all alone in the front
part of the canoe, and he had the greatest trouble to make the men--who
did not love him--keep to the middle of the river, a clear hundred yards
or more from either shore. However, he made Shakespear, the Freetown
half-breed, come up to his own end of the canoe and tell him about
Porroh, which Shakespear, failing in his attempts to leave Pollock
alone, presently did with considerable freedom and gusto.

The day passed. The canoe glided swiftly along the ribbon of lagoon
water, between the drift of water-figs, fallen trees, papyrus, and
palm-wine palms, and with the dark mangrove swamp to the left, through
which one could hear now and then the roar of the Atlantic surf.
Shakespear told in his soft, blurred English of how the Porroh could
cast spells; how men withered up under their malice; how they could send
dreams and devils; how they tormented and killed the sons of Ijibu; how
they kidnapped a white trader from Sulyma who had maltreated one of the
sect, and how his body looked when it was found. And Pollock after each
narrative cursed under his breath at the want of missionary enterprise
that allowed such things to be, and at the inert British Government that
ruled over this dark heathendom of Sierra Leone. In the evening they
came to the Kasi Lake, and sent a score of crocodiles lumbering off the
island on which the expedition camped for the night.

The next day they reached Sulyma, and smelt the sea breeze, but Pollock
had to put up there for five days before he could get on to Freetown.
Waterhouse, considering him to be comparatively safe here, and within
the pale of Freetown influence, left him and went back with the
expedition to Gbemma, and Pollock became very friendly with Perera, the
only resident white trader at Sulyma--so friendly, indeed, that he went
about with him everywhere. Perera was a little Portuguese Jew, who had
lived in England, and he appreciated the Englishman's friendliness as a
great compliment.

For two days nothing happened out of the ordinary; for the most part
Pollock and Perera played Nap--the only game they had in common--and
Pollock got into debt. Then, on the second evening, Pollock had a
disagreeable intimation of the arrival of the Porroh man in Sulyma by
getting a flesh-wound in the shoulder from a lump of filed iron. It was
a long shot, and the missile had nearly spent its force when it hit him.
Still it conveyed its message plainly enough. Pollock sat up in his
hammock, revolver in hand, all that night, and next morning confided, to
some extent, in the Anglo-Portuguese.

Perera took the matter seriously. He knew the local customs pretty
thoroughly. "It is a personal question, you must know. It is revenge.
And of course he is hurried by your leaving de country. None of de
natives or half-breeds will interfere wid him very much--unless you make
it wort deir while. If you come upon him suddenly, you might shoot him.
But den he might shoot you.

"Den dere's dis--infernal magic," said Perera. "Of course, I don't
believe in it--superstition--but still it's not nice to tink dat
wherever you are, dere is a black man, who spends a moonlight night now
and den a-dancing about a fire to send you bad dreams... Had any bad
dreams?"

"Rather," said Pollock. "I keep on seeing the beggar's head upside down
grinning at me and showing all his teeth as he did in the hut, and
coming close up to me, and then going ever so far off, and coming back.
It's nothing to be afraid of, but somehow it simply paralyses me with
terror in my sleep. Queer things--dreams. I know it's a dream all the
time, and I can't wake up from it."

"It's probably only fancy," said Perera. "Den my niggers say Porroh men
can send snakes. Seen any snakes lately?"

"Only one. I killed him this morning, on the floor near my hammock.
Almost trod on him as I got up."

"Ah!" said Perera, and then, reassuringly, "Of course it is
a--coincidence. Still I would keep my eyes open. Den dere's pains in de
bones."

"I thought they were due to miasma," said Pollock.

"Probably dey are. When did dey begin?"

Then Pollock remembered that he first noticed them the night after the
fight in the hut. "It's my opinion he don't want to kill you," said
Perera--"at least not yet. I've heard deir idea is to scare and worry a
man wid deir spells, and narrow misses, and rheumatic pains, and bad
dreams, and all dat, until he's sick of life. Of course, it's all talk,
you know. You mustn't worry about it... But I wonder what he'll be up to
next."

"I shall have to be up to something first," said Pollock, staring
gloomily at the greasy cards that Perera was putting on the table. "It
don't suit my dignity to be followed about, and shot at, and blighted in
this way. I wonder if Porroh hokey-pokey upsets your luck at cards."

He looked at Perera suspiciously.

"Very likely it does," said Perera warmly, shuffling. "Dey are wonderful
people."

That afternoon Pollock killed two snakes in his hammock, and there was
also an extraordinary increase in the number of red ants that swarmed
over the place; and these annoyances put him in a fit temper to talk
over business with a certain Mendi rough he had interviewed before. The
Mendi rough showed Pollock a little iron dagger, and demonstrated where
one struck in the neck, in a way that made Pollock shiver, and in return
for certain considerations Pollock promised him a double-barrelled gun
with an ornamental lock.

In the evening, as Pollock and Perera were playing cards, the Mendi
rough came in through the doorway, carrying something in a blood-soaked
piece of native cloth.

"Not here!" said Pollock very hurriedly. "Not here!"

But he was not quick enough to prevent the man, who was anxious to get
to Pollock's side of the bargain, from opening the cloth and throwing
the head of the Porroh man upon the table. It bounded from there on to
the floor, leaving a red trail on the cards, and rolled into the corner,
where it came to rest upside down, but glaring hard at Pollock.

Perera jumped up as the thing fell among the cards, and began in his
excitement to gabble in Portuguese. The Mendi was bowing, with the red
cloth in his hand. "De gun!" he cried. Pollock stared back at the head
in the corner. It bore exactly the expression it had in his dreams.
Something seemed to snap in his own brain as he looked at it.

Then Perera found his English again.

"You got him killed?" he said. "You did not kill him yourself?"

"Why should I?" said Pollock.

"But he will not be able to take it off now!"

"Take what off?" said Pollock.

"And all dese cards are spoiled!"

"What do you mean by taking off?" said Pollock.

"You must send me a new pack from Freetown. You can buy dem dere.

"But--'take it off'?"

"It is only superstition. I forgot. De niggers say dat if de witches--he
was a witch--But it is rubbish... You must make de Porroh man take it
off, or kill him yourself... It is very silly."

Pollock swore under his breath, still staring hard at the head in the
corner.

"I can't stand that glare," he said. Then suddenly he rushed at the
thing and kicked it. It rolled some yards or so, and came to rest in the
same position as before, upside down, and looking at him.

"He is ugly," said the Anglo-Portuguese. "Very ugly. Dey do it on deir
faces with little knives."

Pollock would have kicked the head again, but the Mendi man touched him
on the arm. "De gun?" he said, looking nervously at the head.

"Two--if you will take that beastly thing away," said Pollock.

The Mendi shook his head, and intimated that he only wanted one gun now
due to him, and for which he would be obliged. Pollock found neither
cajolery nor bullying any good with him. Perera had a gun to sell (at a
profit of three hundred per cent), and with that the man presently
departed. Then Pollock's eyes, against his will, were recalled to the
thing on the floor.

"It is funny dat his head keeps upside down," said Perera, with an
uneasy laugh. "His brains must be heavy, like de weight in de little
images one sees dat keep always upright wid lead in dem. You will take
him wiv you when you go presently. You might take him now. De cards are
all spoilt. Dere is a man sell dem in Freetown. De room is in a filthy
mess as it is. You should have killed him yourself."

Pollock pulled himself together, and went and picked up the head. He
would hang it up by the lamp-hook in the middle of the ceiling of his
room, and dig a grave for it at once. He was under the impression that
he hung it up by the hair, but that must have been wrong, for when he
returned for it, it was hanging by the neck upside down.

He buried it before sunset on the north side of the shed he occupied, so
that he should not have to pass the grave after dark when he was
returning from Perera's. He killed two snakes before he went to sleep.
In the darkest part of the night he awoke with a start, and heard a
pattering sound and something scraping on the floor. He sat up
noiselessly, and felt under his pillow for his revolver. A mumbling
growl followed, and Pollock fired at the sound. There was a yelp, and
something dark passed for a moment across the hazy blue of the doorway.
"A dog!" said Pollock, lying down again.

In the early dawn he awoke again with a peculiar sense of unrest. The
vague pain in his bones had returned. For some time he lay watching the
red ants that were swarming over the ceiling, and then, as the light
grew brighter, he looked over the edge of his hammock and saw something
dark on the floor. He gave such a violent start that the hammock overset
and flung him out.

He found himself lying, perhaps, a yard away from the head of the Porroh
man. It had been disinterred by the dog, and the nose was grievously
battered. Ants and flies swarmed over it. By an odd coincidence, it was
still upside down, and with the same diabolical expression in the
inverted eyes.

Pollock sat paralysed, and stared at the horror for some time. Then he
got up and walked round it--giving it a wide berth--and out of the shed.
The clear light of the sunrise, the living stir of vegetation before the
breath of the dying land-breeze, and the empty grave with the marks of
the dog's paws, lightened the weight upon his mind a little.

He told Perera of the business as though it was a jest--a jest to be
told with white lips. "You should not have frighten de dog," said
Perera, with poorly simulated hilarity.

The next two days, until the steamer came, were spent by Pollock in
making a more effectual disposition of his possession. Overcoming his
aversion to handling the thing, he went down to the river mouth and
threw it into the sea-water, but by some miracle it escaped the
crocodiles, and was cast up by the tide on the mud a little way up the
river, to be found by an intelligent Arab half-breed, and offered for
sale to Pollock and Perera as a curiosity, just on the edge of night.
The native hung about in the brief twilight, making lower and lower
offers, and at last, getting scared in some way by the evident dread
these wise white men had for the thing, went off, and passing Pollock's
shed, threw his burden in there for Pollock to discover in the morning.

At this Pollock got into a kind of frenzy. He would burn the thing. He
went out straightway into the dawn, and had constructed a big pyre of
brushwood before the heat of the day. He was interrupted by the hooter
of the little paddle steamer from Monrovia to Bathurst, which was coming
through the gap in the bar. "Thank Heaven!" said Pollock, with infinite
piety, when the meaning of the sound dawned upon him. With trembling
hands he lit his pile of wood hastily, threw the head upon it, and went
away to pack his portmanteau and make his adieux to Perera.

That afternoon, with a sense of infinite relief, Pollock watched the
flat swampy foreshore of Sulyma grow small in the distance. The gap in
the long line of white surge became narrower and narrower. It seemed to
be closing in and cutting him off from his trouble. The feeling of dread
and worry began to slip from him bit by bit. At Sulyma belief in Porroh
malignity and Porroh magic had been in the air, his sense of Porroh had
been vast, pervading, threatening, dreadful. Now manifestly the domain
of Porroh was only a little place, a little black band between the sea
and the blue cloudy Mendi uplands.

"Good-bye, Porroh!" said Pollock. "Good-bye--certainly not au revoir."

The captain of the steamer came and leant over the rail beside him, and
wished him good-evening, and spat at the froth of the wake in token of
friendly ease.

"I picked up a rummy curio on the beach this go," said the captain.
"It's a thing I never saw done this side of Indy before."

"What might that be?" said Pollock.

"Pickled 'ed," said the captain.


"What!" said Pollock.

"'Ed--smoked. 'Ed of one of those Porroh chaps, all ornamented with
knife-cuts. Why! What's up? Nothing? I shouldn't have took you for a
nervous chap. Green in the face. By gosh! You're a bad sailor. All
right, eh? Lord, how funny you went...! Well, this 'ed I was telling you
of is a bit rum in a way. I've got it, along with some snakes, in a jar
of spirit in my cabin what I keeps for such curios, and I'm hanged if it
don't float upsy down. Hullo!"

Pollock had given an incoherent cry, and had his hands in his hair. He
ran towards the paddle-boxes with a half-formed idea of jumping into the
sea, and then he realised his position and turned back towards the
captain.

"Here!" said the captain. "Jack Philips, just keep him off me! Stand
off! No nearer, mister! What's the matter with you? Are you mad?"

Pollock put his hand to his head. It was no good explaining. "I believe
I am pretty nearly mad at times," he said. "It's a pain I have here.
Comes suddenly. You'll excuse me, I hope."

He was white and in a perspiration. He saw suddenly very clearly all the
danger he ran of having his sanity doubted. He forced himself to restore
the captain's confidence, by answering his sympathetic inquiries, noting
his suggestions, even trying a spoonful of neat brandy in his cheek, and
that matter settled, asking a number of questions about the captain's
private trade in curiosities. The captain described the head in detail.
All the while Pollock was struggling to keep under a preposterous
persuasion that the ship was as transparent as glass, and that he could
distinctly see the inverted face looking at him from the cabin beneath
his feet.

Pollock had a worse time almost on the steamer than he had at Sulyma.
All day he had to control himself in spite of his intense perception of
the imminent presence of that horrible head that was overshadowing his
mind. At night his old nightmare returned, until, with a violent effort,
he would force himself awake, rigid with the horror of it, and with the
ghost of a hoarse scream in his throat.

He left the actual head behind at Bathurst, where he changed ship for
Teneriffe, but not his dreams nor the dull ache in his bones. At
Teneriffe, Pollock transferred to a Cape liner, but the head followed
him. He gambled, he tried chess, he even read books, but he knew the
danger of drink. Yet whenever a round black shadow, a round black object
came into his range, there he looked for the head, and--saw it. He knew
clearly enough that his imagination was growing traitor to him, and yet
at times it seemed the ship he sailed in, his fellow-passengers, the
sailors, the wide sea, was all part of a filmy phantasmagoria that hung,
scarcely veiling it, between him and a horrible real world. Then the
Porroh man, thrusting his diabolical face through that curtain, was the
one real and undeniable thing. At that he would get up and touch things,
taste something, gnaw something, burn his hand with a match, or run a
needle into himself.

So, struggling grimly and silently with his excited imagination, Pollock
reached England. He landed at Southampton, and went on straight from
Waterloo to his banker's in Cornhill in a cab. There he transacted some
business with the manager in a private room, and all the while the head
hung like an ornament under the black marble mantel and dripped upon the
fender. He could hear the drops fall, and see the red on the fender.

"A pretty fern," said the manager, following his eyes. "But it makes the
fender rusty."

"Very," said Pollock; "a very pretty fern. And that reminds me. Can you
recommend me a physician for mind troubles? I've got a little--what is
it--? Hallucination."

The head laughed savagely, wildly. Pollock was surprised the manager did
not notice it. But the manager only stared at his face.

With the address of a doctor, Pollock presently emerged in Cornhill.
There was no cab in sight, and so he went on down to the western end of
the street, and essayed the crossing opposite the Mansion House. The
crossing is hardly easy even for the expert Londoner; cabs, vans,
carriages, mail-carts, omnibuses go by in one incessant stream; to
anyone fresh from the malarious solitudes of Sierra Leone it is a
boiling, maddening confusion. But when an inverted head suddenly comes
bouncing, like an indiarubber ball, between your legs, leaving distinct
smears of blood every time it touches the ground, you can scarcely hope
to avoid an accident. Pollock lifted his feet convulsively to avoid it,
and then kicked at the thing furiously. Then something hit him violently
in the back, and a hot pain ran up his arm.

He had been hit by the pole of an omnibus, and three of the fingers of
his left hand smashed by the hoof of one of the horses--the very
fingers, as it happened, that he shot from the Porroh man. They pulled
him out from between the horse's legs, and found the address of the
physician, in his crushed hand.

For a couple of days Pollock's sensations were full of the sweet,
pungent smell of chloroform, of painful operations that caused him no
pain, of lying still and being given food and drink. Then he had a
slight fever, and was very thirsty, and his old nightmare came back. It
was only when it returned that he noticed it had left him for a day.

"If my skull had been smashed instead of my fingers, it might have gone
altogether," said Pollock, staring thoughtfully at the dark cushion that
had taken on for the time the shape of the head.

Pollock at the first opportunity told the physician of his mind trouble.
He knew clearly that he must go mad unless something should intervene to
save him. He explained that he had witnessed a decapitation in Dahomey,
and was haunted by one of the heads. Naturally, he did not care to state
the actual facts. The physician looked grave.

Presently he spoke hesitatingly. "As a child, did you get very much
religious training?"

"Very little," said Pollock.

A shade passed over the physician's face. "I don't know if you have
heard of the miraculous cures--it may be, of course, they are not
miraculous--at Lourdes."

"Faith-healing will hardly suit me, I am afraid," said Pollock, with his
eye on the dark cushion.

The head distorted its scarred features in an abominable grimace. The
physician went upon a new track. "It's all imagination," he said,
speaking with sudden briskness. "A fair case for faith-healing, anyhow.
Your nervous system has run down, you're in that twilight state of
health when the bogles come easiest. The strong impression was too much
for you. I must make you up a little mixture that will strengthen your
nervous system--especially your brain. And you must take exercise."

"I'm no good for faith-healing," said Pollock.

"And therefore we must restore tone. Go in search of stimulating
air--Scotland, Norway, the Alps--"

"Jericho, if you like," said Pollock--"where Naaman went."

However, so soon as his fingers would let him, Pollock made a gallant
attempt to follow out the doctor's suggestion. It was now November. He
tried football, but to Pollock the game consisted in kicking a furious
inverted head about a field. He was no good at the game. He kicked
blindly, with a kind of horror, and when they put him back into goal,
and the ball came swooping down upon him, he suddenly yelled and got out
of its way. The discreditable stories that had driven him from England
to wander in the tropics shut him off from any but men's society, and
now his increasingly strange behaviour made even his man friends avoid
him. The thing was no longer a thing of the eye merely; it gibbered at
him, spoke to him. A horrible fear came upon him that presently, when he
took hold of the apparition, it would no longer become some mere article
of furniture, but would feel like a real dissevered head. Alone, he
would curse at the thing, defy it, entreat it; once or twice, in spite
of his grim self-control, he addressed it in the presence of others. He
felt the growing suspicion in the eyes of the people that watched
him--his landlady, the servant, his man.

One day early in December his cousin Arnold--his next of kin--came to
see him and draw him out, and watch his sunken yellow face with narrow
eager eyes. And it seemed to Pollock that the hat his cousin carried in
his hand was no hat at all, but a Gorgon head that glared at him upside
down, and fought with its eyes against his reason. However, he was still
resolute to see the matter out. He got a bicycle, and, riding over the
frosty road from Wandsworth to Kingston, found the thing rolling along
at his side, and leaving a dark trail behind it. He set his teeth and
rode faster. Then suddenly, as he came down the hill towards Richmond
Park, the apparition rolled in front of him and under his wheel, so
quickly that he had no time for thought, and, turning quickly to avoid
it, was flung violently against a heap of stones and broke his left
wrist.

The end came on Christmas morning. All night he had been in a fever, the
bandages encircling his wrist like a band of fire, his dreams more vivid
and terrible than ever. In the cold, colourless, uncertain light that
came before the sunrise, he sat up in his bed, and saw the head upon the
bracket in the place of the bronze jar that had stood there overnight.

"I know that is a bronze jar," he said, with a chill doubt at his heart.
Presently the doubt was irresistible. He got out of bed slowly,
shivering, and advanced to the jar with his hand raised. Surely he would
see now his imagination had deceived him, recognise the distinctive
sheen of bronze. At last, after an age of hesitation, his fingers came
down on the patterned cheek of the head. He withdrew them spasmodically.
The last stage was reached. His sense of touch had betrayed him.

Trembling, stumbling against the bed, kicking against his shoes with his
bare feet, a dark confusion eddying round him, he groped his way to the
dressing-table, took his razor from the drawer, and sat down on the bed
with this in his hand. In the looking-glass he saw his own face,
colourless, haggard, full of the ultimate bitterness of despair.

He beheld in swift succession the incidents in the brief tale of his
experience. His wretched home, his still more wretched schooldays, the
years of vicious life he had led since then, one act of selfish
dishonour leading to another; it was all clear and pitiless now, all its
squalid folly, in the cold light of the dawn. He came to the hut, to the
fight with the Porroh man, to the retreat down the river to Sulyma, to
the Mendi assassin and his red parcel, to his frantic endeavours to
destroy the head, to the growth of his hallucination. It was a
hallucination! He knew it was. A hallucination merely. For a moment he
snatched at hope. He looked away from the glass, and on the bracket, the
inverted head grinned and grimaced at him... With the stiff fingers of
his bandaged hand he felt at his neck for the throb of his arteries. The
morning was very cold, the steel blade felt like ice.




THE RED ROOM


"I can assure you," said I, "that it will take a very tangible ghost to
frighten me." And I stood up before the fire with my glass in my hand.

"It is your own choosing," said the man with the withered arm, and
glanced at me askance.

"Eight-and-twenty years," said I, "I have lived, and never a ghost have
I seen as yet."

The old woman sat staring hard into the fire, her pale ayes wide open.
"Ay," she broke in; "and eight-and-twenty years you have lived and never
seen the likes of this house, I reckon. There's a many things to see,
when one's still but eight-and-twenty." She swayed her head slowly from
side to side. "A many things to see and sorrow for."

I half suspected the old people were trying to enhance the spiritual
terrors of their house by their droning insistence. I put down my empty
glass on the table and looked about the room, and caught a glimpse of
myself, abbreviated and broadened to an impossible sturdiness, in the
queer old mirror at the end of the room. "Well," I said, "if I see
anything tonight, I shall be so much the wiser. For I come to the
business with an open mind."

"It's your own choosing," said the man, with the withered arm, once
more.

I heard the sound of a stick and a shambling step on the flags in the
passage outside, and the door creaked on its hinges as a second old man
entered, more bent, more wrinkled, more aged even than the first. He
supported himself by a single crutch, his eyes were covered by a shade,
and his lower lip, half averted, hung pale and pink from his decaying
yellow teeth. He made straight for an armchair on the opposite side of
the table, sat down clumsily, and began to cough. The man with the
withered arm gave this new-comer a short glance of positive dislike; the
old woman took no notice of his arrival, but remained with her eyes
fixed steadily on the fire.

"I said--it's your own choosing," said the man with the withered arm,
when the coughing had ceased for a while.

"It's my own choosing," I answered.

The man with the shade became aware of my presence for the first time,
and threw his head back for a moment and sideways, to see me. I caught a
momentary glimpse of his eyes, small and bright and inflamed. Then he
began to cough and splutter again.

"Why don't you drink?" said the man with the withered arm, pushing the
beer towards him. The man with the shade, poured out a glassful with a
shaky arm that splashed half as much again on the deal table. A
monstrous shadow of him crouched upon the wall and mocked his action as
he poured and drank. I must confess I had scarce expected these
grotesque custodians. There is to my mind something inhuman in senility,
something crouching and atavistic; the human qualities seem to drop from
old people insensibly day by day. The three of them made me feel
uncomfortable, with their gaunt silences, their bent carriage, their
evident unfriendliness to me and to one another.

"If," said I, "you will show me to this haunted room of yours, I will
make myself comfortable there."

The old man with the cough jerked his head back so suddenly that it
startled me, and shot another glance of his red eyes at me from under
the shade; but no one answered me. I waited a minute, glancing from one
to the other.

"If," I said a little louder, "if you will show me to this haunted room
of yours, I will relieve you from the task of entertaining me."

"There's a candle on the slab outside the door," said the man with the
withered arm, looking at my feet as he addressed me. "But if you go to
the red room to-night--"

("This night of all nights!" said the old woman.)

"You go alone."

"Very well," I answered. "And which way do I go?"

"You go along the passage for a bit," said he, "until you come to a
door, and through that is a spiral staircase, and halfway up that is a
landing and another door covered with baize. Go through that and down
the long corridor to the end, and the red room is on your left up the
steps."

"Have I got that right?" I said, and repeated his directions. He
corrected me in one particular.

"And are you really going?" said the man with the shade, looking at me
again for the third time, with that queer, unnatural tilting of the
face.

("This night of all nights!" said the old woman.)

"It is what I came for," I said, and moved towards the door. As I did
so, the old man with the shade rose and staggered round the table, so as
to be closer to the others and to the fire. At the door I turned and
looked at them, and saw they were all close together, dark against the
firelight, staring at me over their shoulders, with an intent expression
on their ancient faces.

"Good-night," I said, setting the door open.

"It's your own choosing," said the man with the withered arm.

I left the door wide open until the candle was well alight, and then I
shut them in and walked down the chilly, echoing passage.

I must confess that the oddness of these three old pensioners in whose
charge her ladyship had left the castle, and the deep-toned,
old-fashioned furniture of the housekeeper's room in which they
foregathered, affected me in spite of my efforts to keep myself at a
matter-of-fact phase. They seemed to belong to another age, an older
age, an age when things spiritual were different from this of ours, less
certain; an age when omens and witches were credible, and ghosts beyond
denying. Their very existence was spectral; the cut of their clothing,
fashions born in dead brains. The ornaments and conveniences of the room
about them were ghostly--the thoughts of vanished men, which still
haunted, rather than participated in the world of to-day. But with an
effort I sent such thoughts to the right-about. The long, draughty
subterranean passage was chilly and dusty, and my candle flared and made
the shadows cower and quiver. The echoes rang up and down the spiral
staircase, and a shadow came sweeping up after me, and one fled before
me into the darkness overhead. I came to the landing and stopped there
for a moment, listening to a rustling that I fancied I heard; then,
satisfied of the absolute silence, I pushed open the baize-covered door
and stood in the corridor.

The effect was scarcely what I expected, for the moonlight, coming in by
the great window on the grand staircase, picked out everything in vivid
black shadow or silvery illumination. Everything was in its place: the
house might have been deserted on the yesterday instead of eighteen
months ago. There were candles in the sockets of the sconces, and
whatever dust had gathered on the carpets or upon the polished flooring
was distributed so evenly as to be invisible in the moonlight. I was
about to advance, and stopped abruptly. A bronze group stood upon the
landing, hidden from me by the corner of the wall, but its shadow fell
with marvellous distinctness upon the white panelling, and gave me the
impression of someone crouching to waylay me. I stood rigid for half a
minute perhaps. Then, with my hand in the pocket that held my revolver,
I advanced, only to discover a Ganymede and Eagle glistening in the
moonlight. That incident for at time restored my nerve, and a porcelain
Chinaman on a buhl table, whose head rocked silently as I passed him,
scarcely startled me.

The door to the red room and the steps up to it were in a shadowy
corner. I moved my candle from side to side, in order to see clearly the
nature of the recess in which I stood before opening the door. Here it
was, thought I, that my predecessor was found, and the memory of that
story gave me a sudden twinge of apprehension. I glanced over my
shoulder at the Ganymede in the moonlight, and opened the door of the
red room rather hastily, with my face half turned to the pallid silence
of the landing.

I entered, closed the door behind me at once, turned the key I found in
the lock within, and stood with the candle held aloft, surveying the
scene of my vigil, the great red room of Lorraine Castle, in which the
young duke had died. Or rather, in which he had begun his dying, for he
had opened the door and fallen headlong down the steps I had just
ascended. That had been the end of his vigil, of his gallant attempt to
conquer the ghostly tradition of the place; and never, I thought, had
apoplexy better served the ends of superstition. And there were other
and older stories that clung to the room, back to the half-credible
beginning of it all, the tale of a timid wife and the tragic end that
came to her husband's jest of frightening her. And looking around that
large shadowy room, with its shadowy window bays, its recesses and
alcoves, one could well understand the legends that had sprouted in its
black corners, its germinating darkness. My candle was a little tongue
of flame in its vastness, that failed to pierce the opposite end of the
room, and left an ocean of mystery and suggestion beyond its island of
light.

I resolved to make a systematic examination of the place at once, and
dispel the fanciful suggestions of its obscurity before they obtained a
hold upon me. After satisfying myself of the fastening of the door, I
began to walk about the room, peering round each article of furniture,
tucking up the valances of the bed, and opening its curtains wide. I
pulled up the blinds and examined the fastenings of the several windows
before closing the shutters, leant forward and looked up the blackness
of the wide chimney, and tapped the dark oak panelling for any secret
opening. There were two big mirrors in the room, each with a pair of
sconces bearing candles, and on the mantelshelf too, were more candles
in china candlesticks. All these I lit one after the other. The fire was
laid--, an unexpected consideration from the old housekeeper--, and I
lit it, to keep down any disposition to shiver, and when it was burning
well, I stood round with my back to it and regarded the room again. I
had pulled up a chintz-covered armchair and a table, to form a kind of
barricade before me, and on this lay my revolver ready to hand. My
precise examination had done me good, but I still found the remoter
darkness of the place, and its perfect stillness, too stimulating for
the imagination. The echoing of the stir and crackling of the fire was
no sort of comfort to me. The shadow in the alcove at the end in
particular had that undefinable quality of a presence, that odd
suggestion of a lurking, living thing, that comes so easily in silence
and solitude. At last, to reassure myself, I walked with a candle into
it, and satisfied myself that there was nothing tangible there. I stood
that candle upon the floor of the alcove, and left it in that position.

By this time I was in a state of considerable nervous tension, although
to my reason there was no adequate cause for the condition. My mind,
however, was perfectly clear. I postulated quite unreservedly that
nothing supernatural could happen, and to pass the time I began to
string some rhymes together, Ingoldsby fashion, of the original legend
of the place. A few I spoke aloud, but the echoes were not pleasant. For
the same reason I also abandoned, after a time, a conversation with
myself upon the impossibility of ghosts and haunting. My mind reverted
to the three old and distorted people downstairs, and I tried to keep it
upon that topic. The sombre reds and blacks of the room troubled me;
even with seven candles the place was merely dim. The one in the alcove
flared in a draught, and the fire-flickering kept the shadows and
penumbra perpetually shifting and stirring. Casting about for a remedy,
I recalled the candles I had seen in the passage, and, with a slight
effort, walked out into the moonlight, carrying a candle and leaving the
door open, and presently returned with as many as ten. These I put in
various knick-knacks of china with which the room was sparsely adorned,
lit and placed where the shadows had lain deepest, some on the floor,
some in the window recesses, until at last my seventeen candles were so
arranged that not an inch of the room darkened, but had the direct light
of at least one of them. It occurred to me that when the ghost came, I
could warn him not to trip over them. The room was now quite brightly
illuminated. There was something very cheery and reassuring in these
little streaming flames, and snuffing them gave me an occupation, and
afforded a helpful sense of the passage of time. Even with that however,
the brooding expectation of the vigil weighed heavily upon me. It was
after midnight that the candle in the alcove suddenly went out, and the
black shadow sprang back to its place. I did not see the candle go out;
I simply turned and saw that the darkness was there, as one might start
and see the unexpected presence of a stranger. "By Jove!" said I aloud;
"That draught's a strong one!" and taking the matches from the table, I
walked across the room in a leisurely manner to relight the corner
again. My first match would not strike, and as I succeeded with the
second, something seemed to blink on the wall before me. I turned my
head involuntarily, and saw that the two candles on the little table by
the fireplace were extinguished. I rose at once to my feet.

"Odd!" I said. "Did I do that myself in a flash of absent-mindedness?"

I walked back, relit one, and as I did so, I saw the candle in the right
sconce of one of the mirrors wink and go right out, and almost
immediately its companion followed it. There was no mistake about it.
The flame vanished, as if the wicks had been suddenly nipped between a
finger and thumb, leaving the wick neither glowing nor smoking, but
black. While I stood gaping, the candle at the foot of the bed went out,
and the shadows seemed to take another step towards me.

"This won't do!" said I, and first one and then another candle on the
mantelshelf followed. "What's up?" I cried, with a queer high note
getting into my voice somehow. At that the candle on the wardrobe went
out, and the one I had relit in the alcove followed.

"Steady on!" I said. "These candles are wanted," speaking with a
half-hysterical facetiousness, and scratching away at a match, all the
while, for the mantel candlesticks. My hands trembled so much that twice
I missed the rough paper of the matchbox. As the mantel emerged from
darkness again, two candles in the remoter end of the window were
eclipsed. But with the same match I also relit the larger mirror
candles, and those on the floor near the doorway, so that for the moment
I seemed to gain on the extinctions. But then in a volley there vanished
four lights at once in different corners of the room, and I struck
another match in quivering haste, and stood hesitating whither to take
it.

As I stood undecided, an invisible hand seemed to sweep out the two
candles on the table. With a cry of terror, I dashed at the alcove, then
into the corner, and then into the window, relighting three, as two more
vanished by the fireplace; then, perceiving a better way, I dropped the
matches on the iron-bound deed-box in the corner, and caught up the
bedroom candlestick. With this I avoided the delay of striking matches;
but for all that the steady process of extinction went on, and the
shadows I feared and fought against returned, and crept in upon me,
first a step gained on this side of me and then on that. It was like a
ragged storm-cloud sweeping out of the stars. Now and then one returned
for a minute, and was lost again. I was now almost frantic with the
horror of the coming darkness, and my self-possession deserted me. I
leaped panting and dishevelled from candle to candle in a vain struggle
against that remorseless advance.

I bruised myself on the thigh against the table, I sent a chair
headlong, I stumbled and fell and whisked the cloth from the table in my
fall. My candle rolled away from me, and I snatched another as I rose.
Abruptly this was blown out, as I swung it off the table, by the wind of
my sudden movement, and immediately the two remaining candles followed.
But there was light still in the room, a red light that stayed off the
shadows from me. The fire! Of course I could still thrust my candle
between the bars and relight it!

I turned to where the flames were still dancing between the glowing
coals, and splashing red reflections upon the furniture, made two steps
towards the grate, and incontinently the flames dwindled and vanished,
the glow vanished, the reflections rushed together and vanished, and as
I thrust the candle between the bars darkness closed upon me like the
shutting of an eye, wrapped about me in a stifling embrace, sealed my
vision, and crushed the last vestiges of reason from my brain. The
candle fell from my hand. I flung out my arms in a vain effort to thrust
that ponderous blackness away from me, and, lifting up my voice,
screamed with all my might--once, twice, thrice. Then I think I must
have staggered to my feet. I know I thought suddenly of the moonlit
corridor and, with my head bowed and my arms over my face, made a run
for the door.

But I had forgotten the exact position of the door, and struck myself
heavily against the corner of the bed. I staggered back, turned, and was
either struck or struck myself against some other bulky furniture. I
have a vague memory of battering myself thus, to and fro in the
darkness, of a cramped struggle, and of my own wild crying as I darted
to and fro, of a heavy blow at last upon my forehead, a horrible
sensation of falling that lasted an age, of my last frantic effort to
keep my footing, and then I remember no more.


I opened my eyes in daylight. My head was roughly bandaged, and the man
with the withered arm was watching my face. I looked about me, trying to
remember what had happened, and for a space I could not recollect. I
turned to the corner, and saw the old woman, no longer abstracted,
pouring out some drops of medicine from a little blue phial into a
glass. "Where am I?" I asked; "I seem to remember you, and yet I cannot
remember who you are."

They told me then, and I heard of the haunted red room as one who hears
a tale. "We found you at dawn," said he, "and there was blood on your
forehead and lips."

It was very slowly I recovered my memory of my experience. "You believe
now," said the old man, "that the room is haunted?" He spoke no longer
as one who greets an intruder, but as one who grieves for a broken
friend.

"Yes," said I; "the room is haunted."

"And you have seen it. And we, who have lived here all our lives, have
never set eyes upon it. Because we have never dared... Tell us, is it
truly the old earl who--"

"No," said I; "it is not."

"I told you so," said the old lady, with the glass in her hand. "It is
his poor young countess who was frightened--"

"It is not," I said. "There is neither ghost of earl nor ghost of
countess in that room, there is no ghost there at all; but worse, far
worse--"

"Well?" they said.

"The worst of all the things that haunt poor mortal man," said I; "and
that is, in all its nakedness--Fear! Fear that will not have light nor
sound, that will not bear with reason, that deafens and darkens and
overwhelms. It followed me through the corridor, it fought against me in
the room--"

I stopped abruptly. There was an interval of silence. My hand went up to
my bandages.

Then the man with the shade sighed and spoke. "That is it," said he. "I
knew that was it. A power of darkness. To put such a curse upon a woman!
It lurks there always. You can feel it even in the daytime, even of a
bright summer's day, in the hangings, in the curtains, keeping behind
you however you face about. In the dusk it creeps along the corridor and
follows you, so that you dare not turn. There is Fear in that room of
hers--black Fear, and there will be--so long as this house of sin
endures."




THE CONE


The night was hot and overcast, the sky red, rimmed with the lingering
sunset of mid-summer. They sat at the open window, trying to fancy the
air was fresher there. The trees and shrubs of the garden stood stiff
and dark; beyond in the roadway a gas-lamp burnt, bright orange against
the hazy blue of the evening. Farther were the three lights of the
railway signal against the lowering sky. The man and woman spoke to one
another in low tones.

"He does not suspect?" said the man, a little nervously.

"Not he." She said peevishly, as though that too irritated her. "He
thinks of nothing but the works and the prices of fuel. He has no
imagination, no poetry."

"None of these men of iron have," he said sententiously. "They have no
hearts."

"He has not," she said. She turned her discontented face towards the
window. The distant sound of a roaring and rushing drew nearer and grew
in volume; the house quivered; one heard the metallic rattle of the
tender. As the train passed, there was a glare of light above the
cutting and a driving tumult of smoke; one, two, three, four, five, six,
seven, eight black oblongs--eight trucks--passed across the dim grey of
the embankment, and were suddenly extinguished one by one in the throat
of the tunnel, which with the last, seemed to swallow down train, smoke,
and sound in one abrupt gulp.

"This country was all fresh and beautiful once," he said; "and now--it
is Gehenna. Down that way--nothing but pot-banks and chimneys belching
fire and dust into the face of heaven... But what does it matter? An end
comes, an end to all this cruelty... To-morrow." He spoke the last word
in a whisper.

"To-morrow," she said, speaking in a whisper too, and still staring out
of the window.

"Dear!" he said, putting his hand on hers.

She turned with a start, and their eyes searched one another's. Hers
softened to his gaze. "My dear one!" she said, and then: "It seems so
strange--that you should have come into my life like this--to open--"
She paused.

"To open?" he said.

"All this wonderful world--" she hesitated, and spoke still more
softly--"this world of love to me."

Then suddenly the door clicked and closed. They turned their heads, and
he started violently back. In the shadow of the room stood a great
shadowy figure--silent. They saw the face dimly in the half-light, with
unexpressive dark patches under the penthouse brows. Every muscle in
Raut's body suddenly became tense. When could the door have opened? What
had he heard? Had he heard all? What had he seen? A tumult of questions.

The new-comer's voice came at last, after a pause that seemed
interminable. "Well?" he said.

"I was afraid I had missed you, Horrocks," said the man at the window,
gripping the window-ledge with his hand. His voice was unsteady.

The clumsy figure of Horrocks came forward out of the shadow. He made no
answer to Raut's remark. For a moment he stood above them.

The woman's heart was cold within her. "I told Mr. Raut it was just
possible you might come back," she said, in a voice that never quivered.

Horrocks, still silent, sat down abruptly in the chair by her little
work-table. His big hands were clenched; one saw now the fire of his
eyes under the shadow of his brows. He was trying to get his breath. His
eyes went from the woman he had trusted to the friend he had trusted,
and then back to the woman.

By this time and for the moment all three half understood one another.
Yet none dared say a word to ease the pent-up things that choked them.

It was the husband's voice that broke the silence at last.

"You wanted to see me?" he said to Raut.

Raut started as he spoke. "I came to see you," he said, resolved to lie
to the last.

"Yes," said Horrocks.

"You promised," said Raut, "to show me some fine effects of moonlight
and smoke."

"I promised to show you some fine effects of moonlight and smoke,"
repeated Horrocks in a colourless voice.

"And I thought I might catch you to-night before you went down to the
works," proceeded Raut, "and come with you."

There was another pause. Did the man mean to take the thing coolly? Did
he after all know? How long had he been in the room? Yet even at the
moment when they heard the door, their attitudes... Horrocks glanced at
the profile of the woman, shadowy pallid in the half-light. Then he
glanced at Raut, and seemed to recover himself suddenly. "Of course," he
said, "I promised to show you the works under their proper dramatic
conditions. It's odd how I could have forgotten."

"If I am troubling you--" began Raut.

Horrocks started again. A new light had suddenly come into the sultry
gloom of his eyes. "Not in the least," he said.

"Have you been telling Mr. Raut of all these contrasts of flame and
shadow you think so splendid?" said the woman, turning now to her
husband for the first time, her confidence creeping back again, her
voice just one half-note too high. "That dreadful theory of yours that
machinery is beautiful, and everything else in the world ugly. I thought
he would not spare you, Mr. Raut. It's his great theory, his one
discovery in art."

"I am slow to make discoveries," said Horrocks grimly, damping her
suddenly. "But what I discover..." He stopped.

"Well?" she said.

"Nothing;" and suddenly he rose to his feet.

"I promised to show you the works," he said to Raut, and put his big,
clumsy hand on his friend's shoulder. "And you are ready to go?"

"Quite," said Raut, and stood up also.

There was another pause. Each of them peered through the indistinctness
of the dusk at the other two. Horrocks' hand still rested on Raut's
shoulder. Raut half fancied still that the incident was trivial after
all. But Mrs. Horrocks knew her husband better, knew that grim quiet in
his voice, and the confusion in her mind took a vague shape of physical
evil. "Very well," said Horrocks, and dropping his hand, turned towards
the door.

"My hat?" Raut looked round in the half-light.

"That's my work-basket," said Mrs. Horrocks, with a gust of hysterical
laughter. Their hands came together on the back of the chair. "Here it
is!" he said. She had an impulse to warn him in an undertone, but she
could not frame a word. "Don't go!" and "Beware of him!" struggled in
her mind, and the swift moment passed.

"Got it?" said Horrocks, standing with the door half open.

Raut stepped towards him. "Better say good-bye to Mrs. Horrocks," said
the ironmaster, even more grimly quiet in his tone than before.

Raut started and turned. "Good-evening, Mrs. Horrocks," he said, and
their hands touched.

Horrocks held the door open with a ceremonial politeness unusual in him
towards men. Raut went out, and then, after a wordless look at her, her
husband followed. She stood motionless while Raut's light footfall and
her husband's heavy tread, like bass and treble, passed down the passage
together. The front door slammed heavily. She went to the window, moving
slowly, and stood watching--leaning forward. The two men appeared for a
moment at the gateway in the road, passed under the street-lamp, and
were hidden by the black masses of the shrubbery. The lamplight fell for
a moment on their faces, showing only unmeaning pale patches, telling
nothing of what she still feared, and doubted, and craved vainly to
know. Then she sank down into a crouching attitude in the big armchair,
her eyes wide open and staring out at the red lights from the furnaces
that flickered in the sky. An hour after she was still there, her
attitude scarcely changed.


The oppressive stillness of the evening weighed heavily upon Raut. They
went side by side down the road in silence, and in silence turned into
the cinder-made by-way that presently opened out the prospect of the
valley.

A blue haze, half dust, half mist, touched the long valley with mystery.
Beyond were Hanley and Etruria, grey and dark masses, outlined thinly by
the rare golden dots of the street-lamps, and here and there a gaslit
window, or the yellow glare of some late-working factory or crowded
public-house. Out of the masses, clear and slender against the evening
sky, rose a multitude of tall chimneys, many of them reeking, a few
smokeless during a season of "play." Here and there a pallid patch and
ghostly stunted beehive shapes showed the position of a pot-bank, or a
wheel, black and sharp against the hot lower sky, marked some colliery
where they raise the iridescent coal of the place. Nearer at hand was
the broad stretch of railway, and half invisible trains shunted--a
steady puffing and rumbling, with every run a ringing concussion and a
rhythmic series of impacts, and a passage of intermittent puffs of white
steam across the further view. And to the left, between the railway and
the dark mass of the low hill beyond, dominating the whole view,
colossal, inky-black, and crowned with smoke and fitful flames, stood
the great cylinders of the Jeddah Company Blast Furnaces, the central
edifices of the big ironworks of which Horrocks was the manager. They
stood heavy and threatening, full of an incessant turmoil of flames and
seething molten iron, and about the feet of them rattled the
rolling-mills, and the steam-hammer beat heavily and splashed the white
iron sparks hither and thither. Even as they looked, a truckful of fuel
was shot into one of the giants, and the red flames gleamed out, and a
confusion of smoke and black dust came boiling upwards towards the sky.

"Certainly you get some fine effects of colour with your furnaces," said
Raut, breaking a silence that had become apprehensive.

Horrocks grunted. He stood with his hands in his pockets, frowning down
at the dim steaming railway and the busy ironworks beyond, frowning as
if he were thinking out some knotty problem.

Raut glanced at him and away again. "At present your moonlight effect is
hardly ripe," he continued, looking upward. "The moon is still smothered
by the vestiges of daylight."

Horrocks stared at him with the expression of a man who has suddenly
awakened. "Vestiges of daylight...? Of course, of course." He too looked
up at the moon, pale still in the midsummer sky. "Come along," he said
suddenly, and gripping Raut's arm in his hand, made a move towards the
path that dropped from them to the railway.

Raut hung back. Their eyes met and saw a thousand things in a moment
that their eyes came near to say. Horrocks' hand tightened and then
relaxed. He let go, and before Raut was aware of it, they were arm in
arm, and walking, one unwillingly enough, down the path.

"You see the fine effect of the railway signals towards Burslem," said
Horrocks, suddenly breaking into loquacity, striding fast, and
tightening the grip of his elbow the while. "Little green lights and
red and white lights, all against the haze. You have an eye for effect,
Raut. It's a fine effect. And look at those furnaces of mine, how they
rise upon us as we come down the hill. That to the right is my
pet--seventy feet of him. I packed him myself, and he's boiled away
cheerfully with iron in his guts for five long years. I've a particular
fancy for him. That line of red there--a lovely bit of warm orange you'd
call it, Raut--that's the puddlers' furnaces, and there, in the hot
light, three black figures--did you see the white splash of the
steam-hammer then--? That's the rolling mills. Come along! Clang,
clatter, how it goes rattling across the floor! Sheet tin, Raut--,
amazing stuff. Glass mirrors are not in it when that stuff comes from
the mill. And squelch--! There goes the hammer again. Come along!"

He had to stop talking to catch at his breath. His arm twisted into
Raut's with benumbing tightness. He had come striding down the black
path towards the railway as though he was possessed.

Raut had not spoken a word, had simply hung back against Horrocks' pull
with all his strength.

"I say," he said now, laughing nervously, but with an undernote of snarl
in his voice, "why on earth are you nipping my arm off, Horrocks, and
dragging me along like this?"

At length Horrocks released him. His manner changed again. "Nipping your
arm off?" he said. "Sorry. But it's you taught me the trick of walking
in that friendly way."

"You haven't learnt the refinements of it yet then," said Raut, laughing
artificially again. "By Jove! I'm black and blue," Horrocks offered no
apology. They stood now near the bottom of the hill, close to the fence
that bordered the railway. The ironworks had grown larger and spread out
with their approach. They looked up to the blast furnaces now instead of
down; the further view of Etruria and Hanley had dropped out of sight
with their descent. Before them, by the stile rose a notice-board,
bearing still dimly visible, the words, "Beware Of The Trains," half
hidden by splashes of coaly mud.

"Fine effects," said Horrocks, waving his arm. "Here comes a train. The
puffs of smoke, the orange glare, the round eye of light in front of it,
the melodious rattle. Fine effects! But these furnaces of mine used to
be finer, before we shoved cones in their throats, and saved the gas."

"How?" said Raut. "Cones?"

"Cones, my man, cones. I'll show you one nearer. The flames used to
flare out of the open throats, great--what is it--? Pillars of cloud by
day, red and black smoke, and pillars of fire by night. Now we run it off
in pipes, and burn it to heat the blast, and the top is shut by a cone.
You'll be interested in that cone."

"But every now and then," said Raut, "you get a burst of fire and smoke
up there."

"The cone's not fixed, it's hung by a chain from a lever, and balanced
by an equipoise. You shall see it nearer. Else of course, there'd be no
way of getting fuel into the thing. Every now and then the cone dips,
and out comes the flare."

"I see," said Raut. He looked over his shoulder. "The moon gets
brighter," he said.

"Come along," said Horrocks abruptly, gripping his shoulder again, and
moving him suddenly towards the railway crossing. And then came one of
those swift incidents, vivid, but so rapid that they leave one doubtful
and reeling. Halfway across, Horrocks' hand suddenly clenched upon him
like a vice, and swung him backward and through a half-turn, so that he
looked up the line. And there a chain of lamp-lit carriage-windows
telescoped swiftly as it came towards them, and the red and yellow
lights of an engine grew larger and larger, rushing down upon them. As
he grasped what this meant, he turned his face to Horrocks, and pushed
with all his strength against the arm that held him back between the
rails. The struggle did not last a moment. Just as certain as it was
that Horrocks held him there, so certain was it that he had been
violently lugged out of danger.

"Out of the way," said Horrocks, with a gasp, as the train came rattling
by, and they stood panting by the gate into the ironworks.

"I did not see it coming," said Raut, still even in spite of his own
apprehensions, trying to keep up an appearance of ordinary intercourse.

Horrocks answered with a grunt. "The cone," he said, and then, as one
who recovers himself, "I thought you did not hear."

"I didn't," said Raut.

"I wouldn't have had you run over then, for the world," said Horrocks.

"For a moment I lost my nerve," said Raut.

Horrocks stood for half a minute, then turned abruptly towards the
ironworks again. "See how fine these great mounds of mine, these
clinker-heaps, look in the night! That truck yonder, up above there! Up
it goes, and out-tilts the slag. See the palpitating red stuff go
sliding down the slope. As we get nearer, the heap rises up and cuts the
blast furnaces. See the quiver up above the big one. Not that way! This
way, between the heaps. That goes to the puddling furnaces, but I want
to show you the canal first." He came and took Raut by the elbow, and so
they went along side by side. Raut answered Horrocks vaguely. What, he
asked himself, had really happened on the line? Was he deluding himself
with his own fancies, or had Horrocks actually held him back in the way
of the train? Had he just been within an ace of being murdered?

Suppose this slouching, scowling monster did know anything? For a minute
or two then Raut was really afraid for his life, but the mood passed as
he reasoned with himself. After all, Horrocks might have heard nothing.
At any rate, he had pulled him out of the way in time. His odd manner
might be due to the mere vague jealousy he had shown once before. He was
talking now of the ash-heaps and the canal. "Eigh?" said Horrocks.

"What?" said Raut. "Rather! The haze in the moonlight. Fine!"

"Our canal," said Horrocks, stopping suddenly. "Our canal by moonlight
and firelight is an immense effect. You've never seen it? Fancy that!
You've spent too many of your evenings philandering up in Newcastle
there. I tell you, for real florid effects--But you shall see. Boiling
water..."

As they came out of the labyrinth of clinker-heaps and mounds of coal
and ore, the noises of the rolling-mill sprang upon them suddenly, loud,
near, and distinct. Three shadowy workmen went by and touched their caps
to Horrocks. Their faces were vague in the darkness. Raut felt a futile
impulse to address them, and before he could frame his words, they
passed into the shadows. Horrocks pointed to the canal close before them
now: a weird-looking place it seemed, in the blood-red reflections of
the furnaces. The hot water that cooled the tuyeres came into it, some
fifty yards up--a tumultuous, almost boiling affluent, and the steam
rose up from the water in silent white wisps and streaks, wrapping
damply about them, an incessant succession of ghosts coming up from the
black and red eddies, a white uprising that made the head swim. The
shining black tower of the larger blast-furnace rose overhead out of the
mist, and its tumultuous riot filled their ears. Raut kept away from the
edge of the water, and watched Horrocks.

"Here it is red," said Horrocks, "blood-red vapour as red and hot as
sin; but yonder there, where the moonlight falls on it, and it drives
across the clinker-heaps, it is as white as death."

Raut turned his head for a moment, and then came back hastily to his
watch on Horrocks. "Come along to the rolling-mills," said Horrocks. The
threatening hold was not so evident that time, and Raut felt a little
reassured. But all the same, what on earth did Horrocks mean about
"white as death" and "red as sin"? Coincidence, perhaps?

They went and stood behind the puddlers for a little while, and then
through the rolling-mills, where amidst an incessant din the deliberate
steam-hammer beat the juice out of the succulent iron, and black,
half-naked Titans rushed the plastic bars, like hot sealing-wax, between
the wheels. "Come on," said Horrocks in Raut's ear, and they went and
peeped through the little glass hole behind the tuyeres, and saw the
tumbled fire writhing in the pit of the blast-furnace. It left one eye
blinded for a while. Then, with green and blue patches dancing across
the dark, they went to the lift by which the trucks of ore and fuel and
lime were raised to the top of the big cylinder.

And out upon the narrow rail that overhung the furnace, Raut's doubts
came upon him again. Was it wise to be here? If Horrocks did
know--everything! Do what he would, he could not resist a violent
trembling. Right under foot was a sheer depth of seventy feet. It was a
dangerous place. They pushed by a truck of fuel to get to the railing
that crowned the place. The reek of the furnace, a sulphurous vapour
streaked with pungent bitterness, seemed to make the distant hillside of
Hanley quiver. The moon was riding out now from among a drift of clouds,
halfway up the sky above the undulating wooded outlines of Newcastle.
The steaming canal ran away from below them under an indistinct bridge,
and vanished into the dim haze of the flat fields towards Burslem.

"That's the cone I've been telling you of," shouted Horrocks; "and,
below that, sixty feet of fire and molten metal, with the air of the
blast frothing through it like gas in soda-water."

Raut gripped the hand-rail tightly, and stared down at the cone. The
heat was intense. The boiling of the iron and the tumult of the blast
made a thunderous accompaniment to Horrocks' voice. But the thing had to
be gone through now. Perhaps, after all...

"In the middle," bawled Horrocks, "temperature near a thousand degrees.
If YOU were dropped into it... flash into flame like a pinch of
gunpowder in a candle. Put your hand out and feel the heat of his
breath. Why, even up here I've seen the rain-water boiling off the
trucks. And that cone there. It's a damned sight too hot for roasting
cakes. The top side of it's three hundred degrees."

"Three hundred degrees!" said Raut.

"Three hundred centigrade, mind!" said Horrocks. "It will boil the blood
out of you in no time."

"Eigh?" said Raut, and turned.

"Boil the blood out of you in... No, you don't!"

"Let me go!" screamed Raut. "Let go my arm!"

With one hand he clutched at the hand-rail, then with both. For a moment
the two men stood swaying. Then suddenly, with a violent jerk, Horrocks
had twisted him from his hold. He clutched at Horrocks and missed, his
foot went back into empty air; in mid-air he twisted himself, and then
cheek and shoulder and knee struck the hot cone together.

He clutched the chain by which the cone hung, and the thing sank an
infinitesimal amount as he struck it. A circle of glowing red appeared
about him, and a tongue of flame, released from the chaos within,
flickered up towards him. An intense pain assailed him at the knees, and
he could smell the singeing of his hands. He raised himself to his feet,
and tried to climb up the chain, and then something struck his head.
Black and shining with the moonlight, the throat of the furnace rose
about him.

Horrocks, he saw, stood above him by one of the trucks of fuel on the
rail. The gesticulating figure was bright and white in the moonlight,
and shouting, "Fizzle, you fool! Fizzle, you hunter of women! You
hot-blooded hound! Boil! Boil! Boil!"

Suddenly he caught up a handful of coal out of the truck, and flung it
deliberately, lump after lump, at Raut.

"Horrocks!" cried Raut. "Horrocks!"

He clung crying to the chain, pulling himself up from the burning of the
cone. Each missile Horrocks flung hit him. His clothes charred and
glowed, and as he struggled the cone dropped, and a rush of hot
suffocating gas whooped out and burned round him in a swift breath of
flame.

His human likeness departed from him. When the momentary red had passed,
Horrocks saw a charred, blackened figure, its head streaked with blood,
still clutching and fumbling with the chain, and writhing in agony--a
cindery animal, an inhuman, monstrous creature that began a sobbing
intermittent shriek.

Abruptly, at the sight, the ironmaster's anger passed. A deadly sickness
came upon him. The heavy odour of burning flesh came drifting up to his
nostrils. His sanity returned to him.

"God have mercy upon me!" he cried. "O God! What have I done?"

He knew the thing below him, save that it still moved and felt, was
already a dead man--that the blood of the poor wretch must be boiling in
his veins. An intense realisation of that agony came to his mind, and
overcame every other feeling. For a moment he stood irresolute, and
then, turning to the truck, he hastily tilted its contents upon the
struggling thing that had once been a man. The mass fell with a thud,
and went radiating over the cone. With the thud the shriek ended, and a
boiling confusion of smoke, dust, and flame came rushing up towards him.
As it passed, he saw the cone clear again.

Then he staggered back, and stood trembling, clinging to the rail with
both hands. His lips moved, but no words came to them.

Down below was the sound of voices and running steps. The clangour of
rolling in the shed ceased abruptly.




THE PURPLE PILEUS


Mr. Coombes was sick of life. He walked away from his unhappy home, and
sick not only of his own existence but of everybody else's, turned aside
down Gaswork Lane to avoid the town, and, crossing the wooden bridge
that goes over the canal to Starling's Cottages, was presently alone in
the damp pine woods and out of sight and sound of human habitation. He
would stand it no longer. He repeated aloud with blasphemies unusual to
him that he would stand it no longer.

He was a pale-faced little man, with dark eyes and a fine and very black
moustache. He had a very stiff, upright collar slightly frayed, that
gave him an illusory double chin, and his overcoat (albeit shabby) was
trimmed with astrachan. His gloves were a bright brown with black
stripes over the knuckles, and split at the finger ends. His appearance,
his wife had said once in the dear, dead days beyond recall--, before he
married her, that is--, was military. But now she called him--It seems a
dreadful thing to tell of between husband and wife, but she called him
"a little grub." It wasn't the only thing she had called him, either.

The row had arisen about that beastly Jennie again. Jennie was his
wife's friend, and by no invitation of Mr. Coombes, she came in every
blessed Sunday to dinner, and made a shindy all the afternoon. She was a
big, noisy girl, with a taste for loud colours and a strident laugh; and
this Sunday she had outdone all her previous intrusions by bringing in a
fellow with her, a chap as showy as herself. And Mr. Coombes, in a
starchy, clean collar and his Sunday frock-coat, had sat dumb and
wrathful at his own table, while his wife and her guests talked
foolishly and undesirably, and laughed aloud. Well, he stood that, and
after dinner (which, "as usual," was late), what must Miss Jennie do but
go to the piano and play banjo tunes, for all the world as if it were a
week-day! Flesh and blood could not endure such goings on. They would
hear next door, they would hear in the road, it was a public
announcement of their disrepute. He had to speak.

He had felt himself go pale, and a kind of rigour had affected his
respiration as he delivered himself. He had been sitting on one of the
chairs by the window--the new guest had taken possession of the
armchair. He turned his head. "Sun Day!" he said over the collar, in the
voice of one who warns. "Sun Day!" What people call a "nasty" tone, it
was.

Jennie had kept on playing, but his wife, who was looking through some
music that was piled on the top of the piano, had stared at him. "What's
wrong now?" she said; "Can't people enjoy themselves?"

"I don't mind rational 'njoyment, at all," said little Coombes, "but I
ain't a-going to have week-day tunes playing on a Sunday in this house."

"What's wrong with my playing now?" said Jennie, stopping and twirling
round on the music-stool with a monstrous rustle of flounces.

Coombes saw it was going to be a row, and opened too vigorously, as is
common with your timid, nervous men all the world over. "Steady on with
that music-stool!" said he; "It ain't made for 'eavy-weights."

"Never you mind about weights," said Jennie, incensed. "What was you
saying behind my back about my playing?"

"Surely you don't 'old with not having a bit of music on a Sunday, Mr.
Coombes?" said the new guest, leaning back in the armchair, blowing a
cloud of cigarette smoke and smiling in a kind of pitying way. And
simultaneously his wife said something to Jennie about "Never mind 'im.
You go on, Jinny."

"I do," said Mr. Coombes, addressing the new guest.

"May I arst why?" said the new guest, evidently enjoying both his
cigarette and the prospect of an argument. He was, by the bye, a lank
young man, very stylishly dressed in bright drab, with a white cravat
and a pearl and silver pin. It had been better taste to come in a black
coat, Mr. Coombes thought.

"Because," began Mr. Coombes, "it don't suit me. I'm a business man. I
'ave to study my connection. Rational 'njoyment--"

"His connection!" said Mrs. Coombes scornfully. "That's what he's always
a-saying. We got to do this, and we got to do that--"

"If you don't mean to study my connection," said Mr. Coombes, "what did
you marry me for?"

"I wonder," said Jennie, and turned back to the piano.

"I never saw such a man as you," said Mrs. Coombes.

"You've altered all round since we were married. Before--"

Then Jennie began at the tum, tum, tum again.

"Look here!" said Mr. Coombes, driven at last to revolt, standing up and
raising his voice. "I tell you I won't have that." The frock-coat heaved
with his indignation.

"No vi'lence, now," said the long young man in drab, sitting up.

"Who the juice are you?" said Mr. Coombes fiercely.

Whereupon they all began talking at once. The new guest said he was
Jennie's "intended," and meant to protect her, and Mr. Coombes said he
was welcome to do so anywhere but in his (Mr. Coombes') house; and Mrs.
Coombes said he ought to be ashamed of insulting his guests, and (as I
have already mentioned) that he was getting a regular little grub; and
the end was, that Mr. Coombes ordered his visitors out of the house, and
they wouldn't go, and so he said he would go himself. With his face
burning and tears of excitement in his eyes, he went into the passage,
and as he struggled with his overcoat--his frock-coat sleeves got
concertinaed up his arm--and gave a brush at his silk hat, Jennie began
again at the piano, and strummed him insultingly out of the house. Tum,
tum, tum. He slammed the shop door so that the house quivered. That
briefly, was the immediate making of his mood. You will perhaps begin to
understand his disgust with existence.

As he walked along the muddy path under the firs--, it was late October,
and the ditches and heaps of fir needles were gorgeous with clumps of
fungi--, he recapitulated the melancholy history of his marriage. It was
brief and commonplace enough. He now perceived with sufficient clearness
that his wife had married him out of a natural curiosity and in order to
escape from her worrying, laborious, and uncertain life in the workroom;
and, like the majority of her class, she was far too stupid to realise
that it was her duty to co-operate with him in his business. She was
greedy of enjoyment, loquacious, and socially-minded, and evidently
disappointed to find the restraints of poverty still hanging about her.
His worries exasperated her, and the slightest attempt to control her
proceedings resulted in a charge of "grumbling." Why couldn't he be
nice--as he used to be? And Coombes was such a harmless little man too,
nourished mentally on Self-Help, and with a meagre ambition of
self-denial and competition, that was to end in a "sufficiency." Then
Jennie came in as a female Mephistopheles, a gabbling chronicle of
"fellers," and was always wanting his wife to go to theatres, and "all
that." And in addition were aunts of his wife, and cousins (male and
female) to eat up capital, insult him personally, upset business
arrangements, annoy good customers, and generally blight his life. It
was not the first occasion by many that Mr. Coombes had fled his home in
wrath and indignation, and something like fear, vowing furiously and
even aloud that he wouldn't stand it, and so frothing away his energy
along the line of least resistance. But never before had he been quite
so sick of life as on this particular Sunday afternoon. The Sunday
dinner may have had its share in his despair--and the greyness of the
sky. Perhaps too, he was beginning to realise his unendurable
frustration as a business man as the consequence of his marriage.
Presently bankruptcy, and after that--Perhaps she might have reason to
repent when it was too late. And destiny, as I have already intimated,
had planted the path through the wood with evil-smelling fungi, thickly
and variously planted it, not only on the right side, but on the left.

A small shopman is in such a melancholy position, if his wife turns out
a disloyal partner. His capital is all tied up in his business, and to
leave her means to join the unemployed in some strange part of the
earth. The luxuries of divorce are beyond him altogether. So that the
good old tradition of marriage for better or worse holds inexorably for
him, and things work up to tragic culminations. Bricklayers kick their
wives to death, and dukes betray theirs; but it is among the small
clerks and shopkeepers nowadays that it comes most often to a cutting of
throats. Under the circumstances it is not so very remarkable--and you
must take it as charitably as you can--that the mind of Mr. Coombes ran
for a while on some such glorious close to his disappointed hopes, and
that he thought of razors, pistols, bread-knives, and touching letters
to the coroner denouncing his enemies by name, and praying piously for
forgiveness. After a time his fierceness gave way to melancholia. He had
been married in this very overcoat, in his first and only frock-coat
that was buttoned up beneath it. He began to recall their courting along
this very walk, his years of penurious saving to get capital, and the
bright hopefulness of his marrying days. For it all to work out like
this! Was there no sympathetic ruler anywhere in the world? He reverted
to death as a topic.

He thought of the canal he had just crossed, and doubted whether he
shouldn't stand with his head out, even in the middle, and it was while
drowning, was in his mind that the purple pileus caught his eye. He
looked at it mechanically for a moment, and stopped and stooped towards
it to pick it up, under the impression that it was some such small
leather object as a purse. Then he saw that it was the purple top of a
fungus, a peculiarly poisonous-looking purple: slimy, shiny, and
emitting a sour odour. He hesitated with his hand an inch or so from it,
and the thought of poison crossed his mind. With that he picked the
thing, and stood up again with it in his hand.

The odour was certainly strong--acrid, but by no means disgusting. He
broke off a piece, and the fresh surface was a creamy white, that
changed like magic in the space of ten seconds to a yellowish-green
colour. It was even an inviting-looking change. He broke off two other
pieces to see it repeated. They were wonderful things these fungi,
thought Mr. Coombes, and all of them the deadliest poisons, as his
father had often told him. Deadly poisons!

There is no time like the present for a rash resolve. Why not here and
now? Thought Mr. Coombes. He tasted a little piece, a very little piece
indeed--a mere crumb. It was so pungent that he almost spat it out
again, then merely hot and full-flavoured. A kind of German mustard with
a touch of horse-radish and--well, mushroom. He swallowed it in the
excitement of the moment. Did he like it or did he not? His mind was
curiously careless. He would try another bit. It really wasn't bad--it
was good. He forgot his troubles in the interest of the immediate
moment. Playing with death it was. He took another bite, and then
deliberately finished a mouthful. A curious, tingling sensation began in
his finger-tips and toes. His pulse began to move faster. The blood in
his ears sounded like a mill-race. "Try bi' more," said Mr. Coombes. He
turned and looked about him, and found his feet unsteady. He saw, and
struggled towards, a little patch of purple a dozen yards away. "Jol'
goo' stuff," said Mr. Coombes. "E--lomore ye'." He pitched forward and
fell on his face, his hands outstretched towards the cluster of pilei.
But he did not eat any more of them. He forgot forthwith.

He rolled over and sat up with a look of astonishment on his face. His
carefully brushed silk hat had rolled away towards the ditch. He pressed
his hand to his brow. Something had happened, but he could not rightly
determine what it was. Anyhow, he was no longer dull--he felt bright,
cheerful. And his throat was afire. He laughed in the sudden gaiety of
his heart. Had he been dull? He did not know; but at any rate he would
be dull no longer. He got up and stood unsteadily, regarding the
universe with an agreeable smile. He began to remember. He could not
remember very well, because of a steam roundabout that was beginning in
his head. And he knew he had been disagreeable at home, just because
they wanted to be happy. They were quite right; life should be as gay as
possible. He would go home and make it up, and reassure them. And why
not take some of this delightful toadstool with him, for them to eat? A
hatful, no less. Some of those red ones with white spots as well, and a
few yellow. He had been a dull dog, an enemy to merriment; he would make
up for it. It would be gay to turn his coat-sleeves inside out, and
stick some yellow gorse into his waistcoat pockets. Then
home--singing--for a jolly evening.


After the departure of Mr. Coombes, Jennie discontinued playing, and
turned round on the music-stool again. "What a fuss about nothing!" said
Jennie.

"You see, Mr. Clarence, what I've got to put up with," said Mrs.
Coombes.

"He is a bit hasty," said Mr. Clarence judicially.

"He ain't got the slightest sense of our position," said Mrs. Coombes;
"that's what I complain of. He cares for nothing but his old shop; and
if I have a bit of company, or buy anything to keep myself decent, or
get any little thing I want out of the housekeeping money, there's
disagreeables. 'Economy' he says; 'struggle for life,' and all that. He
lies awake of nights about it, worrying how he can screw me out of a
shilling. He wanted us to eat Dorset butter once. If once I was to give
in to him--there!"

"Of course," said Jennie.

"If a man values a woman," said Mr. Clarence, lounging back in the
armchair, "he must be prepared to make sacrifices for her. For my own
part," said Mr. Clarence, with his eye on Jennie, "I shouldn't think of
marrying till I was in a position to do the thing in style. It's
downright selfishness. A man ought to go through the rough-and-tumble by
himself, and not drag her--"

"I don't agree altogether with that," said Jennie. "I don't see why a
man shouldn't have a woman's help, provided he doesn't treat her meanly,
you know. It's meanness--"

"You wouldn't believe," said Mrs. Coombes. "But I was a fool to 'ave
'im. I might 'ave known. If it 'adn't been for my father, we shouldn't
'ave 'ad not a carriage to our wedding."

"Lord! He didn't stick out at that?" said Mr. Clarence, quite shocked.

"Said he wanted the money for his stock, or some such rubbish. Why, he
wouldn't have a woman in to help me once a week if it wasn't for my
standing out plucky. And the fusses he makes about money--comes to me
well, pretty near crying, with sheets of paper and figgers. 'If only we
can tide over this year,' he says, 'the business is bound to go.' 'If
only we can tide over this year,' I says; 'then it'll be, if only we can
tide over next year. I know you,' I says. 'And you don't catch me
screwing myself lean and ugly. Why didn't you marry a slavey?' I says,
'if you wanted one--instead of a respectable girl,' I says."

So Mrs. Coombes. But we will not follow this unedifying conversation
further. Suffice it that Mr. Coombes was very satisfactorily disposed
of, and they had a snug little time round the fire. Then Mrs. Coombes
went to get the tea, and Jennie sat coquettishly on the arm of Mr.
Clarence's chair until the tea-things clattered outside. "What was that
I heard?" asked Mrs. Coombes playfully, as she entered, and there was
badinage about kissing. They were just sitting down to the little
circular table when the first intimation of Mr. Coombes' return was
heard.

This was a fumbling at the latch of the front door.

"'Ere's my lord," said Mrs. Coombes. "Went out like a lion and comes
back like a lamb, I'll lay."

Something fell over in the shop: a chair, it sounded like. Then there
was a sound as of some complicated step exercise in the passage. Then
the door opened and Coombes appeared. But it was Coombes transfigured.
The immaculate collar had been torn carelessly from his throat. His
carefully-brushed silk hat, half-full of a crush of fungi, was under one
arm; his coat was inside out, and his waistcoat adorned with bunches of
yellow-blossomed furze. These little eccentricities of Sunday costume
however, were quite overshadowed by the change in his face; it was livid
white, his eyes were unnaturally large and bright, and his pale blue
lips were drawn back in a cheerless grin. "Merry!" he said. He had
stopped dancing to open the door. "Rational 'njoyment. Dance." He made
three fantastic steps into the room, and stood bowing.

"Jim!" shrieked Mrs. Coombes, and Mr. Clarence sat petrified, with a
dropping lower jaw.

"Tea," said Mr. Coombes. "Jol' thing, tea. Tose-stools, too. Brosher."

"He's drunk," said Jennie in a weak voice. Never before had she seen
this intense pallor in a drunken man, or such shining, dilated eyes.

Mr. Coombes held out a handful of scarlet agaric to Mr. Clarence. "Jo'
stuff," said he; "ta' some."

At that moment he was genial. Then at the sight of their startled faces
he changed, with the swift transition of insanity, into overbearing
fury. And it seemed as if he had suddenly recalled the quarrel of his
departure. In such a huge voice as Mrs. Coombes had never heard before,
he shouted, "My house. I'm master 'ere. Eat what I give yer!" He bawled
this, as it seemed, without an effort, without a violent gesture,
standing there as motionless as one who whispers, holding out a handful
of fungus.

Clarence approved himself a coward. He could not meet the mad fury in
Coombes' eyes; he rose to his feet, pushing back his chair, and turned,
stooping. At that Coombes rushed at him. Jennie saw her opportunity and,
with the ghost of a shriek, made for the door.

Mrs. Coombes followed her. Clarence tried to dodge. Over went the
tea-table with a smash as Coombes clutched him by the collar and tried
to thrust the fungus into his mouth. Clarence was content to leave his
collar behind him, and shot out into the passage with red patches of fly
agaric still adherent to his face. "Shut 'im in!" cried Mrs. Coombes,
and would have closed the door, but her supports deserted her; Jennie
saw the shop door open, and vanished thereby, locking it behind her,
while Clarence went on hastily into the kitchen. Mr. Coombes came
heavily against the door, and Mrs. Coombes, finding the key was inside,
fled upstairs and locked herself in the spare bedroom.

So the new convert to joie de vivre emerged upon the passage, his
decorations a little scattered, but that respectable hatful of fungi
still under his arm. He hesitated at the three ways, and decided on the
kitchen. Whereupon Clarence, who was fumbling with the key, gave up the
attempt to imprison his host, and fled into the scullery, only to be
captured before he could open the door into the yard. Mr. Clarence is
singularly reticent of the details of what occurred. It seems that Mr.
Coombes' transitory irritation had vanished again, and he was once more
a genial playfellow. And as there were knives and meat choppers about,
Clarence very generously resolved to humour him and so avoid anything
tragic. It is beyond dispute that Mr. Coombes played with Mr. Clarence
to his heart's content; they could not have been more playful and
familiar if they had known each other for years. He insisted gaily on
Clarence trying the fungi and, after a friendly tussle, was smitten with
remorse at the mess he was making of his guest's face. It also appears
that Clarence was dragged under the sink and his face scrubbed with the
blacking brush--, he being still resolved to humour the lunatic at any
cost--, and that finally, in a somewhat dishevelled, chipped, and
discoloured condition, he was assisted to his coat and shown out by the
back door, the shopway being barred by Jennie. Mr. Coombes' wandering
thoughts then turned to Jennie. Jennie had been unable to unfasten the
shop door, but she shot the bolts against Mr. Coombes' latchkey, and
remained in possession of the shop for the rest of the evening.

It would appear that Mr. Coombes then returned to the kitchen, still in
pursuit of gaiety, and, albeit a strict Good Templar, drank (or spilt
down the front of the first and only frock-coat) no less than five
bottles of the stout Mrs. Coombes insisted upon having for her health's
sake. He made cheerful noises by breaking off the necks of the bottles
with several of his wife's wedding-present dinner-plates, and during the
earlier part of this great drunk he sang divers merry ballads. He cut
his finger rather badly with one of the bottles--, the only bloodshed in
this story--, and what with that, and the systematic convulsion of his
inexperienced physiology by the liquorish brand of Mrs. Coombes' stout,
it may be the evil of the fungus poison was somehow allayed. But we
prefer to draw a veil over the concluding incidents of this Sunday
afternoon. They ended in the coal cellar, in a deep and healing sleep.


An interval of five years elapsed. Again it was a Sunday afternoon in
October, and again Mr. Coombes walked through the pine wood beyond the
canal. He was still the same dark-eyed, black-moustached little man that
he was at the outset of the story, but his double chin was now scarcely
so illusory as it had been. His overcoat was new, with a velvet lapel,
and a stylish collar with turn-down corners, free of any coarse
starchiness, had replaced the original all-round article. His hat was
glossy, his gloves newish--though one finger had split and been
carefully mended. And a casual observer would have noticed about him a
certain rectitude of bearing, a certain erectness of head that marks the
man who thinks well of himself. He was a master now, with three
assistants. Beside him walked a larger sunburnt parody of himself, his
brother Tom, just back from Australia. They were recapitulating their
early struggles, and Mr. Coombes had just been making a financial
statement.

"It's a very nice little business, Jim," said brother Tom. "In these
days of competition you're jolly lucky to have worked it up so. And
you're jolly lucky too, to have a wife who's willing to help like yours
does."

"Between ourselves," said Mr. Coombes, "it wasn't always so. It wasn't
always like this. To begin with, the missus was a bit giddy. Girls are
funny creatures."

"Dear me!

"Yes. You'd hardly think it, but she was downright extravagant, and
always having slaps at me. I was a bit too easy and loving, and all
that, and she thought the whole blessed show was run for her. Turned the
'ouse into a regular caravansery, always having her relations and girls
from business in, and their chaps. Comic songs a' Sunday, it was getting
to, and driving trade away. And she was making eyes at the chaps, too! I
tell you Tom, the place wasn't my own."

"Shouldn't 'a' thought it."

"It was so. Well--I reasoned with her. I said, 'I ain't a duke, to keep
a wife like a pet animal. I married you for 'elp and company.' I said,
'You got to 'elp and pull the business through.' She wouldn't 'ear of
it. 'Very well,' I says; 'I'm a mild man till I'm roused,' I says, 'and
it's getting to that.' But she wouldn't 'ear of no warnings."

"Well?"

"It's the way with women. She didn't think I 'ad it in me to be roused.
Women of her sort (between ourselves, Tom) don't respect a man until
they're a bit afraid of him. So I just broke out to show her. In comes a
girl named Jennie, that used to work with her, and her chap. We 'ad a
bit of a row, and I came out 'ere--it was just such another day as
this--and I thought it all out. Then I went back and pitched into them."

"You did?"

"I did. I was mad, I can tell you. I wasn't going to 'it 'er if I could
'elp it, so I went back and licked into this chap, just to show 'er what
I could do. 'E was a big chap, too. Well, I chucked him, and smashed
things about, and gave 'er a scaring, and she ran up and locked 'erself
into the spare room."

"Well?"

"That's all. I says to 'er the next morning, 'Now you know,' I says,
'what I'm like when I'm roused.' And I didn't have to say anything
more."

"And you've been happy ever after, eh?"

"So to speak. There's nothing like putting your foot down with them. If
it 'adn't been for that afternoon I should 'a' been tramping the roads
now, and she'd 'a' been grumbling at me, and all her family grumbling
for bringing her to poverty--I know their little ways. But we're all
right now. And it's a very decent little business, as you say."

They proceeded on their way meditatively. "Women are funny creatures,"
said Brother Tom. "They want a firm hand," says Coombes.

"What a lot of these funguses there are about here!" remarked Brother
Tom presently. "I can't see what use they are in the world."

Mr. Coombes looked. "I dessay they're sent for some wise purpose," said
Mr. Coombes.

And that was as much thanks as the purple pileus ever got for maddening
this absurd little man to the pitch of decisive action, and so altering
the whole course of his life.




THE JILTING OF JANE


As I sit writing in my study, I can hear our Jane bumping her way
downstairs with a brush and dustpan. She used to, in the old days, sing
hymn tunes, or the British national song, for the time being, to these
instruments, but latterly she has been silent and even careful over her
work. Time was when I prayed with fervour for such silence, and my wife
with sighs for such care, but now they have come, we are not so glad as
we might have anticipated we should be. Indeed, I would rejoice
secretly, though it may be unmanly weakness to admit it, even to hear
Jane sing "Daisy," or, by the fracture of any plate but one of
Euphemia's best green ones, to learn that the period of brooding has
come to an end.

Yet how we longed to hear the last of Jane's young man before we heard
the last of him! Jane was always very free with her conversation to my
wife, and discoursed admirably in the kitchen on a variety of topics--so
well, indeed, that I sometimes left my study door open--our house is a
small one--to partake of it. But after William came, it was always
William, nothing but William; William this and William that; and when we
thought William was worked out and exhausted altogether, then William
all over again. The engagement lasted altogether three years; yet how
she got introduced to William, and so became thus saturated with him,
was always a secret. For my part, I believe it was at the street corner
where the Reverend Barnabas Baux used to hold an open-air service after
evensong on Sundays. Young Cupids were wont to flit like moths round the
paraffin flare of that centre of High Church hymn-singing. I fancy she
stood singing hymns there, out of memory and her imagination, instead of
coming home to get supper, and William came up beside her and said,
"Hello!" "Hello yourself!" she said; and etiquette being satisfied, they
proceeded to converse.

As Euphemia has a reprehensible way of letting her servants talk to her,
she soon heard of him. "He is such a respectable young man, ma'am," said
Jane, "you don't know." Ignoring the slur cast on her acquaintance, my
wife inquired further about this William.

"He is second porter at Maynard's, the draper's," said Jane, "and gets
eighteen shillings--nearly a pound--a week, m'm; and when the head
porter leaves he will be head porter. His relatives are quite superior
people, m'm. Not labouring people at all. His father was a greengrosher,
m'm, and had a chumor, and he was bankrup' twice. And one of his sisters
is in a Home for the Dying. It will be a very good match for me, m'm,"
said Jane, "me being an orphan girl."

"Then you are engaged to him?" asked my wife.

"Not engaged, ma'am; but he is saving money to buy a ring--hammyfist."

"Well, Jane, when you are properly engaged to him you may ask him round
here on Sunday afternoons, and have tea with him in the kitchen;" for my
Euphemia has a motherly conception of her duty towards her
maid-servants. And presently the amethystine ring was being worn about
the house, even with ostentation, and Jane developed a new way of
bringing in the joint so that this gage was evident. The elder Miss
Maitland was aggrieved by it, and told my wife that servants ought not
to wear rings. But my wife looked it up in Enquire Within and Mrs.
Motherly's Book of Household Management, and found no prohibition. So
Jane remained with this happiness added to her love.

The treasure of Jane's heart appeared to me to be what respectable
people call a very deserving young man. "William, ma'am," said Jane one
day suddenly, with ill-concealed complacency, as she counted out the
beer bottles, "William, ma'am, is a teetotaller. Yes, m'm; and he don't
smoke. Smoking, ma'am," said Jane, as one who reads the heart, "do make
such a dust about. Beside the waste of money. And the smell. However, I
suppose it's necessary to some."

Possibly it dawned on Jane that she was reflecting a little severely
upon Euphemia's comparative ill-fortune, and she added kindly, "I'm sure
the master is a hangel when his pipe's alight. Compared to other times."

William was at first a rather shabby young man of the ready-made black
coat school of costume. He had watery gray eyes, and a complexion
appropriate to the brother of one in a Home for the Dying. Euphemia did
not fancy him very much, even at the beginning. His eminent
respectability was vouched for by an alpaca umbrella, from which he
never allowed himself to be parted.

"He goes to chapel," said Jane. "His papa, ma'am--"

"His what, Jane?"

"His papa, ma'am, was Church: but Mr. Maynard is a Plymouth Brother, and
William thinks it Policy, ma'am, to go there too. Mr. Maynard comes and
talks to him quite friendly when they ain't busy, about using up all the
ends of string, and about his soul. He takes a lot of notice, do Mr.
Maynard, of William, and the way he saves string and his soul, ma'am."

Presently we heard that the head porter at Maynard's had left, and that
William was head porter at twenty-three shillings a week. "He is really
kind of over the man who drives the van," said Jane, "and him married,
with three children." And she promised in the pride of her heart to make
interest for us with William to favour us so that we might get our
parcels of drapery from Maynard's with exceptional promptitude.

After this promotion a rapidly increasing prosperity came upon Jane's
young man. One day we learned that Mr. Maynard had given William a book.
"Smiles' Elp Yourself, it's called," said Jane; "but it ain't comic. It
tells you how to get on in the world, and some what William read to me
was lovely, ma'am."

Euphemia told me of this, laughing, and then she became suddenly grave.
"Do you know, dear," she said, "Jane said one thing I did not like. She
had been quiet for a minute, and then she suddenly remarked, 'William is
a lot above me, ma'am, ain't he?'"

"I don't see anything in that," I said, though later my eyes were to be
opened.

One Sunday afternoon about that time I was sitting at my
writing-desk--possibly I was reading a good book--when a something went
by the window. I heard a startled exclamation behind me, and saw
Euphemia with her hands clasped together and her eyes dilated. "George,"
she said in an awe-stricken whisper, "did you see?"

Then we both spoke to one another at the same moment, slowly and
solemnly: "A silk hat! Yellow gloves! A new umbrella!"

"It may be my fancy, dear," said Euphemia; "but his tie was very like
yours. I believe Jane keeps him in ties. She told me a little while ago,
in a way that implied volumes about the rest of your costume, 'The
master do wear pretty ties, ma'am.' And he echoes all your novelties."

The young couple passed our window again on their way to their customary
walk. They were arm in arm. Jane looked exquisitely proud, happy, and
uncomfortable, with new white cotton gloves, and William, in the silk
hat, singularly genteel!

That was the culmination of Jane's happiness. When she returned, "Mr.
Maynard has been talking to William, ma'am," she said, "and he is to
serve customers, just like the young shop gentlemen, during the next
sale. And if he gets on, he is to be made an assistant, ma'am, at the
first opportunity. He has got to be as gentlemanly as he can, ma'am; and
if he ain't, ma'am, he says it won't be for want of trying. Mr. Maynard
has took a great fancy to him."

"He is getting on, Jane," said my wife.

"Yes, ma'am," said Jane thoughtfully; "he is getting on."

And she sighed.

That next Sunday as I drank my tea I interrogated my wife. "How is this
Sunday different from all other Sundays, little woman? What has
happened? Have you altered the curtains, or rearranged the furniture, or
where is the indefinable difference of it? Are you wearing your hair in
a new way without warning me? I clearly perceive a change in my
environment, and I cannot for the life of me say what it is."

Then my wife answered in her most tragic voice, "George," she said,
"that--that William has not come near the place to-day! And Jane is
crying her heart out upstairs."

There followed a period of silence. Jane, as I have said, stopped
singing about the house, and began to care for our brittle possessions,
which struck my wife as being a very sad sign indeed. The next Sunday,
and the next, Jane asked to go out, "To walk with William," and my wife,
who never attempts to extort confidences, gave her permission, and asked
no questions. On each occasion Jane came back looking flushed and very
determined. At last one day she became communicative.

"William is being led away," she remarked abruptly, with a catching of
the breath, apropos of tablecloths. "Yes, ma'am. She is a milliner, and
she can play on the piano."

"I thought," said my wife, "that you went out with him on Sunday."

"Not out with him, m'm--after him. I walked along by the side of them,
and told her he was engaged to me."

"Dear me, Jane, did you? What did they do?"

"Took no more notice of me than if I was dirt. So I told her she should
suffer for it."

"It could not have been a very agreeable walk, Jane."

"Not for no parties, ma'am."

"I wish," said Jane, "I could play the piano, ma'am. But anyhow, I don't
mean to let her get him away from me. She's older than him, and her hair
ain't gold to the roots, ma'am."

It was on the August Bank Holiday that the crisis came. We do not
clearly know the details of the fray, but only such fragments as poor
Jane let fall. She came home dusty, excited, and with her heart hot
within her.

The milliner's mother, the milliner, and William had made a party to the
Art Museum at South Kensington, I think. Anyhow, Jane had calmly but
firmly accosted them somewhere in the streets, and asserted her right to
what, in spite of the consensus of literature, she held to be her
inalienable property. She did, I think, go so far as to lay hands on
him. They dealt with her in a crushingly superior way. They "called a
cab." There was a "scene," William being pulled away into the
four-wheeler by his future wife and mother-in-law from the reluctant
hands of our discarded Jane. There were threats of giving her "in
charge."

"My poor Jane!" said my wife, mincing veal as though she was mincing
William. "It's a shame of them. I would think no more of him. He is not
worthy of you."

"No, m'm," said Jane. "He is weak.

"But it's that woman has done it," said Jane. She was never known to
bring herself to pronounce "that woman's" name or to admit her
girlishness. "I can't think what minds some women must have--to try and
get a girl's young man away from her. But there, it only hurts to talk
about it," said Jane.

Thereafter our house rested from William. But there was something in the
manner of Jane's scrubbing the front doorstep or sweeping out the rooms,
a certain viciousness, that persuaded me that the story had not yet
ended.

"Please, m'm, may I go and see a wedding to-morrow?" said Jane one day.

My wife knew by instinct whose wedding. "Do you think it is wise, Jane?"
she said.

"I would like to see the last of him," said Jane.

"My dear," said my wife, fluttering into my room about twenty minutes
after Jane had started, "Jane has been to the boot-hole and taken all
the left-off boots and shoes, and gone off to the wedding with them in a
bag. Surely she cannot mean--"

"Jane," I said, "is developing character. Let us hope for the best."

Jane came back with a pale, hard face. All the boots seemed to be still
in her bag, at which my wife heaved a premature sigh of relief. We heard
her go upstairs and replace the boots with considerable emphasis.

"Quite a crowd at the wedding, ma'am," she said presently, in a purely
conversational style, sitting in our little kitchen, and scrubbing the
potatoes; "and such a lovely day for them." She proceeded to numerous
other details, clearly avoiding some cardinal incident.

"It was all extremely respectable and nice, ma'am; but her father didn't
wear a black coat, and looked quite out of place, ma'am. Mr.
Piddingquirk--"

"Who?"

"Mr. Piddingquirk--William that was, ma'am--had white gloves, and a coat
like a clergyman, and a lovely chrysanthemum. He looked so nice, ma'am.
And there was red carpet down, just like for gentlefolks. And they say
he gave the clerk four shillings, ma'am. It was a real kerridge they
had--not a fly. When they came out of church there was rice-throwing,
and her two little sisters dropping dead flowers. And someone threw a
slipper, and then I threw a boot--"

"Threw a boot, Jane!"

"Yes, ma'am. Aimed at her. But it hit him. Yes, ma'am, hard. Gev him a
black eye, I should think. I only threw that one. I hadn't the heart to
try again. All the little boys cheered when it hit him."

After an interval--"I am sorry the boot hit him."

Another pause. The potatoes were being scrubbed violently. "He always
was a bit above me, you know, ma'am. And he was led away."

The potatoes were more than finished. Jane rose sharply with a sigh, and
rapped the basin down on the table.

"I don't care," she said. "I don't care a rap. He will find out his
mistake yet. It serves me right. I was stuck up about him. I ought not
to have looked so high. And I am glad things are as things are."

My wife was in the kitchen, seeing to the cookery. After the confession
of the boot-throwing, she must have watched poor Jane fuming with a
certain dismay in those brown eyes of hers. But I imagine they softened
again very quickly, and then Jane's must have met them.

"Oh, ma'am," said Jane, with an astonishing change of note, "think of
all that might have been! Oh, ma'am, I could have been so happy! I ought
to have known, but I didn't know... You're very kind to let me talk to
you, ma'am... for it's hard on me, ma'am... it's har-r-r-r-d--"

And I gather that Euphemia so far forgot herself as to let Jane sob out
some of the fullness of her heart on a sympathetic shoulder. My
Euphemia, thank Heaven, has never properly grasped the importance of
"keeping up her position." And since that fit of weeping, much of the
accent of bitterness has gone out of Jane's scrubbing and brush-work.

Indeed, something passed the other day with the butcher-boy--but that
scarcely belongs to this story. However, Jane is young still, and time
and change are at work with her. We all have our sorrows, but I do not
believe very much in the existence of sorrows that never heal.




IN THE MODERN VEIN: AN UNSYMPATHETIC LOVE STORY


Of course the cultivated reader has heard of Aubrey Vair. He has
published on three separate occasions, volumes of delicate verses--,
some indeed, border on indelicacy--, and his column, "Of Things
Literary" in the Climax, is well known. His Byronic visage and an
interview have appeared in the Perfect Lady. It was Aubrey Vair, I
believe, who demonstrated that the humour of Dickens was worse than his
sentiment, and who detected "a subtle bourgeois flavour" in Shakespeare.
However, it is not generally known that Aubrey Vair has had erotic
experiences as well as erotic inspirations. He adopted Goethe some
little time since as his literary prototype, and that may have had
something to do with his temporary lapse from sexual integrity.

For it is one of the commonest things that undermine literary men,
giving us landslips and picturesque effects along the otherwise even
cliff of their respectable life, ranking next to avarice, and certainly
above drink, this instability called genius, or more fully, the
consciousness of genius, such as Aubrey Vair possessed. Since Shelley
set the fashion, your man of gifts has been assured that his duty to
himself and his duty to his wife are incompatible, and his renunciation
of the Philistine has been marked by such infidelity as his means and
courage warranted. Most virtue is lack of imagination. At any rate, a
minor genius without his affections twisted into an inextricable muddle,
and who did not occasionally shed sonnets over his troubles, I have
never met.

Even Aubrey Vair did this, weeping the sonnets overnight into his
blotting-book, and pretending to write literary causerie when his wife
came down in her bath slippers to see what kept him up. She did not
understand him, of course. He did this before the other woman appeared,
so ingrained is conjugal treachery in the talented mind. Indeed, he
wrote more sonnets before the other woman came than after that event,
because thereafter he spent much of his leisure in cutting down the old
productions, retrimming them, and generally altering this ready-made
clothing of his passion to suit her particular height and complexion.

Aubrey Vair lived in a little red villa with a lawn at the back and a
view of the Downs behind Reigate. He lived upon discreet investment eked
out by literary work. His wife handsome, sweet, and gentle, and--such is
the tender humility of good married women--she found her life's
happiness in seeing that little Aubrey Vair had well cooked variety for
dinner, and that their house was the neatest and brightest of all the
houses they entered. Aubrey Vair enjoyed the dinners, and was proud of
the house, yet nevertheless he mourned because his genius dwindled.
Moreover, he grew plump, and corpulence threatened him.

We learn in suffering what we teach in song, and Aubrey Vair knew
certainly that his soul could give no creditable crops unless his
affections were harrowed. And how to harrow them was the trouble, for
Reigate is a moral neighbourhood.

So Aubrey Vair's romantic longings blew loose for a time, much as a
seedling creeper might, planted in the midst of a flower-bed. But at
last, in the fulness of time, the other woman came to the embrace of
Aubrey Vair's yearning heart-tendrils, and his romantic episode
proceeded as is here faithfully written down.

The other woman was really a girl, and Aubrey Vair met her first at a
tennis party at Redhill. Aubrey Vair did not play tennis after the
accident to Miss Morton's eye, and because latterly it made him pant and
get warmer and moister than even a poet should be; and this young lady
had only recently arrived in England, and could not play. So they
gravitated into the two vacant basket chairs beside Mrs. Bayne's deaf
aunt, in front of the hollyhocks, and were presently talking at their
ease together.

The other woman's name was unpropitious--, Miss Smith--, but you would
never have suspected it from her face and costume. Her parentage was
promising, she was an orphan, her mother was a Hindoo, and her father an
Indian civil servant; and Aubrey Vair--himself a happy mixture of Kelt
and Teuton, as indeed, all literary men have to be nowadays--naturally
believed in the literary consequences of a mixture of races. She was
dressed in white. She had finely moulded pale features, great depth of
expression, and a cloud of delicately frise black hair over her dark
eyes, and she looked at Aubrey Vair with a look half curious and half
shy, that contrasted admirably with the stereotyped frankness of your
common Reigate girl.

"This is a splendid lawn--the best in Redhill," said Aubrey Vair in the
course of the conversation; "and I like it all the better because the
daisies are spared." He indicated the daisies with a graceful sweep of
his rather elegant hand.

"They are sweet little flowers," said the lady in white, "and I have
always associated them with England, chiefly perhaps, through a picture
I saw 'over there' when I was very little, of children making daisy
chains. I promised myself that pleasure when I came home. But, alas! I
feel now rather too large for such delights."

"I do not see why we should not be able to enjoy these simple pleasures
as we grow older--why our growth should have in it so much forgetting.
For my own part--"

"Has your wife got Jane's recipe for stuffing trout?" asked Mrs. Bayne's
deaf aunt abruptly.

"I really don't know," said Aubrey Vair.

"That's all right," said Mrs. Bayne's deaf aunt. "It ought to please
even you."

"Anything will please me," said Aubrey Vair; "I care very little--"

"Oh, it's a lovely dish," said Mrs. Bayne's deaf aunt, and relapsed into
contemplation.

"I was saying," said Aubrey Vair, "that I think I still find my keenest
pleasures in childish pastimes. I have a little nephew that I see a
great deal of, and when we fly kites together, I am sure it would be
hard to tell which of us is the happier. By the bye, you should get at
your daisy chains in that way. Beguile some little girl."

"But I did. I took that Morton mite for a walk in the meadows, and
timidly broached the subject. And she reproached me suggesting
'frivolous pursuits.' It was a horrible disappointment."

"The governess here," said Aubrey Vair, "is robbing that child of its
youth in a terrible way. What will a life be that has no childhood at
the beginning?

"Some human beings are never young," he continued, "and they never grow
up. They lead absolutely colourless lives. They are--they are etiolated.
They never love, and never feel the loss of it. They are--for the moment
I can think of no better image--they are human flower-pots, in which no
soul has been planted. But a human soul properly growing must begin in a
fresh childishness."

"Yes," said the dark lady thoughtfully, "a careless childhood, running
wild almost. That should be the beginning."

"Then we pass through the wonder and diffidence of youth."

"To strength and action," said the dark lady. Her dreamy eyes were fixed
on the Downs, and her fingers tightened on her knees as she spoke. "Ah,
it is a grand thing to live--as a man does--self-reliant and free."

"And so at last," said Aubrey Vair, "come to the culmination and crown
of life." He paused and glanced hastily at her. Then he dropped his
voice almost to a whisper--"And the culmination of life is love."

Their eyes met for a moment, but she looked away at once. Aubrey Vair
felt a peculiar thrill and a catching in his breath, but his emotions
were too complex for analysis. He had a certain sense of surprise also,
at the way his conversation had developed.

Mrs. Bayne's deaf aunt suddenly dug him in the chest with her
ear-trumpet, and someone at tennis bawled, "Love all!"

"Did I tell you Jane's girls have had scarlet fever?" asked Mrs. Bayne's
deaf aunt.

"No," said Aubrey Vair.

"Yes; and they are peeling now," said Mrs. Bayne's deaf aunt, shutting
her lips tightly, and nodding in a slow, significant manner at both of
them.

There was a pause. All three seemed lost in thought, too deep for words.

"Love," began Aubrey Vair presently, in a severely philosophical tone,
leaning back in his chair, holding his hands like a praying saint's in
front of him, and staring at the toe of his shoe--, "love is, I believe,
the one true and real thing in life. It rises above reason, interest, or
explanation. Yet I never read of an age when it was so much forgotten as
it is now. Never was love expected to run so much in appointed channels,
never was it so despised, checked, ordered, and obstructed. Policeman
say, 'This way, Eros!' As a result, we relieve our emotional
possibilities in the hunt for gold and notoriety. And after all, with
the best fortune in these, we only hold up the glided images of our
success, and are weary slaves, with unsatisfied hearts, in the pageant
of life."

Aubrey Vair sighed, and there was a pause. The girl looked at him out of
the mysterious darkness of her eyes. She had read many books, but Aubrey
Vair was her first literary man, and she took this kind of thing for
genius--as girls have done before.

"We are," continued Aubrey Vair, conscious of a favourable impression--,
"we are like fireworks, mere dead, inert things until the appointed
spark comes; and then--if it is not damp--the dormant soul blazes forth
in all its warmth and beauty. That is living. I sometimes think, do you
know, that we should be happier if we could die soon after that golden
time, like the Ephemerides. There is a decay sets in."

"Eigh?" said Mrs. Bayne's deaf aunt startlingly. "I didn't hear you."

"I was on the point of remarking," shouted Aubrey Vair, wheeling the
array of his thoughts--, "I was on the point of remarking that few
people in Redhill could match Mrs. Morton's fine broad green."

"Others have noticed it." Mrs. Bayne's deaf aunt shouted back. "It is
since she has had in her new false teeth."

This interruption dislocated the conversation a little. However--

"I must thank you, Mr. Vair," said the dark girl, when they parted that
afternoon, "for having given me very much to think about."

And from her manner, Aubrey Vair perceived clearly he had not wasted his
time.


It would require a subtler pen than mine to tell how from that day a
passion for Miss Smith grew like Jonah's gourd in the heart of Aubrey
Vair. He became pensive, and in the prolonged absence of Miss Smith,
irritable. Mrs. Aubrey Vair felt the change in him, and put it down to
vitriolic Saturday Reviewer. Indisputably the Saturday does at times go
a little far. He re-read Elective Affinities, and lent it to Miss Smith.
Incredible as it may appear to members of the Areopagus Club, where we
know Aubrey Vair, he did also beyond all question inspire a sort of
passion in that sombre-eyed, rather clever, and really very beautiful
girl.

He talked to her a lot about love and destiny, and all that bric-a-brac
of the minor poet. And they talked together about his genius. He
elaborately, though discreetly, sought her society, and presented and
read to her the milder of his unpublished sonnets. We consider his
Byronic features pasty, but the feminine mind has its own laws. I
suppose, also where a girl is not a fool, a literary man has an enormous
advantage over anyone but a preacher, in the show he can make of his
heart's wares.

At last a day in that summer came when he met her alone, possibly by
chance, in a quiet lane towards Horley. There were ample hedges on
either side, rich with honeysuckle, vetch, and mullein.

They conversed intimately of his poetic ambitions, and then he read her
those verses of his subsequently published in 'Hobson's Magazine':
"Tenderly ever, since I have met thee." He had written these the day
before; and though I think the sentiment is uncommonly trite, there is a
redeeming note of sincerity about the lines not conspicuous in all
Aubrey Vair's poetry.

He read rather well, and a swell of genuine emotion crept into his voice
as he read, with one white hand thrown out to point the rhythm of the
lines. "Ever, my sweet, for thee," he concluded, looking up into her
face.

Before he looked up, he had been thinking chiefly of his poem and its
effect. Straightway he forgot it. Her arms hung limply before her, and
her hands were clasped together. Her eyes were very tender.

"Your verses go to the heart," she said softly.

Her mobile features were capable of wonderful shades of expression. He
suddenly forgot his wife and his position as a minor poet as he looked
at her. It is possible that his classical features may themselves have
undergone a certain transfiguration. For one brief moment--and it was
always to linger in his memory--destiny lifted him out of his vain
little self to a nobler level of simplicity. The copy of "Tenderly ever"
fluttered from his hand. Considerations vanished. Only one thing seemed
of importance.

"I love you," he said abruptly.

An expression of fear came into her eyes. The grip of her hands upon one
another tightened convulsively. She became very pale.

Then she moved her lips as if to speak, bringing her face slightly
nearer to his. There was nothing in the world at that moment for either
of them but one another. They were both trembling exceedingly. In a
whisper she said, "You love me?"

Aubrey Vair stood quivering and speechless, looking into her eyes. He
never seen such a light as he saw there before. He was in a wild tumult
of emotion. He was dreadfully scared at what he had done. He could not
say another word. He nodded.

"And this has come to me?" she said presently, in the same awe-stricken
whisper, and then, "Oh, my love, my love!"

And thereupon Aubrey Vair had her clasped to himself, her cheek upon his
shoulder and his lips to hers.

Thus it was that Aubrey Vair came by the cardinal memory of his life. To
this day it recurs in his works.

A little boy clambering in the hedge some way down the lane saw this
group with surprise, and then with scorn and contempt. Reckoning nothing
of his destiny, he turned away feeling that he at least could never come
to the unspeakable unmanliness of hugging girls. Unhappily for Reigate
scandal, his shame for his sex was altogether too deep for words.


An hour after, Aubrey Vair returned home in a hushed mood. There were
muffins after his own heart for his tea--Mrs. Aubrey Vair had had hers.
And there were chrysanthemums, chiefly white ones--, flowers he loved--,
set out in the china bowl he was wont to praise. And his wife came
behind him to kiss him as he sat eating.

"De lill Jummuns," she remarked, kissing him under the ear.

Then it came into the mind of Aubrey Vair with startling clearness,
while his ear was being kissed, and with his mouth full of muffin, that
life is a singularly complex thing.


The summer passed at last into the harvest-time, and the leaves began
falling. It was evening, the warm sunset light still touched the Downs,
but up the valley a blue haze was creeping. One or two lamps in Reigate
were already alight.

About halfway up the slanting road that scales the Downs, there is a
wooden seat where one may obtain a fine view of the red villas scattered
below, and of the succession of blue hills beyond. Here the girl with
the shadowy face was sitting.

She had a book on her knees, but it lay neglected. She was leaning
forward, her chin resting upon her hand, She was looking across the
valley into the darkening sky, with troubled eyes.

Aubrey Vair appeared through the hazel-bushes, and sat down beside her.
He held half a dozen dead leaves in his hand.

She did not alter her attitude. "Well?" she said.

"Is it to be flight?" he asked.

Aubrey Vair was rather pale. He had been having bad nights latterly,
with dreams of the Continental Express, Mrs. Aubrey Vair possibly even
in pursuit--, he always fancied her making the tragedy, ridiculous by
tearfully bringing additional pairs of socks, and any such trifles he
had forgotten, with her--, all Reigate and Redhill in commotion. He had
never eloped before, and he had visions of difficulties with hotel
proprietors. Mrs. Aubrey Vair might telegraph ahead. Even he had, had a
prophetic vision of a headline in a halfpenny evening newspaper: "Young
Lady abducts a Minor Poet." So there was a quaver in his voice as he
asked, "Is it to be flight?"

"As you will," she answered, still not looking at him.

"I want you to consider particularly how this will affect you. A man,"
said Aubrey Vair, slowly, and staring hard at the leaves in his hand,
"even gains a certain eclat in these affairs. But to a woman it is
ruin--social, moral."

"This is not love," said the girl in white.

"Ah, my dearest! Think of yourself."

"Stupid!" she said, under her breath.

"You spoke?"

"Nothing."

"But cannot we go on, meeting one another, loving one another, without
any great scandal or misery? Could we not--"

"That," interrupted Miss Smith, "would be unspeakably horrible."

"This is a dreadful conversation to me. Life is so intricate, such a web
of subtle strands binds us this way and that. I cannot tell what is
right. You must consider--"

"A man would break such strands."

"There is no manliness," said Aubrey Vair, with a sudden glow of moral
exaltation, "in doing wrong. My love--"

"We could at least die together, dearest," she said.

"Good Lord!" said Aubrey Vair. "I mean--consider my wife."

"You have not considered her hitherto."

"There is a flavour--of cowardice, of desertion, about suicide," said
Aubrey Vair. "Frankly, I have the English prejudice, and do not like any
kind of running away."

Miss Smith smiled very faintly. "I see clearly now what I did not see.
My love and yours are very different things."

"Possibly it is a sexual difference," said Aubrey Vair; and then,
feeling the remark inadequate, he relapsed into silence.

They sat for some time without a word. The two lights in Reigate below
multiplied to a score of bright points, and above, one star had become
visible. She began laughing, an almost noiseless, hysterical laugh that
jarred unaccountably upon Aubrey Vair.

Presently she stood up. "They will wonder where I am," she said. "I
think I must be going."

He followed her to the road. "Then this is the end?" he said, with a
curious mixture of relief and poignant regret.

"Yes, this is the end," she answered, and turned away.

There straightway dropped into the soul of Aubrey Vair a sense of
infinite loss. It was an altogether new sensation. She was perhaps
twenty yards away, when he groaned aloud with the weight of it, and
suddenly began running after her with his arms extended.

"Annie," he cried--, "Annie! I have been talking rot. Annie, now I know
I love you! I cannot spare you. This must not be. I did not understand."

The weight was horrible.

"Oh, stop, Annie!" he cried, with a breaking voice, and there were tears
on his face.

She turned upon him suddenly, and his arms fell by his side. His
expression changed at the sight of her pale face.

"You do not understand," she said. "I have said good-bye."

She looked at him; he was evidently greatly distressed, a little out of
breath, and he had just stopped blubbering. His contemptible quality
reached the pathetic. She came up close to him, and taking his damp
Byronic visage between her hands, she kissed him again and again.
"Good-bye, little man that I loved," she said; "and good-bye to this
folly of love."

Then, with something that may have been a laugh or a sob--, she herself,
when she came to write it all in her novel, did not know which--, she
turned and hurried away again, and went out of the path that Aubrey Vair
must pursue, at the cross-roads.

Aubrey Vair stood, where she had kissed him, with a mind as inactive as
his body, until her white dress had disappeared. Then he gave an
involuntary sigh, a large exhaustive expiration, and so awoke himself,
and began walking, pensively dragging his feet through the dead leaves,
home. Emotions are terrible things.


"Do you like the potatoes, dear?" asked Mrs. Aubrey Vair at dinner. "I
cooked them myself."

Aubrey Vair descended slowly from cloudy, impalpable meditations to the
level of fried potatoes. "These potatoes--" he remarked, after a pause
during which he was struggling with recollection. "Yes. These potatoes
have exactly the tints of the dead leaves of the hazel."

"What a fanciful poet it is!" said Mrs. Aubrey Vair. "Taste them. They
are very nice potatoes indeed."




A CATASTROPHE


The little shop was not paying. The realisation came insensibly. Winslow
was not the man for definite addition and subtraction and sudden
discovery. He became aware of the truth in his mind gradually, as though
it had always been there. A lot of facts had converged and led him
there. There was that line of cretonnes--four half-pieces--untouched,
save for half a yard sold to cover a stool. There were those shirting at
4 3/4d.--Bandersnatch, in the Broadway, was selling them at 2
3/4d.--under cost, in fact. (Surely Bandersnatch might let a man live!)
Those servants' caps, a selling line, needed replenishing, and that
brought back the memory of Winslow's sole wholesale dealers, Helter,
Skelter, and Grab. Why! How about their account?

Winslow stood with a big green box on the counter before him when he
thought of it. His pale grey eyes grew a little rounder; his pale,
straggling moustache twitched. He had been drifting along, day after
day. He went round to the ramshackle cash-desk in the corner--it was
Winslow's weakness to sell his goods over the counter, give his
customers a duplicate bill, and then dodge into the desk to receive the
money, as though he doubted his own honesty. His lank forefinger, with
the prominent joints, ran down the bright little calendar ("Clack's
Cottons last for All Time"). "One--two--three; three weeks an' a day!"
said Winslow, staring. "March! Only three weeks and a day. It can't be."

"Tea dear," said Mrs. Winslow, opening the door with the glass window
and the white blind that communicated with the parlour.

"One minute," said Winslow, and began unlocking the desk.

An irritable old gentleman, very hot and red about the face, and in a
heavy fur-lined coat, came in noisily. Mrs. Winslow vanished.

"Ugh!" said the old gentleman. "Pocket-handkerchief."

"Yes, sir," said Winslow. "About what price--"

"Ugh!" said the old gentleman. "Poggit-handkerchief, quig!"

Winslow began to feel flustered. He produced two boxes.

"These sir--" began Winslow.

"Sheed tin!" said the old gentleman, clutching the stiffness of the
linen. "Wad to blow my nose--not haggit about."

"A cotton one, p'raps, sir?" said Winslow.

"How much?" said the old gentleman over the handkerchief.

"Sevenpence, sir. There's nothing more I can show you? No ties,
braces--?"

"Damn!" said the old gentleman, fumbling in his ticket-pocket, and
finally producing half a crown. Winslow looked round for his metallic
duplicate-book which he kept in various fixtures, according to
circumstances, and then he caught the old gentleman's eye. He went
straight to the desk at once and got the change, with an entire
disregard of routine of the shop.

Winslow was always more or less excited by a customer. But the open desk
reminded him of his trouble. It did not come back to him all at once. He
heard a finger-nail softly tapping on the glass, and looking up saw
Minnie's eyes over the blind. It seemed like retreat opening. He shut
and locked the desk, and went into the back room to tea.

But he was preoccupied. Three weeks and a day! He took unusually large
bites of his bread and butter, and stared hard at the little pot of jam.
He answered Minnie's conversational advances distractedly. The shadow of
Helter, Skelter, and Grab lay upon the tea-table. He was struggling with
this new idea of failure, the tangible realisation that was taking shape
and substance, condensing, as it were, out of the misty uneasiness of
many days. At present it was simply one concrete fact; there were
thirty-nine pounds left in the bank, and that day three weeks Messrs.
Helter, Skelter, and Grab, those enterprising outfitters of young men,
would demand their eighty pounds.

After tea there was a customer or so--small purchases: some muslin and
buckram, dress-protectors, tape, and a pair of Lisle hose. Then, knowing
that Black Care was lurking in the dusky corners of the shop, he lit the
three lamps early and set to, refolding his cotton prints, the most
vigorous and least meditative proceeding of which he could think. He
could see Minnie's shadow in the other room as she moved about the
table. She was busy turning an old dress. He had a walk after supper,
looked in at the Y.M.C.A., but found no one to talk to, and finally went
to bed. Minnie was already there. And there too, waiting for him,
nudging him gently, until about midnight he was hopelessly awake, sat
Black Care.

He had, had one or two nights lately in that company, but this was much
worse. First came Messrs. Helter, Skelter, and Garb, and their demand
for eighty pounds--an enormous sum when your original capital was only a
hundred and seventy. They camped, as it were, before him, sat down and
beleaguered him. He clutched feebly at the circumambient darkness for
expedients. Suppose he had a sale, sold things for almost anything? He
tried to imagine a sale miraculously successful in some unexpected
manner, and mildly profitable, in spite of reductions below cost. Then
Bandersnatch Limited, 101, 102, 103, 105, 106, 107 Broadway, joined the
siege, a long caterpillar of frontage, a battery of shop fronts, wherein
things were sold at a farthing above cost. How could he fight such an
establishment? Besides, what had he to sell? He began to review his
resources. What taking line was there to bait the sale? Then straightway
came those pieces of cretonne, yellow and black, with a bluish-green
flower; those discredited skirtings, prints without buoyancy,
skirmishing haberdashery, some despairful four-button gloves by an
inferior maker--a hopeless crew. And that was his force against
Bandersnatch, Helter, Skelter, and Grab, and the pitiless world behind
them. Whatever had made him think a mortal would buy such things? Why
had he bought this and neglected that? He suddenly realised the
intensity of his hatred for Helter, Skelter, and Grab's salesman. Then
he drove towards an agony of self-reproach. He had spent too much on
that cash-desk. What real need was there of a desk? He saw his vanity of
that desk in a lurid glow of self-discovery. And the lamps? Five pounds!
Then suddenly, with what was almost physical pain, he remembered the
rent.

He groaned and turned over. And there, dim in the darkness, was the
hummock of Mrs. Winslow's shoulder. That set him off in another
direction. He became acutely sensible of Minnie's want of feeling. Here
he was, worried to death about business, and she sleeping like a little
child. He regretted having married, with that infinite bitterness that
only comes to the human heart in the small hours of the morning. That
hummock of white seemed absolutely without helpfulness, a burden, a
responsibility. What fools men were to marry! Minnie's inert repose
irritated his so much that he was almost provoked to wake her up and
tell her that they were "Ruined." She would have to go back to her
uncle; her uncle had always been against him: and as for his own future,
Winslow was exceedingly uncertain. A shop assistant who has once set up
for himself finds the utmost difficulty in getting into a situation
again. He began to figure himself "crib-hunting" once more, going from
this wholesale house to that, writing innumerable letters. How he hated
writing letters! "Sir--, Referring to your advertisement in the
Christian World." He beheld an infinite vista of discomfort and
disappointment, ending--in a gulf.

He dressed, yawning, and went down to open the shop. He felt tired
before the day began. As he carried the shutters in, he kept asking
himself what good he was doing. The end was inevitable, whether he
bothered or not. The clear daylight smote into the place, and showed how
old and rough and splintered was the floor, how shabby the second-hand
counter, how hopeless the whole enterprise. He had been dreaming these
past six months of a bright shop, of a happy couple, of a modest but
comely profit flowing in. He had suddenly awakened from his dream. The
braid that bound his decent black coat--it was a trifle loose--caught
against the catch of the shop door, and was torn away. This suddenly
turned his wretchedness to wrath. He stood quivering for a moment, then
with a spiteful clutch, tore the braid looser, and went in to Minnie.

"Here," he said, with infinite reproach; "look here! You might look
after a chap a bit."

"I didn't see it torn," said Minnie.

"You never do," said Winslow, with gross injustice, "until things are
too late."

Minnie looked suddenly at his face. "I'll sew it now, Sid, if you like."

"Let's have breakfast first," said Winslow, "and do things at their
proper time."

He was preoccupied at breakfast, and Minnie watched him anxiously. His
only remark was to declare his egg a bad one. It wasn't; it was
flavoury--, being one of those at fifteen a shilling--, but quite nice.
He pushed it away from him, and then, having eaten a slice of bread and
butter, admitted himself in the wrong by resuming the egg.

"Sid," said Minnie, as he stood up to go into the shop again, "you're
not well."

"I'm well enough." He looked at her as though he hated her.

"Then there's something else the matter. You aren't angry with me, Sid,
are you, about that braid? Do tell me what's the matter. You were just
like this at tea yesterday, and at supper-time. It wasn't the braid
then."

"And I'm likely to be."

She looked interrogation. "Oh, what is the matter?" she said.

It was too good a chance to miss, and he brought the evil news out with
dramatic force. "Matter?" he said. "I done my best, and here we are.
That's the matter! If I can't pay Helter, Skelter, and Grab eighty
pounds, this day three weeks--" Pause. "We shall be sold up! Sold up!
That's the matter, Min! Sold Up!"

"Oh, Sid!" began Minnie.

He slammed the door. For the moment he felt relieved of at least half
his misery. He began dusting boxes that did not require dusting, and
then reblocked a cretonne already faultlessly blocked. He was in a state
of grim wretchedness; a martyr under the harrow of fate. At anyrate, it
should not be said he failed for want of industry. And how he had
planned and contrived and worked! All to this end! He felt horrible
doubts. Providence and Bandersnatch--surely they were incompatible!
Perhaps he was being "tried"? That sent him off upon a new tack, a very
comforting one. The martyr pose, the gold-in-the-furnace attitude,
lasted all the morning.

At dinner--"potato pie--" he looked up suddenly, and saw Minnie's face
regarding him. Pale she looked, and a little red about the eyes.
Something caught him suddenly with a queer effect upon his throat. All
his thoughts seemed to wheel round into quite a new direction.

He pushed back his plate and stared at her blankly. Then he got up, went
round the table to her--she staring at him. He dropped on his knees
beside her without a word. "Oh, Minnie!" he said, and suddenly she knew
it was peace, and put her arms about him, as he began to sob and weep.

He cried like a little boy, slobbering on her shoulder that he was a
knave to have married her and brought her to this, that he hadn't the
wits to be trusted with a penny, that it was all his fault; that he "had
hoped so--" ending in a howl. And she, crying gently herself, patting
his shoulders, said "Ssh!" softly to his noisy weeping, and so soothed
the outbreak. Then suddenly the crazy bell upon the shop door began, and
Winslow had to jump to his feet, and be a man again.

After that scene they "talked it over" at tea, at supper, in bed, at
every possible interval in between, solemnly--quite inconclusively--with
set faces and eyes for the most part staring in front of them--and yet
with a certain mutual comfort. "What to do I don't know," was Winslow's
main proposition. Minnie tried to take a cheerful view of service--with
a probable baby. But she found she needed all her courage. And her uncle
would help her again, perhaps just at the critical time. It didn't do
for folks to be too proud. Besides, "something might happen," a
favourite formula with her.

One hopeful line was to anticipate a sudden afflux of customers.
"Perhaps," said Minnie, "you might get together fifty. They know you
well enough to trust you a bit." They debated that point. Once the
possibility of Helter, Skelter, and Grab giving credit was admitted, it
was pleasant to begin sweating the acceptable minimum. For some
half-hour over tea the second day after Winslow's discoveries they were
quite cheerful again, laughing even at their terrific fears. Even twenty
pounds to go on with might be considered enough. Then in some
mysterious way the pleasant prospect of Messrs. Helter, Skelter, and
Grab tempering the wind to the shorn retailer vanished--vanished
absolutely, and Winslow found himself again in the pit of despair.

He began looking about at the furniture, and wondering idly what it
would fetch. The chiffonier was good, anyhow, and there were Minnie's
old plates that her mother used to have. Then he began to think of
desperate expedients for putting off the evil day. He had heard
somewhere of Bills of Sale--there was to his ears something comfortingly
substantial in the phrase. Then, why not "Go to the Money-Lenders"?

One cheering thing happened on Thursday afternoon a little girl came in
with a pattern of "print," and he was able to match it. He had not been
able to match anything out of his meagre stock before. He went in and
told Minnie. The incident is mentioned lest the reader should imagine it
was uniform despair with him.

The next morning, and the next, after the discovery, Winslow opened shop
late. When one has been awake most of the night, and has no hope, what
is the good of getting up punctually? But as he went into the dark shop
on Friday he saw something lying on the floor, something lit by the
bright light that came under the ill-fitting door--a black oblong. He
stooped and picked up an envelope with a deep mourning edge. It was
addressed to his wife. Clearly a death in her family--perhaps her uncle.
He knew the man too well to have expectations. And they would have to
get mourning and go to the funeral. The brutal cruelty of people dying!
He saw it all in a flash--he always visualised his thoughts. Black
trousers to get, black crape, black gloves--none in stock--the railway
fares, the shop closed for the day.

"I'm afraid there's bad news, Minnie," he said.

She was kneeling before the fireplace, blowing the fire. She had her
housemaid's gloves on and the old country sun-bonnet she wore of a
morning, to keep the dust out of her hair. She turned, saw the envelope,
gave a gasp, and pressed two bloodless lips together.

"I'm afraid it's uncle," she said, holding the letter and staring with
eyes wide open into Winslow's face. "It's a strange hand!"

"The postmark's Hull," said Winslow.

"The postmark's Hull."

Minnie opened the letter slowly, drew it out, hesitated, turned it over,
saw the signature. "It's Mr. Speight!"

"What does he say?" said Winslow.

Minnie began to read. "Oh!" she screamed. She dropped the letter,
collapsed into a crouching heap, her hands covering her eyes. Winslow
snatched at it. "A most terrible accident has occurred," he read;
"Melchior's chimney fell down yesterday evening right on the top of your
uncle's house, and every living soul was killed--your uncle, your cousin
Mary, Will and Ned, and the girl--every one of them, and smashed--you
would hardly know them. I'm writing to you to break the news before you
see it in the papers--" The letter fluttered from Winslow's fingers. He
put out his hand against the mantel to steady himself.

All of them dead! Then he saw, as in a vision, a row of seven cottages,
each let at seven shillings a week, a timber yard, two villas, and the
ruins--still marketable--of the avuncular residence. He tried to feel a
sense of loss and could not. They were sure to have been left to
Minnie's aunt. All dead! 7x7x5220 began insensibly to work itself out
in his mind, but discipline was ever weak in his mental arithmetic;
figures kept moving from one line to another, like children playing at
Widdy, Widdy Way. Was it two hundred pounds about--or one hundred
pounds? Presently he picked up the letter again, and finished reading
it. "You being the next of kin," said Mr. Speight.

"How awful!" said Minnie in horror-struck whisper, and looking up at
last. Winslow stared back at her, shaking his head solemnly. There were
a thousand things running through his mind, but none that, even to his
dull sense, seemed appropriate as a remark. "It was the Lord's will," he
said at last.

"It seems so very, very terrible," said Minnie; "auntie, dear
auntie--Ted--poor, dear uncle--"

"It was the Lord's will, Minnie," said Winslow, with infinite feeling. A
long silence.

"Yes," said Minnie, very slowly, staring thoughtfully at the crackling
black paper in the grate. The fire had gone out. "Yes, perhaps it was
the Lord's will."

They looked gravely at one another. Each would have been terribly
shocked at any mention of the property by the other. She turned to the
dark fireplace and began tearing up an old newspaper slowly. Whatever
our losses may be, the world's work still waits for us. Winslow gave a
deep sigh and walked in a hushed manner towards the front door. As he
opened it, a flood of sunlight came streaming into the dark shadows of
the closed shop. Bandersnatch, Helter, Skelter, and Grab, had vanished
out of his mind like the mists before the rising sun.

Presently he was carrying in the shutters, and in the briskest way, the
fire in the kitchen was crackling exhilaratingly, with a little saucepan
walloping above it, for Minnie was boiling two eggs--, one for herself
this morning, as well as one for him--, and Minnie herself was audible,
laying breakfast with the great eclat. The blow was a sudden and
terrible one--but it behoves us to face such things bravely in this sad,
unaccountable world. It was quite midday before either of them mentioned
the cottages.




THE LOST INHERITANCE


"My uncle," said the man with the glass eye, "was what you might call a
hemi-semi-demi millionaire. He was worth about a hundred and twenty
thousand. Quite. And he left me all his money."

I glanced at the shiny sleeve of his coat, and my eye travelled up to
the frayed collar.

"Every penny," said the man with the glass eye, and I caught the active
pupil looking at me with a touch of offence.

"I've never had any windfalls like that," I said, trying to speak
enviously and propitiate him.

"Even a legacy isn't always a blessing," he remarked with a sigh, and
with an air of philosophical resignation he put the red nose and the
wiry moustache into his tankard for a space.

"Perhaps not," I said.

"He was an author, you see, and he wrote a lot of books."

"Indeed!"

"That was the trouble of it all." He stared at me with the available eye
to see if I grasped his statement, then averted his face a little and
produced a toothpick.

"You see," he said, smacking his lips after a pause, "it was like this.
He was my uncle--my maternal uncle. And he had--what shall I call it--?
A weakness for writing, edifying literature. Weakness is hardly the
word--downright mania is nearer the mark. He's been librarian in a
Polytechnic, and as soon as the money came to him he began to indulge
his ambition. It's a simply extraordinary and incomprehensible thing to
me. Here was a man of thirty-seven suddenly dropped into a perfect pile
of gold, and he didn't go--not a day's bust on it. One would think a
chap would go and get himself dressed a bit decent--say a couple of
dozen pair of trousers at a West End tailor's; but he never did. You'd
hardly believe it, but when he died he hadn't even a gold watch. It
seems wrong for people like that to have money. All he did was just to
take a house, and order in pretty nearly five tons of books and ink and
paper, and set to writing, edifying literature as hard as ever he could
write. I can't understand it! But he did. The money came to him,
curiously enough, through a maternal uncle of his, unexpected like, when
he was seven-and-thirty. My mother, it happened, was his only relation
in the wide, wide world, except some second cousins of his. And I was
her only son. You follow all that? The second cousins had one only son
too, but they brought him to see the old man too soon. He was rather a
spoilt youngster, was this son of theirs, and directly he set eyes on my
uncle, he began bawling out as hard as he could. 'Take 'im away--er,' he
says, 'take 'im away,' and so did for himself entirely. It was pretty
straight sailing, you'd think, for me, eh? And my mother, being a
sensible, careful woman, settled the business in her own mind long
before he did.

"He was a curious little chap, was my uncle, as I remember him. I don't
wonder at the kid being scared. Hair just like these Japanese dolls they
sell, black and straight and stiff all round the brim and none in the
middle, and below, a whitish kind of face and rather large dark grey
eyes moving about behind his spectacles. He used to attach a great deal
of importance to dress, and always wore a flapping overcoat and a
big-brimmed felt hat of a most extraordinary size. He looked a rummy
little beggar, I can tell you. Indoors it was, as a rule, a dirty red
flannel dressing-gown and a black skull-cap he had. That black skull-cap
made him look like the portraits of all kinds of celebrated people. He
was always moving about from house to house, was my uncle, with his
chair which had belonged to Savage Landor, and his two writing-tables,
one of Carlyle's and the other of Shelley's, so the dealer told him, and
the completest portable reference library in England, he said he
had--and he lugged the whole caravan, now to a house at Down, near
Darwin's old place, then to Reigate, near Meredith, then off to
Haslemere, then back to Chelsea for a bit, and then up to Hampstead. He
knew there was something wrong with his stuff, but he never knew there
was anything wrong with his brains. It was always the air, or the water,
or the altitude, or some tommy-rot like that. 'So much depends on
environment,' he used to say, and stare at you hard, as if he half
suspected you were hiding a grin at him somewhere under your face. 'So
much depends on environment to a sensitive mind like mine.'

"What was his name? You wouldn't know it if I told you. He wrote nothing
that anyone has ever read--nothing. No one could read it. He wanted to
be a great teacher, he said, and he didn't know what he wanted to teach
any more than a child. So he just blethered at large about Truth and
Righteousness, and the Spirit of History, and all that. Book after book
he wrote and published at his own expense. He wasn't quite right in his
head, you know really; and to hear him go on at the critics--not because
they slated him, mind you--he liked that--but because they didn't take
any notice of him at all. 'What do the nations want?' he would ask,
holding out his brown old claw. 'Why, teaching--guidance! They are
scattered upon the hills like sheep without a shepherd. There is War and
Rumours of War, the unlaid Spirit of Discord abroad in the land,
Nihilism, Vivisection, Vaccination, Drunkenness, Penury, Want,
Socialistic Error, Selfish Capital! Do you see the clouds, Ted--?' My
name, you know--'Do you see the clouds lowering over the land? and
behind it all--the Mongol waits!' He was always very great on Mongols,
and the Spectre of Socialism, and suchlike things.

"Then out would come his finger at me, and with his eyes all afire and
his skull-cap askew, he would whisper: 'And here am I. What did I want?
Nations to teach. Nations! I say it with all modesty, Ted, I could. I
would guide them; nay! But I will guide them to a safe haven, to the
land of Righteousness, flowing with milk and honey.'

"That's how he used to go on. Ramble, rave about the nations, and
righteousness, and that kind of thing. Kind of mincemeat of Bible and
blethers. From fourteen up to three-and-twenty, when I might have been
improving my mind, my mother used to wash me and brush my hair (at least
in the earlier years of it), with a nice parting down the middle, and
take me, once or twice a week, to hear this old lunatic jabber about
things he had read of in the morning papers, trying to do it as much
like Carlyle as he could, and I used to sit according to instructions,
and look intelligent and nice, and pretend to be taking it all in.
Afterwards I used to go of my own free will, out of a regard for the
legacy. I was the only person that used to go see him. He wrote, I
believe, to every man who made the slightest stir in the world, sending
him a copy or so of his books, and inviting him to come and talk about
the nations to him; but half of them didn't answer, and none ever came.
And when the girl let you in--she was an artful bit of goods, that
girl--there were heaps of letters on the hall-seat waiting to go off,
addressed to Prince Bismarck, the President of the United States, and
such-like people. And one went up the staircase and along the cobwebby
passage--, the housekeeper drank like fury, and his passages were always
cobwebby--, and found him at last, with books turned down all over the
room, and heaps of torn paper on the floor, and telegrams and newspapers
littered about, and empty coffee-cups and half-eaten bits of toast on
the desk and the mantel. You'd see his back humped up, and his hair
would be sticking out quite straight between the collar of that
dressing-gown thing and the edge of his skull-cap.

"'A moment!' he would say. 'A moment!' over his shoulder. 'The mot
juste, you know, Ted, le mot juste. Righteous thought righteously
expressed--Aah--! Concatenation. And now, Ted,' he'd say, spinning round
in his study chair, 'how's Young England?' That was his silly name for
me.

"Well, that was my uncle, and that was how he talked--to me, at any
rate. With others about he seemed a bit shy. And he not only talked to
me, but he gave me his books, books of six hundred pages or so, with
cock-eyed headings, 'The Shrieking Sisterhood,' 'The Behemoth of
Bigotry,' 'Crucibles and Cullenders,' and so on. All very strong, and
none of them original. The very last time, but one that I saw him, he
gave me a book. He was feeling ill even then, and his hand shook and he
was despondent. I noticed it because I was naturally on the look-out for
those little symptoms. 'My last book, Ted,' he said. 'My last book, my
boy; my last word to the deaf and hardened nations;' and I'm hanged if a
tear didn't go rolling down his yellow old cheek. He was regular crying
because it was so nearly over, and he hadn't only written about
fifty-three books of rubbish. 'I've sometimes thought, Ted--' he said,
and stopped.

"'Perhaps I've been a bit hasty and angry with this stiff-necked
generation. A little more sweetness, perhaps, and a little less blinding
light. I've sometimes thought--I might have swayed them. But I've done
my best, Ted.'

"And then, with a burst, for the first and last time in his life he
owned himself a failure. It showed he was really ill. He seemed to think
for a minute, and then he spoke quietly and low, as sane and sober as I
am now. 'I've been a fool, Ted,' he said. 'I've been flapping nonsense
all my life. Only He who readeth the heart knows whether this is
anything more than vanity. Ted, I don't. But He knows, He knows, and if
I have done foolishly and vainly, in my heart--in my heart--'

"Just like that he spoke, repeating himself, and he stopped quite short
and handed the book to me, trembling. Then the old shine came back into
his eye. I remember it all fairly well, because I repeated it and acted
it to my old mother when I got home, to cheer her up a bit. 'Take this
book and read it,' he said. 'It's my last word, my very last word. I've
left all my property to you, Ted, and may you use it better than I have
done.' And then he fell a-coughing.

"I remember that quite well even now, and how I went home cock-a-hoop,
and how he was in bed the next time I called. The housekeeper was
downstairs drunk, and I fooled about--as a young man will--with the girl
in the passage before I went to him. He was sinking fast. But even then
his vanity clung to him.

"'Have you read it?' he whispered.

"'Sat, up all night reading it,' I said in his ear to cheer him. 'It's
the last,' said I, and then, with a memory of some poetry or other in my
head, 'but it's the bravest and best.'

"He smiled a little and tried to squeeze my hand as a woman might do,
and left off squeezing in the middle, and lay still. 'The bravest and
the best,' said I again, seeing it pleased him. But he didn't answer. I
heard the girl giggle outside the door, for occasionally we'd had just a
bit of innocent laughter, you know, at his ways. I looked at his face,
and his eyes were closed, and it was just as if somebody had punched in
his nose on either side. But he was still smiling. It's queer to think
of--he lay dead, lay dead there, an utter failure, with the smile of
success on his face.

"That was the end of my uncle. You can imagine me and my mother saw that
he had a decent funeral. Then, of course, came the hunt for the will. We
began decent and respectful at first, and before the day was out we were
ripping chairs, and smashing bureau panels, and sounding walls. Every
hour we expected those others to come in. We asked the housekeeper, and
found she'd actually witnessed a will--on an ordinary half-sheet of
notepaper it was written, and very short, she said--not a month ago. The
other witness was the gardener, and he bore her out word for word. But
I'm hanged if there was that or any other will to be found. The way my
mother talked must have made him turn in his grave. At last a lawyer at
Reigate sprang one on us that had been made years ago during some
temporary quarrel with my mother. I'm blest if that wasn't the only will
to be discovered anywhere, and it left every penny he possessed to that
'Take 'im away' youngster of his second cousin's--a chap who'd never had
to stand his talking, not for one afternoon of his life."

The man with the glass eye stopped.

"I thought you said--" I began.

"Half a minute," said the man with the glass eye. "I had to wait for the
end of the story till this very morning, and I was a blessed sight more
interested than you are. You just wait a bit too. They executed the
will, and the other chap inherited, and directly he was one-and-twenty
he began to blew it. How he did blew it, to be sure! He bet, he drank,
he got in the papers for this and that. I tell you, it makes me wiggle
to think of the times he had. He blewed every ha'penny of it before he
was thirty, and the last I heard of him was--Holloway! Three years ago.

"Well, I naturally fell on hard times, because as you see, the only
trade I knew was legacy-cadging. All my plans were waiting over to
begin, so to speak, when the old chap died. I've had my ups and downs
since then. Just now it's a period of depression. I tell you frankly,
I'm on the look-out for help. I was hunting round my room to find
something to raise a bit on for immediate necessities, and the sight of
all those presentation volumes--no one will buy them, not to wrap butter
in, even--well, they annoyed me. I promised him not to part with them,
and I never kept a promise easier. I let out at them with my boot, and
sent them shooting across the room. One lifted at the kick, and spun
through the air. And out of it flapped--You guess?

"It was the will. He'd given it to me himself in that very last volume
of all."

He folded his arms on the table, and looked sadly with the active eye at
his empty tankard. He shook his head slowly, and said softly, "I'd never
opened the book, much more cut a page!" Then he looked up, with a bitter
laugh, for sympathy. "Fancy hiding it there! Eigh? Of all places."

He began to fish absently for a dead fly with a finger. "It just shows
you the vanity of authors," he said, looking up at me. "It wasn't no
trick of his. He'd meant perfectly fair. He'd really thought I was
really going home to read that blessed book of his through. But it shows
you, don't it--?" his eye went down to the tankard again--, "It shows
you too, how we poor human beings fail to understand one another."

But there was no misunderstanding the eloquent thirst of his eye. He
accepted with ill-feigned surprise. He said, in the usual subtle
formula, that he didn't mind if he did.




THE SAD STORY OF A DRAMATIC CRITIC


I was--you shall hear immediately why I am not now--Egbert Craddock
Cummins. The name remains. I am still (Heaven help me!) Dramatic Critic
to the 'Fiery Cross'. What I shall be in a little while I do not know. I
write in great trouble and confusion of mind. I will do what I can to
make myself clear in the face of terrible difficulties. You must bear
with me a little. When a man is rapidly losing his own identity, he
naturally finds a difficulty in expressing himself. I will make it
perfectly plain in a minute, when once I get my grip upon the story. Let
me see--where am I? I wish I knew. Ah, I have it! Dead self! Egbert
Craddock Cummins!

In the past I should have disliked writing anything quite so full of "I"
as this story must be. It is full of "I's" before and behind, like the
beast in Revelation--the one with a head like a calf, I am afraid. But
my tastes have changed since I became a Dramatic Critic and studied the
masters--G.R.S., G.B.S., G.A.S., and others. Everything has changed
since then. At least the story is about myself--so that there is some
excuse for me. And it is really not egotism, because as I say, since
those days my identity has undergone an entire alteration.

That past...! I was--in those days--rather a nice fellow, rather
shy--taste for grey in my clothes, weedy little moustache, face
"interesting," slight stutter which I had caught in early life from a
schoolfellow. Engaged to a very nice girl, named Delia. Fairly new, she
was--cigarettes--liked me because I was human and original. Considered I
was like Lamb--on the strength of the stutter, I believe. Father, an
eminent authority on postage stamps. She read a great deal in the
British Museum. (A perfect pairing ground for literary people, that
British Museum--you should read George Egerton and Justin Huntly
M'Carthy and Gissing and the rest of them.) We loved in our intellectual
way, and shared the brightest hopes. (All gone now.) And her father
liked me because I seemed honestly eager to hear about stamps. She had
no mother. Indeed, I had the happiest prospects a young man could have.
I never went to theatres in those days. My Aunt Charlotte before she
died had told me not to.

Then Barnaby, the editor of the 'Fiery Cross', made me--in spite of my
spasmodic efforts to escape--Dramatic Critic. He is a fine, healthy man,
Barnaby, with an enormous head of frizzy black hair and a convincing
manner, and he caught me on the staircase going to see Wembly. He had
been dining, and was more than usually buoyant. "Hullo, Cummins!" he
said. "The very man I want!" He caught me by the shoulder or collar or
something, ran me up the little passage, and flung me over the
waste-paper basket into the armchair in his office. "Pray be seated," he
said, as he did so. Then he ran across the room and came back with some
pink and yellow tickets and pushed them into my hand. "Opera Comique,"
he said, "Thursday; Friday, the Surrey; Saturday, the Frivolity. That's
all, I think."

"But--" I began.

"Glad you're free," he said, snatching some proofs off the desk and
beginning to read.

"I don't quite understand," I said.

"Eigh?" he said, at the top of his voice, as though he thought I had
gone, and was startled at my remark.

"Do you want me to criticise these plays?"

"Do something with 'em... Did you think it was a treat?"

"But I can't."

"Did you call me a fool?"

"Well, I've never been to a theatre in my life."

"Virgin soil."

"But I don't know anything about it, you know."

"That's just it. New view. No habits. No cliches in stock. Ours is a
live paper, not a bag of tricks. None of your clockwork professional
journalism in this office. And I can rely on your integrity--"

"But I've conscientious scruples--"

He caught me up suddenly and put me outside his door. "Go and talk to
Wembly about that," he said. "He'll explain."

As I stood perplexed, he opened the door again, said, "I forgot this,"
thrust a fourth ticket into my hand (it was for that night--in twenty
minutes' time) and slammed the door upon me. His expression was quite
calm, but I caught his eye.

I hate arguments. I decided that I would take his hint and become (to my
own destruction) a Dramatic Critic. I walked slowly down the passage to
Wembly. That Barnaby has a remarkably persuasive way. He has made few
suggestions during our very pleasant intercourse of four years that he
has not ultimately won me round to adopting. It may be, of course, that
I am of a yielding disposition; certainly I am too apt to take my colour
from my circumstances. It is, indeed, to my unfortunate susceptibility
to vivid impressions that all my misfortunes are due. I have already
alluded to the slight stammer I had acquired from a schoolfellow in my
youth. However, this is a digression... I went home in a cab to dress.

I will not trouble the reader with my thoughts about the first-night
audience, strange assembly as it is--, those I reserve for my Memoirs,
nor the humiliating story of how I got lost during the entr'acte in a
lot of red plush passages, and saw the third act from the gallery. The
only point upon which I wish to lay stress was the remarkable effect of
the acting upon me. You must remember I had lived a quite and retired
life, and had never been to the theatre before, and that I am extremely
sensitive to vivid impressions. At the risk of repetition I must insist
upon these points.

The first effect was a profound amazement, not untinctured by alarm. The
phenomenal unnaturalness of acting is a thing discounted in the minds of
most people by early visits to the theatre. They get used to the
fantastic gestures, the flamboyant emotions, the weird mouthings,
melodious snortings, agonising yelps, lip-gnawings, glaring horrors, and
other emotional symbolism of the stage. It becomes at least a mere
deaf-and-dumb language to them, which they read intelligently pari passu
with the hearing of the dialogue. But all this was new to me. The thing
was called a modern comedy, the people were supposed to be English and
were dressed like fashionable Americans of the current epoch, and I fell
into the natural error of supposing that the actors were trying to
represent human beings. I looked round on my first-night audience with a
kind of wonder, discovered--as all new Dramatic Critics do--that it
rested with me to reform the Drama, and after a supper choked with
emotion, went off to the office to write a column, piebald with "new
paragraphs" (as all my stuff is--it fills out so) and purple with
indignation. Barnaby was delighted.

But I could not sleep that night. I dreamt of actors--actors glaring,
actors smiting their chests, actors flinging out a handful of extended
fingers, actors smiling bitterly, laughing despairingly, falling
hopelessly, dying idiotically. I got up at eleven with a slight
headache, read my notice in the 'Fiery Cross', breakfasted, and went
back to my room to shave. (It's my habit to do so.) Then an odd thing
happened. I could not find my razor. Suddenly it occurred to me that I
had not unpacked it the day before.

"Ah!" said I, in front of the looking-glass. Then "Hullo!"

Quite involuntarily, when I had thought of my portmanteau, I had flung
up the left arm (fingers fully extended) and clutched at my diaphragm
with my right hand. I am an acutely self-conscious man at all times. The
gesture struck me as absolutely novel for me. I repeated it, for my own
satisfaction. "Odd!" Then (rather puzzled) I turned to my portmanteau.

After shaving, my mind reverted to the acting I had seen, and I
entertained myself before the cheval glass with some imitations of
Jafferay's more exaggerated gestures. "Really, one might think it a
disease." I said--, "Stage-Walkitis!" (There's many a truth spoken in
jest.) Then, if I remember rightly, I went off to see Wembly, and
afterwards lunched at the British Museum with Delia. We actually spoke
about our prospects, in the light of my new appointment.

But that appointment was the beginning of my downfall. From that day I
necessarily became a persistent theatre-goer, and almost insensibly I
began to change. The next thing I noticed after the gesture about the
razor, was to catch myself bowing ineffably when I met Delia, and
stooping in an old-fashioned, courtly way over her hand. Directly I
caught myself, I straightened myself up and became very uncomfortable. I
remember she looked at me curiously. Then, in the office, I found myself
doing "nervous business," fingers on teeth, when Barnaby asked me a
question I could not very well answer. Then, in some trifling difference
with Delia, I clasped my hand to my brow. And I pranced through my
social transactions at times singularly like an actor! I tried not
to--no one could be more keenly alive to the arrant absurdity of the
histrionic bearing. And I did!

It began to dawn on me what it all meant. The acting, I saw, was too
much for my delicately-strung nervous system. I have always, I know,
been too amenable to the suggestions of my circumstances. Night after
night of concentrated attention to the conventional attitudes and
intonation of the English stage was gradually affecting my speech and
carriage. I was giving way to the infection of sympathetic imitation.
Night after night my plastic nervous system took the print of some new
amazing gesture, some new emotional exaggeration--and retained it. A
kind of theatrical veneer threatened to plate over and obliterate my
private individuality altogether. I saw myself in a kind of vision.
Sitting by myself one night, my new self seemed to me to glide, posing
and gesticulating, across the room. He clutched his throat, he opened
his fingers, he opened his legs in walking like a high-class marionette.
He went from attitude to attitude. He might have been clockwork.
Directly after this I made an ineffectual attempt to resign my
theatrical work. But Barnaby persisted in talking about the Polywhiddle
Divorce all the time I was with him, and I could get no opportunity of
saying what I wished.

And then Delia's manner began to change towards me. The ease of our
intercourse vanished. I felt she was learning to dislike me. I grinned,
and capered, and scowled, and posed at her in a thousand ways, and
knew--with what a voiceless agony--! That I did it all the time. I tried
to resign again, and Barnaby talked about "X" and "Z" and "Y" in the New
Review, and gave me a strong cigar to smoke, and so routed me. And then
I walked up the Assyrian Gallery in the manner of Irving to meet Delia,
and so precipitated the crisis.

"Ah--! Dear!" I said, with more sprightliness and emotion in my voice
than had ever been in all my life before I became (to my own undoing) a
Dramatic Critic.

She held out her hand rather coldly, scrutinising my face as she did so.
I prepared, with a new-won grace, to walk by her side.

"Egbert," she said, standing still, and thought. Then she looked at me.

I said nothing. I felt what was coming. I tried to be the old Egbert
Craddock Cummins of shambling gait and stammering sincerity, whom she
loved, but I felt even as I did so that I was a new thing, a thing of
surging emotions and mysterious fixity--like no human being that ever
lived, except upon the stage. "Egbert," she said, "you are not
yourself."

"Ah!" Involuntarily I clutched my diaphragm and averted my head (as is
the way with them).

"There!" she said.

"What do you mean?" I said, whispering in vocal italics--you know how
they do it--turning on her, perplexity on face, right hand down, left on
brow. I knew quite well what she meant. I knew quite well the dramatic
unreality of my behaviour. But I struggled against it in vain. "What do
you mean?" I said, and in a kind of hoarse whisper, "I don't
understand!"

She really looked as though she disliked me. "What do you keep on posing
for?" she said. "I don't like it. You didn't used to."

"Didn't used to!" I said slowly, repeating this twice. I glared up and
down the gallery, with short, sharp glances. "We are alone," I said
swiftly. "Listen!" I poked my forefinger towards her, and glared at her.
"I'm under a curse."

I saw her hands tighten upon her sunshade. "You are under some bad
influence or other," said Delia. "You should give it up. I never knew
anyone change as you have done."

"Delia!" I said, lapsing into the pathetic. "Pity me. Augh! Delia!
Pit--y me!"

She eyed me critically. "Why you keep playing the fool like this I don't
know," she said. "Anyhow, I really cannot go about with a man who
behaves as you do. You made us both ridiculous on Wednesday. Frankly, I
dislike you, as you are now. I met you here to tell you so--as it's
about the only place where we can be sure of being alone together--"

"Delia!" said I, with intensity, knuckles of clenched hands white. "You
don't mean--"

"I do," said Delia. "A woman's lot is sad enough at the best of times.
But with you--"

I clapped my hand on my brow.

"So, good-bye," said Delia, without emotion.

"Oh, Delia!" I said. "Not this?"

"Good-bye, Mr. Cummins," she said.

By a violent effort I controlled myself and touched her hand. I tried to
say some word of explanation to her. She looked into my working face and
winced. "I must do it," she said hopelessly. Then she turned from me and
began walking rapidly down the gallery.

Heavens! How the human agony cried within me! I loved Delia. But nothing
found expression--I was already too deeply crusted with my acquired
self.

"Good-baye!" I said at last, watching her retreating figure. How I hated
myself for doing it! After she had vanished, I repeated in a dreamy way,
"Good-baye!" looking hopelessly round me. Then, with a kind of
heart-broken cry, I shook my clenched fists in the air, staggered to the
pedestal of a winged figure, buried my face in my arms, and made my
shoulders heave. Something within me said "Ass!" as I did so. (I had the
greatest difficulty in persuading the Museum policeman, who was
attracted by my cry of agony, that I was not intoxicated, but merely
suffering from a transient indisposition.)

But even this great sorrow has not availed to save me from my fate. I
see it, everyone sees it; I grow more "theatrical" every day. And no one
could be more painfully aware of the pungent silliness of theatrical
ways. The quite, nervous, but pleasing, E.C. Cummins vanishes. I cannot
save him. I am driven like a dead leaf before the winds of March. My
tailor even enters into the spirit of my disorder. He has a peculiar
sense of what is fitting. I tried to get a dull grey suit from him this
spring, and he foisted a brilliant blue upon me, and I see he has put
braid down the sides of my new dress trousers. My hairdresser insists
upon giving me a "wave."

I am beginning to associate with actors. I detest them, but it is only
in their company that I feel I am not glaringly conspicuous. Their talk
infects me. I notice a growing tendency to dramatic brevity, to dashes
and pauses in my style, to a punctuation of bows and attitudes. Barnaby
has remarked it too. I offended Wembly by calling him "Dear Boy"
yesterday. I dread the end, but cannot escape from it.

The fact is, I am being obliterated. Living a grey, retired life all my
youth, I came to the theatre a delicate sketch of a man, a thing of
tints and faint lines. Their gorgeous colouring has effaced me
altogether. People forget how much mode of expression, method of
movement, are a matter of contagion. I have heard of stage-struck people
before, and thought it a figure of speech. I spoke of it jestingly,
as a disease. It is no jest. It is a disease. And I have got it
bad! Deep down within me I protest against the wrong done to my
personality--unavailingly. For three hours or more a week I have to go
and concentrate my attention on some fresh play, and the suggestions of
the drama strengthen their awful hold upon me. My manners grow so
flamboyant, my passions so professional, that I doubt, as I said at the
outset, whether it is really myself that behaves in such a manner. I
feel merely the core of this dramatic casing, that grows thicker and
presses upon me--me and mine. I feel like King John's abbot in his cope
of lead.

I doubt, indeed, whether I should not abandon the struggle
altogether--leave this sad world of ordinary life for which I am so
ill-fitted, abandon the name of Cummins for some professional pseudonym,
complete my self-effacement, and--a thing of tricks and tatters, of
posing and pretence--go upon the stage. It seems my only resort--"to
hold mirror up to Nature." For in the ordinary life, I will confess, no
one now seems to regard me as both sane and sober. Only upon the stage,
I feel convinced, will people take me seriously. That will be the end of
it. I know that will be the end of it. And yet... I will frankly
confess... all that marks off your actor from your common man... I
detest. I am still largely of my Aunt Charlotte's opinion, that
playacting is unworthy of a pure-minded man's attention, much more
participation. Even now I would resign my dramatic criticism and try a
rest. Only I can't get hold of Barnaby. Letters of resignation he never
notices. He says it is against the etiquette of journalism to write to
your Editor. And when I go to see him, he gives me another big cigar and
some strong whisky and soda, and then something always turns up to
prevent my explanation.




A SLIP UNDER THE MICROSCOPE


Outside the laboratory windows was a watery-grey fog, and within a close
warmth and the yellow light of the green-shaded gas lamps that stood two
to each table down its narrow length. On each table stood a couple of
glass jars containing the mangled vestiges of the crayfish, mussels,
frogs, and guineapigs upon which the students had been working, and down
the side of the room, facing the windows, were shelves bearing bleached
dissections in spirits, surmounted by a row of beautifully executed
anatomical drawings in whitewood frames and overhanging a row of cubical
lockers. All the doors of the laboratory were panelled with blackboard,
and on these were the half-erased diagrams of the previous day's work.
The laboratory was empty, save for the demonstrator, who sat near the
preparation-room door, and silent, save for a low, continuous murmur and
the clicking of the rocker microtome at which he was working. But
scattered about the room were traces of numerous students: hand-bags,
polished boxes of instruments, in one place a large drawing covered by
newspaper, and in another a prettily bound copy of 'News from Nowhere',
a book oddly at variance with its surroundings. These things had been
put down hastily as the students had arrived and hurried at once to
secure their seats in the adjacent lecture theatre. Deadened by the
closed door, the measured accents of the professor sounded as a
featureless muttering.

Presently, faint through the closed windows came the sound of the
Oratory clock striking the hour of eleven. The clicking of the microtome
ceased, and the demonstrator looked at his watch, rose, thrust his hands
into his pockets, and walked slowly down the laboratory towards the
lecture theatre door. He stood listening for a moment, and then his eye
fell on the little volume by William Morris. He picked it up, glanced at
the title, smiled, opened it, looked at the name on the fly-leaf, ran
the leaves through with his hand, and put it down. Almost immediately
the even murmur of the lecturer ceased, there was a sudden burst of
pencils rattling on the desks in the lecture theatre, a stirring, a
scraping of feet, and a number of voices speaking together. Then a firm
footfall approached the door, which began to open, and stood ajar, as
some indistinctly heard question arrested the new-comer.

The demonstrator turned, walked slowly back past the microtome, and left
the laboratory by the preparation-room door. As he did so, first one,
and then several students carrying notebooks entered the laboratory from
the lecture theatre, and distributed themselves among the little tables,
or stood in a group about the doorway. They were an exceptionally
heterogeneous assembly, for while Oxford and Cambridge still recoil from
the blushing prospect of mixed classes, the College of Science
anticipated America in the matter years ago--mixed socially, too, for
the prestige of the College is high, and its scholarships, free of any
age limit, dredge deeper even than do those of the Scotch universities.
The class numbered one-and-twenty, but some remained in the theatre
questioning the professor, copying the blackboard diagrams before they
were washed off, or examining the special specimens he had produced to
illustrate the day's teaching. Of the nine who had come into the