You seem to find something.

But its in all green !

What will you do now?

Or read everything?








    _By_ H. G. WELLS, _Author of “The Invisible Man” “The War of the



                      HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS

                          NEW YORK AND LONDON


                   Copyright, 1897, by EDWARD ARNOLD.

                         _All rights reserved._




                THE STRANGE ORCHID                    1

                ÆPYORNIS ISLAND                      15

                THE PLATTNER STORY                   34

                THE ARGONAUTS OF THE AIR             66

                THE STORY OF THE LATE MR. ELVESHAM   86

                THE STOLEN BACILLUS                 114

                THE RED ROOM                        125

                A MOTH (GENUS UNKNOWN)              140

                IN THE ABYSS                        157

                UNDER THE KNIFE                     183

                THE RECONCILIATION                  205

                A SLIP UNDER THE MICROSCOPE         216

                IN THE AVU OBSERVATORY              247

                THE TRIUMPHS OF A TAXIDERMIST       259

                A DEAL IN OSTRICHES                 266

                THE RAJAH’S TREASURE                274

                THE STORY OF DAVIDSON’S EYES        291

                THE CONE                            307

                THE PURPLE PILEUS                   326

                A CATASTROPHE                       345

                LE MARI TERRIBLE                    359

                THE APPLE                           366


                THE JILTING OF JANE                 393

                THE LOST INHERITANCE                405

                POLLOCK AND THE PORROH MAN          416

                THE SEA RAIDERS                     442

                IN THE MODERN VEIN                  459

                THE LORD OF THE DYNAMOS             476

                THE TREASURE IN THE FOREST          491

                         THIRTY STRANGE STORIES

                           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 colouration 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


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

troublesome, 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.

“There are Vandas,” he said, “and a Dendrobe and some Palæonophis.” He

surveyed his purchases lovingly as he consumed his soup. They were laid

out on the spotless table-cloth 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 some

one 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 Palæonophis—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


“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


“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


“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 aërial rootlets.”

“They look to me like little white fingers poking out of the brown. I

don’t like them,” said his housekeeper.

“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 aërial 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


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 aërial 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


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

_Palæonophis 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 greenhouse, 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 aërial 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 under 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


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 Dr. Haddon at

once,” she said to the odd-job man so soon as he brought the water; and

added, seeing he hesitated, “I will tell you all about it when you come


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 aërial 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 aërial rootlets

still stirred feebly, and hesitated.

The next morning the strange orchid still lay there, black now and

putrescent. The door banged intermittingly 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 story of his

strange adventure.

                            ÆPYORNIS ISLAND

The man with the scarred face leant over the table and looked at my


“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. “Who did

you collect for?”

“Dawsons. 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_ v. _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 Æpyornis?”

“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.

Sinbad’s roc was just a legend of ’em. But when did they find these


“Three or four years ago—’91 I fancy. Why?”

“Why?—Because _I_ found ’em—Lord!—it’s nearly twenty years ago. If

Dawsons 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 Æpyornises really

lived. The missionaries say the natives have legends about when they

were alive, but I never heard any such stories myself.[1] 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 had 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 devil dropping three hours’

work just on account of a centipede. I hit him about rather.”

Footnote 1:

  No European is known to have seen a live Æpyornis, with the doubtful

  exception of MacAndrew, 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’d 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 heathen—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. 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

sunset, and just this black canoe drifting steadily out to sea. I tell

you I damned Dawsons and Jamrachs 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 swam

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 doornail 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 one 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


“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 look-out 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

Æpyornis 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

yolk, and with streaks of blood and a white mark like a ladder in it

that I thought queer, but I didn’t 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 Æpyornis 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. 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 holloaed 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

fanciful, I should have had to eat him after all.

“You’d be surprised what an interesting bird that Æpyornis 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 ÆPYORNIS 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 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 ever I 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. 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 sledge-hammer 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’s 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. 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


“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 Æpyornis—what was it?”

“_Æpyornis vastus_,” said I. “It’s funny, the very thing was mentioned

to me by a friend of mine. When they found an Æpyornis with a thigh a

yard long they thought they had reached the top of the scale and called

him _Æpyornis maximus_. Then some one turned up another thigh bone four

feet six or more, and that they called _Æpyornis 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 Æpyornises, 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 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


Gottfried Plattner is, in spite of his name, a freeborn 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. The 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,


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


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.


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 realised 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


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


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 anæsthetics. 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


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 typewritten copy, so that its substantial correctness is


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


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 strange-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 consumed 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


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

scaffoldings 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 a 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 the 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


“Is it?” said Woodhouse.

“It’s the alterations play the devil with us,” said Monson, biting a


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


“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


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


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.”


“And I was thinking perhaps—”

“Don’t think,” said Woodhouse, still admiring the drawings.

Hooper knew Woodhouse, and he 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 him 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, Malden, 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 anthill 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


“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 this 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 had 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 the 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

playingcard 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 aërial 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 bomb-shells and guns, is the easy dreaming of a literary man. In

lives and in treasure the cost of the conquest of the empire of the 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 the 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 Hazlemere, 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 a 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 drooping 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

half-way 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

platform full of people. Monson flung up the vans against the air, and

over Fulham they rushed up their atmospheric switchback again,

steeply—too steeply. The ’busses 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 aërial 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 the 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 anthill, 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.


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 Blavitski’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 questions, 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


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 Dr. 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 there. I was disconcerted at first by the well-dressed

waiters’ 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 daresay 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 passing 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


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 a great 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 dipped 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 glass still, 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


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 probably 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


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

whimpered 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


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

every one. 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 every one about me. And in London 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. Without further

comment I leave this extraordinary matter to the reader’s individual


                          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


“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


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


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


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?”


“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


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’ loonattic.

Blowed if there ain’t.”

“It’s old George,” said Old Tootles, “and he’s drivin’ a loonattic, _as_

you say. Ain’t he a-clawin’ out of the keb? Wonder if he’s after ’Arry


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


“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 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 eyes 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 to-night, 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 arm-chair 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 awhile.

“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 half-way 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


“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


(“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 some one 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 a 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 light 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


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 mantel-shelf, 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 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 reassuring 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 there.

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 a 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

mantel-shelf 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 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


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 stormcloud sweeping out 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 staved 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


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

rolled my eyes into 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


“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


“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


                                 A MOTH

                            (GENUS UNKNOWN)

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_ 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

Encyclopædia. That fantastic extension of the Cephalopods to cover the

Pterpodos—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.[2]

Pawkins, in his “Rejoinder,”[3] suggested that Hapley’s microscope was

as defective as his powers of observation, and called him an

“irresponsible meddler”—Hapley was not a professor at that time. Hapley,

in his retort,[4] spoke of “blundering collectors,” and described, as if

inadvertently, Pawkins’s 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, overconscientious 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.

Footnote 2:

  “Remarks on a Recent Revision of Microlepidoptera.” _Quart. Journ.

  Entomological Soc._ 1863.

Footnote 3:

  “Rejoinder to certain Remarks,” &c. _Ibid._ 1864.

Footnote 4:

  “Further Remarks,” &c. _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 had 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


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 the

influenza, to proceed to pneumonia, and to 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.[5] He was only dimly conscious of the brass

side of the instrument, the illuminated part of the table-cloth, a sheet

of notepaper, the foot of the lamp, and the darkened room beyond.

Footnote 5:

  The reader unaccustomed to microscopes may easily understand this by

  rolling a newspaper in the form of a tube and looking through it at a

  book, keeping the other eye open.

Suddenly his attention drifted from one eye to the other. The

table-cloth 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

table-cloth. Stranger far to him, Hapley, the great entomologist, it was

altogether unknown. There was no delusion. It was crawling slowly

towards the foot of the lamp.

“_Genus unknown_, 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


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 night-cap 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 to talk to her 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


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 dreamlike, but perfectly clear and

solid-looking in the candlelight. He saw the hairy body, and the short,

feathery antennæ, 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


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 half-way 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—returned once more. He went on, leaping and

striking at the eddying insect. Suddenly he trod on nothing, and fell


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 behoved 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 night-light, on the green

table-cloth. 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 half-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.

                              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 asked.

“It’s an idea,” said Steevens, in the tone of one who keeps an open


“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 globe of steel, having an exterior

diameter of perhaps eight 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 a 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 Myer’s 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. Daubrée 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 behind them, 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 twenty 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,


“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


“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 and 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


“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 a 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. “Aye, aye, 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. Some one

waved a handkerchief, some one else tried an ineffectual cheer, a middy

was counting slowly: “Eight, nine, ten!” Another roll, then with 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 idee?” 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 every one

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


“How long does it take to reach the bottom of the ocean?” asked


“For a depth of five miles, and reckoning—as we did—an acceleration to

two foot per second, both ways, is just about three-quarters of a


“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’s watch-case 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 Myer’s

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,

travelling 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 india-rubber 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 up 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 glow 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 the

people on the ship’s rail. He couldn’t tell a bit which way the thing

would roll next. Suddenly he would find his feet 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


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 a 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

leave 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 thought 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 was 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 very 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 lighted 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 indeed 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 sunbeam. This was probably due to the

clouds of ooze and mud that the impact of his leaden sinkers had


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

brain-case 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 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 manlike 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

broken the wire 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 the 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


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 inclosures 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, were 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 curious 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.

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.

They continued worshipping him, without rest or intermission, for the

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 the 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 forms, 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 weighed 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


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 2d, 1896, he made his second

descent into the ocean abyss, with the improvements his first experience

suggested. What happened we shall probably never know. 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 any further attempt will be made

to verify his strange story of these hitherto unsuspected cities of the

deep sea.

                            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 the 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 and the

faintest 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 tenderness 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 a

butcher-boy’s tray. I found that I was crossing the bridge over the

Regent’s Park Canal which runs parallel with the bridge in the

Zoölogical 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 belief 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 nurse-maid, 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 tattered 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. “Wike 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. The

doctors were coming at eleven, and I did not get up. It seemed scarce

worth while to trouble about washing and dressing, 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 black 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 anæsthetic.

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 now) 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 every one 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 _séance_, 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 upward rush 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 any one has ever seen from the face of the earth.

For the blueness of the sky is 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 their light by day 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, 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 earthly 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-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


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 great; 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 shrunk,

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 Polestar 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 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 a world of 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 haze. 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 of 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

luminous haze, until that part of the sky had the semblance of a

whirling mass of nebulæ, 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 the black 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. Even 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 the 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 forever, 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.

Then, suddenly, 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


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 other 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 RECONCILIATION

Temple had scarcely been with Findlay five minutes before he felt his

old resentments, and the memory of that unforgettable wrong growing

vivid again. But with the infatuation of his good resolution still upon

him, he maintained the air of sham reconciliation that Findlay had

welcomed so eagerly. They talked of this and that, carefully avoiding

the matter of the separation. Temple at first spoke chiefly of his

travels. He stood between the cabinet of minerals and the fireplace, his

whiskey on the mantel-board, while Findlay sat with his chair pushed

back from his writing-desk, on which were scattered the dozen little

skulls of hedgehogs and shrew mice upon which he had been working.

Temple’s eye fell upon them, and abruptly brought his mind round from

the topic of West Africa. “And you—” said Temple. “While I have been

wandering I suppose you have been going on steadily.”

“Drumming along,” said Findlay.

“To the Royal Society and fame and all the things we used to dream

about—How long is it?”

“Five years—since our student days.”

Temple glanced round the room, and his eye rested for a moment on a

round greyish-drab object that lay in the corner near the door. “The

same fat books and folios, only more of them, the same smell of old

bones, and a dissection—is it the same one?—in the window. Fame is

_your_ mistress?”

“Fame,” said Findlay. “But it’s hardly fame. The herd outside say,

‘Eminence in comparative anatomy.’”

“Eminence in comparative anatomy. No marrying—no avarice.”

“None,” said Findlay, glancing askance at him.

“I suppose it’s the happiest way of living. But it wouldn’t be the thing

for me. Excitement—but, I say!”—his eye had fallen again on that fungoid

shape of drabbish-grey—“there’s a limit to scientific inhumanity. You

really mustn’t keep your door open with a human brainpan.”

He went across the room as he spoke and picked the thing up. “Brainpan!”

said Findlay. “Oh, _that_! Man alive, that’s not a brainpan. Where’s

your science?”

“No. I see it’s not,” said Temple, carrying the object in his hand as he

came back to his former position and scrutinising it curiously. “But

what the devil is it?”

“Don’t you know?” said Findlay.

The thing was about thrice the size of a man’s hand, like a rough

watch-pocket of thick bone.

Findlay laughed almost naturally. “You have a bad memory—It’s a whale’s


“Of course,” said Temple, his appearance of interest vanishing. “The

_bulla_ of a whale. I’ve forgotten a lot of these things.”

He half turned, and put the thing on the top of the cabinet beside

Findlay’s dumb-bells.

“If you are serious in your music-hall proposal,” he said, reverting to

a jovial suggestion of Findlay’s, “I am at your service. I’m afraid—I

may find myself a little old for that sort of thing—I haven’t tried one

for ages.”

“But we are meeting to commemorate youth,” said Findlay.

“And bury our early manhood,” said Temple. “Well, well—yes, let us go to

the music hall, by all means, if you desire it. It is trivial—and

appropriate. We want no tragic issues.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

When the men returned to Findlay’s study the little clock in the dimness

on the mantel-shelf was pointing to half-past one. After the departure

the little brown room, with its books and bones, was undisturbed, save

for the two visits Findlay’s attentive servant paid, to see to the fire

and to pull down the blinds and draw the curtains. The ticking of the

clock was the only sound in the quiet. Now and then the fire flickered

and stirred, sending blood-red reflections chasing the shadows across

the ceiling, and bringing into ghostly transitory prominence some

grotesque grouping of animals’ bones or skulls upon the shelves. At last

the stillness was broken by the unlatching and slamming of the heavy

street door and the sound of unsteady footsteps approaching along the

passage. Then the door opened, and the two men came into the warm


Temple came in first, his brown face flushed with drink, his coat

unbuttoned, his hands deep in his trousers’ pockets. His Christmas

resolution had long since dissolved in alcohol. He was a little puzzled

to find himself in Findlay’s company. And his fuddled brain insisted

upon inopportune reminiscence. He walked straight to the fire and stood

before it, an exaggerated black figure, staring down into the red glow.

“After all,” he said, “we are fools to quarrel—fools to quarrel about a

little thing like that. Damned fools!”

Findlay went to the writing-table and felt about for the matches with

quivering hands.

“It wasn’t my doing,” he said.

“It wasn’t your doing,” said Temple. “Nothing ever was your doing. You

are always in the right—Findlay the all-right.”

Findlay’s attention was concentrated upon the lamp. His hand was

unsteady, and he had some difficulty in turning up the wicks; one got

jammed down and the other flared furiously. When at last it was lit and

turned up, he came up to Temple. “Take your coat off, old man, and have

some more whiskey,” he said. “That was a ripping little girl in the

skirt dance.”

“Fools to quarrel,” said Temple, slowly, and then woke up to Findlay’s

words. “Heigh?”

“Take off your coat and sit down,” said Findlay, moving up the little

metal table and producing cigars and a syphon and whiskey. “That lamp

gives an infernally bad light, but it is all I have. Something wrong

with the oil. Did you notice the drudge of that stone-smashing trick?”

Temple remained erect and gloomy, staring into the fire. “Fools to

quarrel,” he said. Findlay was now half drunk, and his finesse began to

leave him. Temple had been drinking heavily, and was now in a curious

rambling stage. And Findlay’s one idea now was to close this curious


“There’s no woman worth a man’s friendship,” said Temple, abruptly.

He sat down in an easy chair, poured out and drank a dose of whiskey and

lithia. The idea of friendship took possession of him, and he became

reminiscent of student days and student adventures. For some time it

was, “Do you remember” this, and “Do you remember” that. And Findlay

grew cheerful again.

“They were glorious times,” said Findlay, pouring whiskey into Temple’s


Then Temple startled him by abruptly reverting to that bitter quarrel.

“No woman in the world,” he said. “Curse them!”

He began to laugh stupidly. “After all—” he said, “in the end.”

“Oh, damn!” said Findlay.

“All very well for you to swear,” said Temple, “but you forget about me.

’Tain’t your place to swear. If only you’d left things alone—”

“I thought the pass-word was forget,” said Findlay.

Temple stared into the fire for a space, “Forget,” he said, and then

with a curious return to a clarity of speech, “Findlay, I’m getting


“Nonsense, man, take some more.”

Temple rose out of his chair with the look of one awakening. “There’s no

reason why I should get drunk, because—”

“Drink,” said Findlay, “and forget it.”

“Faugh! I want to stick my head in water. I want to think. What the

deuce am I doing here, with _you_ of all people.”

“Nonsense! _Talk_ and forget it, if you won’t drink. Do you remember old

Jason and the boxing-gloves? I wonder whether you could put up your

fives now.”

Temple stood with his back to the fire, his brain spinning with drink,

and the old hatred of Findlay came back in flood. He sought in his mind

for some offensive thing to say, and his face grew dark. Findlay saw

that a crisis was upon him and he cursed under his breath. His air of

conviviality, his pose of hearty comforter, grew more and more

difficult. But what else was there to do?

“Old Jason—full of science and as slow as an elephant!—but he made

boxers of us. Do you remember our little set-to—at that place in Gower


To show his innocent liveliness, his freedom from preoccupation, Findlay

pushed his chair aside, and stepped out into the middle of the room.

There he began to pose in imitation of Jason, and to give a colourable

travesty of the old prize-fighter’s instructions. He picked up his

boxing-gloves from the shelf in the recess, and slipped them on. Temple,

lowering there, on the brink of an explosion, was almost too much for

his nerves. He felt his display of high spirits was a mistake, but he

must go through with it now.

“Don’t stand glooming there, man. You’re in just that state when the

world looks black as ink. Drink yourself merry again. There’s no woman

in the world worth a man’s friendship—that’s agreed upon. Come and have

a bout with these gloves of mine—four-ounce gloves. There’s nothing sets

the blood and spirits stirring like that.”

“All right,” said Temple, quite mechanically. And then, waking up to

what he was doing, “Where are the other gloves?”

“Over there in the corner. On the top of the mineral cabinet. By Jove!

Temple, this is like old times!”

Temple, quivering strangely, went to the corner. He meant to thrash

Findlay, and knew that in spite of his lighter weight he would do it.

Yet it seemed puerile and inadequate to the pitch of absurdity for the

wrong Findlay had done him was great. And, putting his hand on something

pale in the shadow, he touched the _bulla_ of the whale. The temptation

was like a lightning flash. He slipped one glove on his left hand, and

thrust the fingers of his right into the cavity of the _bulla_. It took

all his fingers, and covered his knuckles and all the back of his hand.

And it was so oddly like a thumbless boxing-glove! Just the very shape

of the padded part. His spirits rose abruptly at the sudden prospect of

a savage joke,—how savage it could be, he did not know. Meanwhile

Findlay, with a nervous alacrity, moved the lamp into the corner behind

the armchair, and thrust his writing-desk into the window bay.

“Come on,” said Findlay, behind him, and abruptly he turned.

Findlay looked straight into his eyes, on guard, his hands half open. He

did not see the strange substitute for a glove that covered Temple’s

right hand. Both men were gone so far towards drunkenness that their

power of observation was obscured. For a moment they stood squaring at

one another, the host smiling, and his guest smiling also, but with his

teeth set; two dark figures swaying in the firelight and the dim

lamplight. Then Findlay struck at his opponent’s face with his left

hand. As he did so Temple ducked slightly to the left, and struck

savagely over Findlay’s shoulder at his temple with the bone-covered

fist. The blow was given with such tremendous force that it sent Findlay

reeling sideways, half stunned, and overcome with astonishment. The

thing struck his ear, and the side of his face went white at the blow.

He struggled to keep his footing, and as he did so Temple’s gloved right

hand took him in the chest and sent him spinning to the foot of the

cigar cabinet.

Findlay’s eyes were wide open with astonishment. Temple was a lighter

man by a stone or more than himself, and he did not understand how he

had been felled. He was not stunned, although he was so dulled by the

blow as not to notice the blood running down his cheek from his ear. He

laughed insincerely, and, almost pulling the cigar cabinet over,

scrambled to his feet, made as if he would speak, and put up his hand

instinctively as Temple struck out at him again, a feint with the left

hand. Findlay was an expert boxer, and, anticipating another right-hand

blow over the ear, struck sharply at once with his own left hand in

Temple’s face, throwing his full weight into the blow, and dodging

Temple’s reply.

Temple’s upper lip was cut against his teeth, and the taste of blood and

the sight of it trickling down Findlay’s cheek destroyed the last

vestiges of restraint that drink had left him, stripped off all that

education had ever done for him. There remained now only the savage

man-animal, the creature that thirsts for blood. With a half bestial

cry, he flung himself upon Findlay as he jumped back, and with a sudden

sweep of his right arm cut down the defence, breaking Findlay’s arm just

above the wrist, and following with three rapid blows of the _bulla_

upon the face. Findlay gave an inarticulate cry of astonishment,

countered weakly once, and then went down like a felled ox. As he fell,

Temple fell kneeling upon the top of him. There was a smash as the lamp

went reeling.

The lamp was extinguished as it fell, and left the room red and black.

Findlay struck heavily at Temple’s ribs, and Temple, with his left elbow

at Findlay’s neck, swung up his right arm and struck down a

sledge-hammer blow upon the face, and again and yet again, until the

body beneath his knees had ceased to writhe.

Then suddenly his frenzy left him at the voice of a woman shrieking so

that it filled the room. He looked up and crouched motionless as he

heard and saw the study door closing and heard the patter of feet

retreating in panic. Then he looked down and saw the thing that had once

been the face of Findlay. For an awful minute he remained kneeling


Then he staggered to his feet and stood over Findlay’s body in the glow

of the dying fire, like a man awakening from a nightmare. Suddenly he

perceived the _bulla_ on his hand, covered with blood and hair, and

began to understand what had happened. In a sudden horror he flung the

diabolical thing from him. It struck the floor near the cigar cabinet,

rolled for a yard or so on its edge, and came to rest in almost the

position it had occupied when he had first set eyes on it. To Temple’s

excited imagination it seemed to be lying at exactly the same spot, the

sole and sufficient cause of Findlay’s death and his own.

                      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 guinea-pigs, upon which the students had been working, and

down the side of the room, facing the windows, were shelves bearing

bleached dissections in spirit, surmounted by a row of beautifully

executed anatomical drawings in white wood 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 note-books, 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 laboratory, three were girls, one of whom, a little fair woman

wearing spectacles and dressed in greyish green, was peering out of the

window at the fog, while the other two, both wholesome-looking,

plain-faced school-girls, unrolled and put on the brown holland aprons

they wore while dissecting. Of the men, two went down the laboratory and

sat down in their places, one a pallid, dark-bearded man who had once

been a tailor, the other a pleasant-featured, ruddy young man of twenty,

dressed in a well-fitting brown suit, young Wedderburn, the son of

Wedderburn the eye-specialist. The others formed a little knot near the

theatre door. One of these, a dwarfed, spectacled figure with a hunch

back, sat on a bent wood stool, two others, one a short, dark youngster,

and the other a flaxen-haired, reddish-complexioned young man, stood

leaning side by side against the slate sink, while the fourth stood

facing them and maintained the larger share of the conversation.

This last person was named Hill. He was a sturdily built young fellow of

the same age as Wedderburn, he had a white face, dark grey eyes, hair of

an indeterminate colour, and prominent, irregular features. He talked

rather louder than was needful, and thrust his hands deeply into his

pockets. His collar was frayed and blue with the starch of a careless

laundress, his clothes were evidently ready-made, and there was a patch

on the side of his boot near the toe. And as he talked or listened to

the others, he glanced now and again towards the lecture-theatre door.

They were discussing the depressing peroration of the lecture they had

just heard, the last lecture it was in the introductory course in

Zoölogy. “From ovum to ovum is the goal of the higher vertebrata,” the

lecturer had said in his melancholy tones, and so had neatly rounded off

the sketch of comparative anatomy he had been developing. The spectacled

hunchback had repeated it, with noisy appreciation, had tossed it

towards the fair-haired student with an evident provocation, and had

started one of those vague, rambling discussions on generalities so

unaccountably dear to the student mind all the world over.

“That is our goal, perhaps,—I admit it,—as far as science goes,” said

the fair-haired student, rising to the challenge. “But there are things

above science.”

“Science,” said Hill, confidently, “is systematic knowledge. Ideas that

don’t come into the system must anyhow—be loose ideas.” He was not quite

sure whether that was a clever saying or a fatuity, until his hearers

took it seriously.

“The thing I cannot understand,” said the hunchback, at large, “is

whether Hill is a materialist or not.”

“There is one thing above matter,” said Hill, promptly, feeling he had a

better thing this time, aware too of some one in the doorway behind him,

and raising his voice a trifle for her benefit, “and that is—the

delusion that there is something above matter.”

“So we have your gospel at last,” said the fair-haired student. “It’s

all a delusion, is it? All our aspirations to lead something more than

dogs’ lives, all our work for anything beyond ourselves. But see how

inconsistent you are! Your socialism, for instance. Why do you trouble

about the interests of the race? Why do you concern yourself about the

beggar in the gutter? Why are you bothering yourself to lend that

book”—he indicated William Morris by a movement of the head—“to every

one in the lab?”

“Girl,” said the hunchback, indistinctly, and glanced guiltily over his


The girl in brown, with the brown eyes, had come into the laboratory,

and stood on the other side of the table behind him with her rolled-up

apron in one hand, looking over her shoulder, listening to the

discussion. She did not notice the hunchback, because she was glancing

from Hill to his interlocutor. Hill’s consciousness of her presence

betrayed itself to her only in his studious ignorance of the fact; but

she understood that and it pleased her. “I see no reason,” said he, “why

a man should live like a brute because he knows of nothing beyond

matter, and does not expect to exist a hundred years hence.”

“Why shouldn’t he?” said the fair-haired student.

“Why _should_ he?” said Hill.

“What inducement has he?”

“That’s the way with all you religious people. It’s all a business of

inducements. Cannot a man seek after righteousness for righteousness’


There was a pause. The fair man answered with a kind of vocal padding,

“But—you see—inducement—when I said inducement—” to gain time. And then

the hunchback came to his rescue and inserted a question. He was a

terrible person in the debating society with his questions, and they

invariably took one form,—a demand for a definition. “What’s your

definition of righteousness?” said the hunchback, at this stage.

Hill experienced a sudden loss of complacency at this question, but even

as it was asked, relief came in the person of Brooks, the laboratory

attendant, who entered by the preparation-room door, carrying a number

of freshly-killed guinea-pigs by their hind-legs. “This is the last

batch of material this session,” said the youngster who had not

previously spoken. Brooks advanced up the laboratory, smacking down a

couple of guinea-pigs at each table, and the discussion perished

abruptly as the students who were not already in their places hurried to

them to secure the choice of a specimen. There was a noise of keys

rattling on split rings as lockers were opened, and dissecting

instruments taken out. Hill was already standing by his table, and his

box of scalpels was sticking out of his pocket. The girl in brown came a

step towards him, and leaning over his table, said softly, “Did you see

that I returned your book, Mr. Hill?”

During the whole scene, she and the book had been vividly present in his

consciousness, but he made a clumsy pretence of looking at the book and

seeing it for the first time. “Oh, yes,” he said, taking it up. “I see.

Did you like it?”

“I want to ask you some questions about it—sometime.”

“Certainly,” said Hill. “I shall be glad.” He stopped awkwardly. “You

liked it?” he said.

“It’s a wonderful book. Only some things I don’t understand.”

Then suddenly the laboratory was hushed by a curious braying noise. It

was the demonstrator. He was at the blackboard ready to begin the day’s

instruction, and it was his custom to demand silence by a sound midway

between the “Er” of common intercourse, and the blast of a trumpet. The

girl in brown slipped back to her place, it was immediately in front of

Hill’s, and Hill, forgetting her forthwith, took a note-book out of the

drawer of his table, turned over its leaves hastily, drew a stumpy

pencil from his pocket, and prepared to make a copious note of the

coming demonstration. For demonstrations and lectures are the sacred

text of the College students. Books, saving only the professor’s own,

you may—it is even expedient to—ignore.

Hill was the son of a Landport cobbler, and had been hooked by a chance

blue paper the authorities had thrown out to the Landport Technical

College. He kept himself in London on his allowance of a guinea a week,

and found that with proper care this also covered his clothing

allowance, an occasional waterproof collar, that is, and ink and needles

and cotton and such-like necessaries for a man about town. This was his

first year and his first session, but the brown old man in Landport had

already got himself detested in many public-houses by boasting of his

son “the professor.” Hill was a vigorous youngster, with a serene

contempt for the clergy of all denominations, and a fine ambition to

reconstruct the world. He regarded his scholarship as a brilliant

opportunity. He had begun to read at seven, and had read steadily

whatever came in his way, good or bad, since then. His worldly

experience had been limited to the Island of Portsea, and acquired

chiefly in the wholesale boot factory in which he had worked by day,

after passing the seventh standard of the Board School. He had a

considerable gift of speech, as the College Debating Society, which met

amidst the crushing machines and mine models in the Metallurgical

Theatre downstairs, already recognised, recognised by a violent

battering of desks whenever he rose. And he was just at that fine

emotional age when life opens at the end of a narrow pass, like a broad

valley at one’s feet, full of the promise of wonderful discoveries and

tremendous achievements. And his own limitations, save that he knew that

he knew neither Latin or French, were all unknown to him.

At first his interest had been divided pretty equally between his

biological work at the College and social and theological theorising, an

employment which he took in deadly earnest. Of a night, when the big

museum library was not open, he would sit on the bed of his room in

Chelsea with his coat and a muffler on, and write out the lecture notes

and revise his dissection memoranda until Thorpe called him out by a

whistle,—the landlady objected to open the door to attic visitors,—and

then the two would go prowling about the shadowy, shiny, gas-lit

streets, talking, very much in the fashion of the sample just given, of

the God Idea and Righteousness and Carlyle and the Reorganisation of

Society. And in the midst of it all, Hill, arguing not only for Thorpe

but for the casual passer-by, would lose the thread of his argument,

glancing at some pretty, painted face that looked meaningly at him as he

passed. Science and Righteousness! But once or twice lately there had

been signs that a third interest was creeping into his life, and he had

found his attention wandering from the fate of the mesoblastic somites

or the probable meaning of the blastopore, to the thought of the girl

with the brown eyes who sat at the table before him.

She was a paying student; she descended inconceivable social altitudes

to speak to him. At the thought of the education she must have had and

the accomplishments she must possess, the soul of Hill became abject

within him. She had spoken to him first over a difficulty about the

alisphenoid of a rabbit’s skull, and he had found that, in biology at

least, he had no reason for self-abasement. And from that, after the

manner of young people starting from any starting-point, they got to

generalities, and while Hill attacked her upon the question of

socialism,—some instinct told him to spare her a direct assault upon her

religion,—she was gathering resolution to undertake what she told

herself was his æsthetic education. She was a year or two older than he,

though the thought never occurred to him. The loan of “News from

Nowhere” was the beginning of a series of cross loans. Upon some absurd

first principle of his, Hill had never “wasted time” upon poetry, and it

seemed an appalling deficiency to her. One day in the lunch hour, when

she chanced upon him alone in the little museum where the skeletons were

arranged, shamefully eating the bun that constituted his midday meal,

she retreated and returned, to lend him, with a slightly furtive air, a

volume of Browning. He stood sideways towards her and took the book

rather clumsily, because he was holding the bun in the other hand. And

in the retrospect his voice lacked the cheerful clearness he could have


That occurred after the examination in comparative anatomy, on the day

before the College turned out its students and was carefully locked up

by the officials, for the Christmas holidays. The excitement of cramming

for the first trial of strength had for a little while dominated Hill to

the exclusion of his other interests. In the forecasts of the result in

which every one indulged, he was surprised to find that no one regarded

him as a possible competitor for the Harvey Commemoration Medal, of

which this and the two subsequent examinations disposed. It was about

this time that Wedderburn, who so far had lived inconspicuously on the

uttermost margin of Hill’s perceptions, began to take on the appearance

of an obstacle. By a mutual agreement the nocturnal prowlings with

Thorpe ceased for the three weeks before the examination, and his

landlady pointed out that she really could not supply so much lamp-oil

at the price. He walked to and fro from the College with little slips of

mnemonics in his hand, lists of crayfish appendages, rabbits’

skull-bones, and vertebrate nerves, for example, and became a positive

nuisance to foot-passengers in the opposite direction.

But by a natural reaction Poetry and the girl with the brown eyes ruled

the Christmas holiday. The pending results of the examination became

such a secondary consideration that Hill marvelled at his father’s

excitement. Even had he wished it, there was no comparative anatomy to

read in Landport, and he was too poor to buy books, but the stock of

poets in the library was extensive and Hill’s attack was magnificently

sustained. He saturated himself with the fluent numbers of Longfellow

and Tennyson, and fortified himself with Shakespeare, found a kindred

soul in Pope and a master in Shelley, and heard and fled the siren

voices of Eliza Cook and Mrs. Hemans. But he read no more Browning,

because he hoped for the loan of other volumes from Miss Haysman when he

returned to London.

He walked from his lodgings to the College with that volume of Browning

in his shiny black bag, and his mind teeming with the finest general

propositions about poetry. Indeed he framed first this little speech and

then that with which to grace the return. The morning was an

exceptionally pleasant one for London, there was a clear, hard frost and

undeniable blue in the sky, a thin haze softened every outline, and warm

shafts of sunlight struck between the houseblocks and turned the sunny

side of the street to amber and gold. In the hall of the College he

pulled off his glove and signed his name with fingers so stiff with cold

that the characteristic dash under the signature he cultivated became a

quivering line. He imagined Miss Haysman about him everywhere. He turned

at the staircase, and there, below, he saw a crowd struggling at the

foot of the notice board. This, possibly, was the biology list. He

forgot Browning and Miss Haysman for the moment, and joined the

scrimmage. And at last with his cheek flattened against the sleeve of

the man on the step above him, he read the list:

                              “_Class I._

                        H. J. SOMERS WEDDERBURN.

                        WILLIAM HILL.”

And thereafter followed a second class that is outside our present

sympathies. It was characteristic that he did not trouble to look for

Thorpe on the Physics list, but backed out of the struggle at once, and

in a curious emotional state between pride over common second-class

humanity and acute disappointment at Wedderburn’s success, went on his

way upstairs. At the top, as he was hanging up his coat in the passage,

the zoölogical demonstrator, a young man from Oxford, who secretly

regarded him as a blatant “mugger” of the very worst type, offered his

heartiest congratulations.

At the laboratory door Hill stopped for a second to get his breath, and

then entered. He looked straight up the laboratory and saw all five girl

students grouped in their places, and Wedderburn, the once retiring

Wedderburn, leaning rather gracefully against the window, playing with

the blind tassel and talking, apparently, to the five of them. Now Hill

could talk bravely enough and even overbearingly to one girl, and he

could have made a speech to a roomful of girls, but this business of

standing at ease and appreciating, fencing, and returning quick remarks

round a group, was, he knew, altogether beyond him. Coming up the

staircase his feelings for Wedderburn had been generous, a certain

admiration perhaps, a willingness to shake his hand conspicuously and

heartily as one who had fought but the first round. But before Christmas

Wedderburn had never gone up to that end of the room to talk. In a flash

Hill’s mist of vague excitement condensed abruptly to a vivid dislike of

Wedderburn. Possibly his expression changed. As he came up to his place

Wedderburn nodded carelessly to him, and the others glanced round. Miss

Haysman looked at him and away again, the faintest touch of her eyes. “I

can’t agree with you, Mr. Wedderburn,” she said.

“I must congratulate you on your first class, Mr. Hill,” said the

spectacled girl in green, turning round and beaming at him.

“It’s nothing,” said Hill, staring at Wedderburn and Miss Haysman

talking together, and eager to hear what they talked about.

“We poor folks in the second class don’t think so,” said the girl in


What was it Wedderburn was saying? Something about William Morris! Hill

did not answer the girl in spectacles, and the smile died out of his

face. He could not hear and failed to see how he could “cut in.”

Confound Wedderburn! He sat down, opened his bag, hesitated whether to

return the volume of Browning forthwith, in the sight of all, and

instead drew out his new note-books for the short course in elementary

botany that was now beginning, and which would terminate in February. As

he did so a fat heavy man with a white face and pale grey eyes, Bindon,

the professor of Botany who came up from Kew for January and February,

came in by the lecture-theatre door and passed, rubbing his hands

together and smiling in silent affability, down the laboratory.

In the subsequent six weeks Hill experienced some very rapid and

curiously complex emotional developments. For the most part he had

Wedderburn in focus—a fact that Miss Haysman never suspected. She told

Hill (for in the comparative privacy of the museum she talked a good

deal to him of socialism and Browning and general propositions) that she

had met Wedderburn at the house of some people she knew, and “He’s

inherited his cleverness; for his father, you know, is the great


“_My_ father is a cobbler,” said Hill, quite irrelevantly, and perceived

the want of dignity even as he said it. But the gleam of jealousy did

not offend her. She conceived herself the fundamental source of it. He

suffered bitterly from a sense of Wedderburn’s unfairness and a

realisation of his own handicap. Here was this Wedderburn had picked up

a prominent man for a father, and instead of his losing so many marks on

the score of that advantage, it was counted to him for righteousness!

And while Hill had to introduce himself and talk to Miss Haysman

clumsily over mangled guinea-pigs in the laboratory, this Wedderburn, in

some backstairs way, had access to her social altitudes, and could

converse in a polished argot that Hill understood perhaps, but felt

incapable of speaking. Not of course that he wanted to. Then it seemed

to Hill that for Wedderburn to come there day after day with cuffs

unfrayed, neatly tailored, precisely barbered, quietly perfect, was in

itself an ill-bred, sneering sort of proceeding. Moreover, it was a

stealthy thing for Wedderburn to behave insignificantly for a space, to

mock modesty, to lead Hill to fancy that he himself was beyond dispute

the man of the year, and then suddenly to dart in front of him, and

incontinently to swell up in this fashion. In addition to these things

Wedderburn displayed an increasing disposition to join in any

conversational grouping that included Miss Haysman, and would venture,

and indeed seek occasion to pass opinions derogatory to Socialism and

Atheism. He goaded Hill to incivilities by neat, shallow, and

exceedingly effective personalities about the socialist leaders, until

Hill hated Bernard Shaw’s graceful egotisms, William Morris’s limited

editions and luxurious wall-papers, and Walter Crane’s charmingly absurd

ideal working-men, about as much as he hated Wedderburn. The

dissertations in the laboratory that had been his glory in the previous

term, became a danger, degenerated into inglorious tussles with

Wedderburn, and Hill kept to them only out of an obscure perception that

his honour was involved. In the Debating Society Hill knew quite clearly

that, to a thunderous accompaniment of banged desks, he could have

pulverised Wedderburn. Only Wedderburn never attended the Debating

Society to be pulverised, because—nauseous affectation!—he “dined late.”

You must not imagine that these things presented themselves in quite

such a crude form to Hill’s perception. Hill was a born generaliser.

Wedderburn to him was not so much an individual obstacle as a type, the

salient angle of a class. The economic theories that, after infinite

ferment, had shaped themselves in Hill’s mind, became abruptly concrete

at the contact. The world became full of easy-mannered, graceful,

gracefully dressed, conversationally dexterous, finally shallow

Wedderburns, Bishops Wedderburn, Wedderburns, M.P., Professors

Wedderburn, Wedderburn landlords, all with finger-bowl shibboleths and

epigrammatic cities of refuge from a sturdy debater. And every one ill

clothed or ill dressed, from the cobbler to the cab runner, was a man

and a brother, a fellow-sufferer, to Hill’s imagination. So that he

became, as it were, a champion of the fallen and oppressed, albeit to

outward seeming only a self-assertive, ill-mannered young man, and an

unsuccessful champion at that. Again and again, a skirmish over the

afternoon tea that the girl-students had inaugurated, left Hill with

flushed cheeks and a tattered temper, and the Debating Society noticed a

new quality of sarcastic bitterness in his speeches.

You will understand now how it was necessary, if only in the interests

of humanity, that Hill should demolish Wedderburn in the forthcoming

examination and outshine him in the eyes of Miss Haysman, and you will

perceive, too, how Miss Haysman fell into some common feminine

misconceptions. The Hill-Wedderburn quarrel, for in his unostentatious

way Wedderburn reciprocated Hill’s ill-veiled rivalry, became a tribute

to her indefinable charm. She was the Queen of Beauty in a tournament of

scalpels and stumpy pencils. To her confidential friend’s secret

annoyance, it even troubled her conscience, for she was a good girl, and

painfully aware, from Ruskin and contemporary fiction, how entirely

men’s activities are determined by women’s attitudes. And if Hill never

by any chance mentioned the topic of love to her, she only credited him

with the finer modesty for that omission.

So the time came on for the second examination, and Hill’s increasing

pallor confirmed the general rumour that he was working hard. In the

Aërated Bread Shop near South Kensington Station you would see him,

breaking his bun and sipping his milk, with his eyes intent upon a paper

of closely written notes. In his bedroom there were propositions about

buds and stems round his looking-glass, a diagram to catch his eye, if

soap should chance to spare it, above his washing-basin. He missed

several meetings of the Debating Society, but he found the chance

encounters with Miss Haysman in the spacious ways of the adjacent Art

Museum, or in the little Museum at the top of the College, or in the

College corridors, more frequent and very restful. In particular they

used to meet in a little gallery full of wrought-iron chests and gates,

near the Art Library, and there Hill used to talk, under the gentle

stimulus of her flattering attention, of Browning and his personal

ambitions. A characteristic she found remarkable in him was his freedom

from avarice. He contemplated quite calmly the prospect of living all

his life on an income below a hundred pounds a year. But he was

determined to be famous, to make, recognisably in his own proper person,

the world a better place to live in. He took Bradlaugh and John Burns

for his leaders and models, poor, even impecunious, Great Men. But Miss

Haysman thought that such lives were deficient on the æsthetic side, by

which, though she did not know it, she meant good wall-paper and

upholstery, pretty books, tasteful clothes, concerts, and meals nicely

cooked and respectfully served.

At last came the day of the second examination, and the professor of

botany, a fussy conscientious man, rearranged all the tables in the long

narrow laboratory to prevent copying, and put his demonstrator on a

chair on a table (where he felt, he said, like a Hindoo god) to see all

the cheating, and stuck a notice outside the door, “Door Closed,” for no

earthly reason that any human being could discover. And all the morning

from ten to one the quill of Wedderburn shrieked defiance at Hill’s, and

the quills of the others chased their leaders in a tireless pack. So

also it was in the afternoon. Wedderburn was a little quieter than

usual, and Hill’s face was hot all day, and his overcoat bulged with

text-books and note-books against the last moment’s revision. And the

next day, in the morning and in the afternoon, was the practical

examination, when sections had to be cut and slides identified. In the

morning Hill was depressed because he knew he had cut a thick section,

and in the afternoon came the Mysterious Slip.

It was just the kind of thing that the botanical professor was always

doing. Like the income tax, it offered a premium to the cheat. It was a

preparation under the microscope, a little glass slip, held in its place

on the stage of the instrument by light steel clips, and the inscription

set forth that the slip was not to be moved. Each student was to go in

turn to it, sketch it, write in his book of answers what he considered

it to be, and return to his place. Now to move such a slip is a thing

one can do by a chance movement of the finger, and in a fraction of a

second. The professor’s reason for decreeing that the slip should not be

moved depended on the fact that the object he wanted identified was

characteristic of a certain tree stem. In the position in which it was

placed it was a difficult thing to recognise, but once the slip was

moved so as to bring other parts of the preparation into view, its

nature was obvious enough.

Hill came to this, flushed from a contest with staining reagents, sat

down on the little stool before the microscope, turned the mirror to get

the best light, and then out of sheer habit shifted the slip. At once he

remembered the prohibition, and with an almost continuous motion of his

hands, moved it back, and sat paralysed with astonishment at his action.

Then slowly he turned his head. The professor was out of the room, the

demonstrator sat aloft on his impromptu rostrum, reading the “Q. Jour.

Mi. Sci.,” the rest of the examinees were busy and with their backs to

him. Should he own up to the accident now? He knew quite clearly what

the thing was. It was a lenticel, a characteristic preparation from the

elder-tree. His eye roved over his intent fellow-students and Wedderburn

suddenly glanced over his shoulder at him with a queer expression in his

eyes. The mental excitement that had kept Hill at an abnormal pitch of

vigour these two days gave way to a curious nervous tension. His book of

answers was beside him. He did not write down what the thing was, but

with one eye at the microscope he began making a hasty sketch of it. His

mind was full of this grotesque puzzle in ethics that had suddenly been

sprung upon him. Should he identify it? Or should he leave this question

unanswered? In that case Wedderburn would probably come out first in the

botanical list. How could he tell now whether he might not have

identified the thing without shifting it? It was possible that

Wedderburn had failed to recognise it, of course. Suppose Wedderburn,

too, had shifted the slide? He looked up at the clock. There were

fifteen minutes in which to make up his mind. He gathered up his book of

answers and the coloured pencils he used in illustrating his replies,

and walked back to his seat.

He read through his manuscript and then sat thinking and gnawing his

knuckle. It would look queer now if he owned up. He _must_ beat

Wedderburn. He forgot the examples of those starry gentlemen, John Burns

and Bradlaugh. Besides, he reflected, the glimpse of the rest of the

slip he had had, was after all quite accidental, forced upon him by

chance, a kind of providential revelation rather than an unfair

advantage. It was not nearly so dishonest to avail himself of that as it

was of Broome, who believed in the efficacy of prayer, to pray daily for

a First-Class. “Five minutes more,” said the demonstrator, folding up

his paper and becoming observant. Hill watched the clock hands until two

minutes remained, then he opened the book of answers, and with hot ears

and an affectation of ease, gave his drawing of the lenticel its name.

When the second pass list appeared, the previous positions of Wedderburn

and Hill were reversed, and the spectacled girl in green who knew the

demonstrator in private life (where he was practically human) said that

in the result of the two examinations taken together, Hill had the

advantage of a mark, 167 to 166, out of a possible 200. Every one

admired Hill in a way, though the suspicion of “mugging” clung to him.

But Hill was to find congratulations and Miss Haysman’s enhanced opinion

of him, and even the decided decline in the crest of Wedderburn tainted

by an unhappy memory. He felt a remarkable access of energy at first,

and the note of a Democracy marching to Triumph returned to his Debating

Society speeches; he worked at his comparative anatomy with tremendous

zeal and effect, and he went on with his æsthetic education. But through

it all, a vivid little picture was continually coming before his mind’s

eye, of a sneakish person manipulating a slide....

No human being had witnessed the act, and he was cocksure that no Higher

Power existed to see it, but for all that it worried him. Memories are

not dead things, but alive; they dwindle in disuse, but they harden and

develop in all sorts of queer ways if they are being continually

fretted. Curiously enough, though at the time he perceived clearly that

the shifting was accidental, as the days wore on his memory became

confused about it, until at last he was not sure, although he assured

himself that he _was_ sure, whether the movement had been absolutely

involuntary. Then it is possible that Hill’s dietary was conducive to

morbid conscientiousness,—a breakfast frequently eaten in a hurry, a

midday bun, and, at such hours after five as chanced to be convenient,

such meat as his means determined, usually in a chophouse in a back

street off the Brompton Road. Occasionally he treated himself to

threepenny and ninepenny classics, and they usually represented a

suppression of potatoes or chops. It is indisputable that outbreaks of

self-abasement and emotional revival have a distinct relation to periods

of scarcity. But apart from this influence on the feelings, there was in

Hill a distinct aversion to falsity, that the blasphemous Landport

cobbler had inculcated by strap and tongue from his earliest years. Of

one fact about professed Atheists I am convinced: they may be, they

usually are, fools, void of subtlety, revilers of holy institutions,

brutal speakers, and mischievous knaves; but they lie with difficulty.

If it were not so, if they had the faintest grasp of the idea of

compromise, they would simply be liberal Churchmen. And, moreover, this

memory poisoned his regard for Miss Haysman. For she now preferred him

to Wedderburn so evidently that he felt sure he cared for her, and began

reciprocating her attentions by timid marks of personal regard,—at one

time he even bought a bunch of violets, carried it about in his pocket,

and produced it with a stumbling explanation, withered and dead, in the

gallery of old iron. It poisoned, too, the denunciation of capitalist

dishonesty that had been one of his life’s pleasures. And, lastly, it

poisoned his triumph over Wedderburn. Previously he had been

Wedderburn’s superior in his own eyes, and had raged simply at a want of

recognition. Now he began to fret at the darker suspicion of a positive

inferiority. He fancied he found justification for his position in

Browning; but they vanished on analysis. At last, moved curiously enough

by exactly the same motive forces that had resulted in his dishonesty,

he went to Professor Bindon and made a clean breast of the whole affair.

As Hill was a paid student, Professor Bindon did not ask him to sit

down, and he stood before the Professor’s desk as he made his


“It’s a curious story,” said Professor Bindon, slowly realising how the

thing reflected on himself, and then letting his anger rise. “A most

remarkable story. I can’t understand your doing it, and I can’t

understand this avowal. You’re a type of student—Cambridge men would

never dream—I suppose I ought to have thought—Why _did_ you cheat?”

“I didn’t—cheat,” said Hill.

“But you have just been telling me you did.”

“I thought I explained—”

“Either you cheated or you did not cheat.”

“I said my motion was involuntary—”

“I am not a metaphysician, I am a servant of science—of fact. You were

told not to move the slip. You did move the slip. If that is not


“If I was a cheat,” said Hill, with the note of hysterics in his voice,

“should I come here and tell you?”

“Your repentance, of course, does you credit,” said Professor Bindon;

“but it does not alter the original facts.”

“No, sir,” said Hill, giving in, in utter self-abasement.

“Even now you cause an enormous amount of trouble. The examination list

will have to be revised.”

“I suppose so, sir.”

“Suppose so! Of course it must be revised. And I don’t see how I can

conscientiously pass you.”

“Not pass me!” said Hill. “Fail me!”

“It’s the rule in all examinations. Or where should we be? What else did

you expect? You don’t want to shirk the consequences of your own acts?”

“I thought perhaps,” said Hill. And then, “Fail me! I thought, as I told

you, you would simply deduct the marks given for that slip—”

“Impossible!” said Bindon. “Besides, it would still leave you above

Wedderburn. Deduct only the marks! Preposterous! The Departmental

Regulations distinctly say—”

“But it’s my own admission, sir.”

“The Regulations say nothing whatever of the manner in which the matter

comes to light. They simply provide—”

“It will ruin me. If I fail this examination, they won’t renew my


“You should have thought of that before.”

“But, sir, consider all my circumstances—”

“I cannot consider anything. Professors in this College are machines.

The Regulations will not even let us recommend our students for

appointments. I am a machine, and you have worked me. I have to do—”

“It’s very hard, sir.”

“Possibly it is.”

“If I am to be failed this examination I might as well go home at once.”

“That is as you think proper.” Bindon’s voice softened a little, he

perceived he had been unjust, and, provided he did not contradict

himself, he was disposed to amelioration. “As a private person,” he

said, “I think this confession of yours goes far to mitigate your

offence. But you have set the machinery in motion, you know, and now it

must take its course. I—I am really sorry you gave way.”

A wave of emotion prevented Hill from answering. Suddenly very vividly

he saw the heavily-lined face of the old Landport cobbler, his father.

“Good God!—What a fool I have been!” he said hotly and abruptly.

“I hope,” said Bindon, “that it will be a lesson to you.”

But curiously enough they were not thinking of quite the same


There was a pause.

“I would like a day to think, sir, and then I will let you know—about

going home, I mean,” said Hill, moving towards the door.

The next day Hill’s place was vacant. The spectacled girl in green was,

as usual, first with the news. Wedderburn and Miss Haysman were talking

of the Meistersingers, when she came up to them.

“Have you heard?” she said.

“Heard what?”

“There was cheating in the examination.”

“Cheating!” said Wedderburn, with his face suddenly hot. “How?”

“That slide—”

“Moved? Never!”

“It was. That slide that we weren’t to move—”

“Nonsense!” said Wedderburn. “Why! How could they find out? Who do they


“It was Mr. Hill.”


“Mr. Hill!”

“Not—surely not the immaculate Hill?” said Wedderburn, recovering.

“I don’t believe it,” said Miss Haysman. “How do you know?”

“I _didn’t_,” said the girl in spectacles. “But I know it now for a

fact. Mr. Hill went and confessed to Professor Bindon himself.”

“By Jove!” said Wedderburn. “Hill of all people—But I am always inclined

to distrust these philanthropists-on-principle—”

“Are you quite sure?” said Miss Haysman, with a catch in her breath.

“Quite. It’s dreadful, isn’t it? But you know, what can you expect? His

father is a cobbler—”

Then Miss Haysman astonished the girl in spectacles.

“I don’t care. I will not believe it,” she said, flushing darkly under

her warm-tinted skin. “I will not believe it until he has told me so

himself—face to face. I would scarcely believe it then,” and abruptly

she turned her back on the girl in spectacles, and walked to her own


“It’s true, all the same,” said the girl in spectacles, peering and

smiling at Wedderburn.

But Wedderburn did not answer her. She was, indeed, one of those people

who are destined to make unanswered remarks.

                         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 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 silent.

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


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 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 protect 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 jobbed 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


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


“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 Klang-utang—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 whiskey 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


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 mantel-piece, among the glass eyes. And his trousers,

by-the-by—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-à-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 £300 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


“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


He resumed his attitude during an impressive silence.

“Enrich the universe; _rath_-er. 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

inquiries. 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 whiskey, 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 stem 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 per cent. 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 £80 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 £175,

and Padishah said £180 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 sportsman-like 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 227, 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


“_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.”

                          THE RAJAH’S TREASURE

Between Jehun and Bimabur on the Himalayan slopes, and between the

jungles and the higher country where the pines and deodars are gathered

together, ruled the petty Rajah, of whose wonderful treasure I am

telling. Very great was the treasure, people said, for the Rajah had

prospered all his days. He had found Mindapore a village, and, behold!

it was a city. Below his fort of unhewn stone the flat-roofed huts of

mud had multiplied; and now there sprang up houses with upstairs rooms,

and the place which had once boasted no more than one buniah man,

engendered a bazaar in the midst of it, as a fat oyster secretes a

pearl. And the Holy Place up the river prospered, and the road up the

passes was made safe. Merchants and fakirs multiplied about the wells,

men came and went, twice even white men from the plain on missions to

the people over beyond the deodars, and the streets of the town were

ever denser with poultry and children, and little dogs dyed yellow, and

with all the multitudinous rich odours of human increase. As at last, at

the crown of his prosperity, this legend of his treasures began.

He was a portly, yellow-faced man, with a long black beard, now steadily

growing grey, thick lips, and shifty eyes. He was pious, very pious in

his daily routine, and swift and unaccountable in his actions. None

dared withstand him to his face, even in little things. Golam Shah, his

vizier, was but a servant, a carrier of orders; and Samud Singh, his

master of horse, but a driller of soldiers. They were tools, he would

tell them outright in his pride of power, staves in his hand that he

could break at his will. He was childless. And his cousin, the youth

Azim Khan, feared him, and only in the remotest recesses of his heart

dared to wish the Rajah would presently die and make a way for the


It would be hard to say when first the rumour spread that the Rajah of

little Mindapore was making a hoard. None knew how it began or where.

Perhaps from merchants of whom he had bought. It began long before the

days of the safe. It was said that rubies had been bought and hidden

away; and then not only rubies, but ornaments of gold, and then pearls,

and diamonds from Golconda, and all manner of precious stones. Even the

Deputy-Commissioner at Allapore heard of it. At last the story

re-entered the palace at Mindapore itself, and Azim Khan, who was the

Rajah’s cousin and his heir, and nominally his commander-in-chief, and

Golam Shah, the chief minister, talked it over one with another in a

tentative way.

“He has something new,” said Golam Shah, querulously; “he has something

new, and he is keeping it from me.”

Azira Khan watched him cunningly. “I have told you what I have heard,”

he said. “For my own part I know nothing.”

“He goes to and fro musing and humming to himself,” said Golam,

meditatively, “as one who thinks of a pleasure.”

“More rubies, they are saying,” said Azim, dreamily, and repeated, as if

for his own pleasure, “Rubies.” For Azim was the heir.

“Especially is it since that Englishman came,” said Golam, “three months

ago. A big old man, not wrinkled as an old man should be, but red, and

with red hair streaking his grey, and with a tight skin and a big body

sticking out before. So. An elephant of a man, a great quivering

mud-bank of a man, who laughed mightily, so that the people stopped and

listened in the street. He came, he laughed, and as he went away we

heard them laugh together—”

“Well?” said Azim.

“He was a diamond merchant, perhaps—or a dealer in rubies. Do Englishmen

deal in such things?”

“Would I had seen him!” said Azim.

“He took gold away,” said Golam.

Both were silent for a space, and the purring noise of the wheel of the

upper well, and the chatter of voices about it rising and falling, made

a pleasant sound in the air. “Since the Englishman went,” said Golam,

“he has been different. He hides something from me—something in his

robe. Rubies! What else can it be?”

“He has not buried it?” said Azim.

“He will. Then he will want to dig it up again and look at it,” said

Golam, for he was a man of experience. “I go softly. Sometimes almost I

come upon him. Then he starts—”

“He grows old and nervous,” said Azim, and there was a pause.

“Before the English came,” said Golam, looking at the rings upon his

fingers, as he recurred to his constant preoccupation; “there were no

Rajahs nervous and old.”

That, I say, was even before the coming of the safe. It came in a

packing case. Such a case it was as had never been seen before on all

the slopes of the Himalayan mountains, it was an elephant’s burden even

on the plain. It was days drawing nearer and nearer. At Allapore crowds

went to see it pass upon the railway. Afterwards elephants and then a

great multitude of men dragged it up the hills. And this great case

being opened in the Hall of Audience revealed within itself a monstrous

iron box, like no other box that had ever come to the city. It had been

made, so the story went, by necromancers in England, expressly to the

order of the Rajah, that he might keep his treasure therein and sleep in

peace. It was so hard that the hardest files powdered upon its corners,

and so strong that cannon fired point-blank at it would have produced no

effect upon it. And it locked with a magic lock. There was a word, and

none knew the word but the Rajah. With that word, and a little key that

hung about his neck, one could open the lock; but without it none could

do so.

The Rajah caused this safe to be built into the wall of his palace in a

little room beyond the Hall of Audience. He superintended the building

up of it with jealous eyes. And thereafter he would go thither day by

day, once at least every day, coming back with brighter eyes. “He goes

to count his treasure,” said Golam Shah, standing beside the empty daïs.

And in those days it was that the Rajah began to change. He who had been

cunning and subtle became choleric and outspoken. His judgment grew

harsh, and a taint that seemed to all about him to be assuredly the

taint of avarice crept into his acts. Moreover, which inclined Golam

Shah to hopefulness, he seemed to take a dislike to Azim Khan. Once

indeed he made a kind of speech in the Hall of Audience. Therein he

declared many times over in a peculiarly husky voice, husky yet full of

conviction, that Azim Khan was not worth a half anna, not worth a half

anna to any human soul.

In these latter days of the Rajah’s decline, moreover, when merchants

came, he would go aside with them secretly into the little room, and

speak low, so that those in the Hall of Audience, howsoever they

strained their ears, could hear nothing of his speech. These things

Golam Shah and Azim Khan and Samud Singh, who had joined their councils,

treasured in their hearts.

“It is true about the treasure,” said Azim; “they talked of it round the

well of the travellers, even the merchants from Tibet had heard the

tale, and had come this way with jewels of price, and afterwards they

went secretly telling no one.” And ever and again, it was said, came a

negro mute from the plains, with secret parcels for the Rajah. “Another

stone,” was the rumour that went the round of the city.

“The bee makes hoards,” said Azim Khan, the Rajah’s heir, sitting in the

upper chamber of Golam Shah. “Therefore, we will wait awhile.” For Azim

was more coward than traitor.

At last there were men in the Deccan even who could tell you particulars

of the rubies and precious stones that the Rajah had gathered together.

But so circumspect was the Rajah that Azim Khan and Golam Shah had never

even set eyes on the glittering heaps that they knew were accumulating

in the safe.

The Rajah always went into the little room alone, and even then he

locked the door of the little room—it had a couple of locks—before he

went to the safe and used the magic word. How all the ministers and

officers and guards listened and looked at one another as the door of

the room behind the curtain closed!

The Rajah changed indeed, in these days, not only in the particulars of

his rule, but in his appearance. “He is growing old. How fast he grows

old! The time is almost ripe,” whispered Samud Singh. The Rajah’s hand

became tremulous, his step was now sometimes unsteady, and his memory

curiously defective. He would come back out from the treasure-room, and

his hand would tighten fiercely on the curtain, and he would stumble on

the steps of the daïs. “His eyesight fails,” said Golam. “See!—His

turban is askew. He is sleepy even in the forenoon, before the heat of

the day. His judgments are those of a child.”

It was a painful sight to see a man so suddenly old and enfeebled still

ruling men.

“He may go on yet, a score of years,” said Golam Shah.

“Should a ruler hoard riches,” said Shere Ali, in the guardroom, “and

leave his soldiers unpaid?” That was the beginning of the end.

It was the thought of the treasure won over the soldiers, even as it did

the mollahs and the eunuchs. Why had the Rajah not buried it in some

unthinkable place, as his father had done before him, and killed the

diggers with his hand? “He has hoarded,” said Samud, with a chuckle,—for

the old Rajah had once pulled his beard,—“only to pay for his own

undoing.” And in order to insure confidence, Golam Shah went beyond the

truth perhaps, and gave a sketchy account of the treasures to this man

and that, even as a casual eyewitness might do.

Then, suddenly and swiftly, the palace revolution was accomplished. When

the lonely old Rajah was killed, a shot was to be fired from the harem

lattice, bugles were to be blown, and the sepoys were to turn out in the

square before the palace, and fire a volley in the air. The murder was

done in the dark save for a little red lamp that burnt in the corner.

Azim knelt on the body and held up the wet beard, and cut the throat

wide and deep to make sure. It was so easy! Why had he waited so long?

And then, with his hands covered with warm blood, he sprang up

eagerly—Rajah at last!—and followed Golam and Samud and the eunuchs down

the long, faintly moonlit passage, towards the Hall of Audience.

As they did so, the crack of a rifle sounded far away, and after a pause

came the first awakening noises of the town. One of the eunuchs had an

iron bar, and Samud carried a pistol in his hand. He fired into the

locks of the treasure-room, and wrecked them, and the eunuch smashed the

door in. Then they all rushed in together, none standing aside for Azim.

It was dark, and the second eunuch went reluctantly to get a torch, in

fear lest his fellow murderers should open the safe in his absence.

But he need have had no fear. The cardinal event of that night is the

triumphant vindication of the advertised merits of Chobbs’ unrivalled

safes. The tumult that occurred between the Mindapore sepoys and the

people need not concern us. The people loved not the new Rajah—let that

suffice. The conspirators got the key from round the dead Rajah’s neck,

and tried a multitude of the magic words of the English that Samud Singh

knew, even such words as “Kemup” and “Gorblimey”—in vain.

In the morning, the safe in the treasure-room remained intact and

defiant, the woodwork about it smashed to splinters, and great chunks of

stone knocked out of the wall, dents abundantly scattered over its

impregnable door, and a dust of files below. And the shifty Golam had to

explain the matter to the soldiers and mollahs as best he could. This

was an extremely difficult thing to do, because in no kind of business

is prompt cash so necessary as in the revolutionary line.

The state of affairs for the next few days in Mindapore was exceedingly

strained. One fact stands out prominently, that Azim Khan was hopelessly

feeble. The soldiers would not at first believe in the exemplary

integrity of the safe, and a deputation insisted in the most occidental

manner in verifying the new Rajah’s statements. Moreover, the populace

clamoured, and then by a naked man running, came the alarming

intelligence that the new Deputy-Commissioner at Allapore was coming

headlong and with soldiers to verify the account of the revolution Golam

Shah and Samud Singh had sent him in the name of Azim.

The new Deputy-Commissioner was a raw young man, partly obscured by a

pith helmet, and chock full of zeal and the desire for distinction; and

he had heard of the treasure. He was going, he said, to sift the matter

thoroughly. On the arrival of this distressing intelligence there was a

hasty and informal council of state (at which Azim was not present), a

counter-revolution was arranged, and all that Azim ever learnt of it was

the sound of a footfall behind him, and the cold touch of a pistol

barrel on the neck.

When the Commissioner arrived, that dexterous statesman, Golam Shah, and

that honest soldier, Samud Singh, were ready to receive him, and they

had two corpses, several witnesses, and a neat little story. In addition

to Azim they had shot an unpopular officer of the Mindapore sepoys. They

told the Commissioner how Azim had plotted against the Rajah and raised

a military revolt, and how the people, who loved the old Rajah, even as

Golam Shah and Samud Singh loved him, had quelled the revolt, and how

peace was restored again. And Golam explained how Azim had fought for

life even in the Hall of Audience, and how he, Golam, had been wounded

in the struggle, and how Samud had shot Azim with his own hand.

And the Deputy-Commissioner, being weak in his dialect, had swallowed it

all. All round the Deputy-Commissioner, in the minds of the people, the

palace, and the city, hung the true story of the case, as it seemed to

Golam Shah, like an avalanche ready to fall; and yet the

Deputy-Commissioner did not learn of it for four days. And Golam and

Samud went to and fro, whispering and pacifying, promising to get at the

treasure as soon as the Deputy-Commissioner could be got out of the way.

And as they went to and fro so also the report went to and fro—that

Golam and Samud had opened the safe and hidden the treasure, and closed

and locked it again; and bright eyes watched them curiously and hungrily

even as they had watched the Rajah in the days that were gone.

“This city is no longer an abiding place for you and me,” said Golam

Shah, in a moment of clear insight. “They are mad about this treasure.

Golconda would not satisfy them.”

The Deputy-Commissioner, when he heard their story, did indeed make

knowing inquiries (as knowing as the knowingness of the English goes) in

order to show himself not too credulous; but he elicited nothing. He had

heard tales of treasure, had the Commissioner, and of a great box? So

had Golam and Samud, but where it was they could not tell. They too had

certainly heard tales of treasure—many tales indeed. Perhaps there _was_


Had the Deputy-Commissioner had the scientific turn of mind, he would

have observed that a strong smell of gunpowder still hung about the

Audience Chamber, more than was explained by the narrative told him; and

had he explored the adjacent apartments, he would presently have

discovered the small treasure-room with its smashed locks, and the

ceiling now dependent ruins, and amid the ruins the safe, bulging

perilously from the partly collapsed walls, but still unconquered, and

with its treasures unexplored. Also it is a fact that Golam Shah’s

bandaged hand was not the consequence of heroism in combat, but of

certain private blasting operations too amateurishly prosecuted.

So you have the situation: Deputy-Commissioner installed in the palace,

sending incorrect information to headquarters and awaiting instructions,

the safe as safe as ever; assistant conspirators grumbling louder and

louder; and Golam and Samud getting more and more desperate lest this

voice should reach the Deputy’s ears.

Then came the night when the Commissioner heard a filing and a tapping,

and being a brave man, rose and went forthwith, alone and very quietly,

across the Hall of Audience, pistol in hand, in search of the sound.

Across the Hall a light came from an open door that had been hidden in

the day by a curtain. Stopping silently in the darkness of the outer

apartment, he looked into the treasure-room. And there stood Golam with

his arm in a sling, holding a lantern, while Samud fumbled with pieces

of wire and some little keys. They were without boots, but otherwise

they were dressed ready for a journey.

The Deputy-Commissioner was, for a Government official, an exceedingly

quick-witted man. He slipped back in the darkness again, and within five

minutes, Golam and Samud, still fumbling, heard footsteps hurrying

across the Hall of Audience, and saw a flicker of light. Out went their

lantern, with a groan because of a bandaged arm, but it was too late. In

another moment Lieutenant Earl, in pyjamas and boots, but with a brace

of revolvers and a couple of rifles behind him, stood in the doorway of

the treasure-room, and Golam and Samud were caught. Samud clicked his

pistol and then threw it down, for it was three to one—Golam being not

only a bandaged man, but fundamentally a man of peace.

When the intelligence of this treachery filtered from the palace into

the town, there was an outbreak of popular feeling, and a dozen

officious persons set out to tell the Deputy-Commissioner the true

connection between Golam, Samud, and the death of the Rajah. The first

to penetrate to the Deputy-Commissioner’s presence was an angry fakir,

from the colony that dwelt about the Holy place. And after a patient

hearing the Deputy-Commissioner extracted the thread of the narrative

from the fabric of curses in which the holy man presented it.

“This is most singular,” said the Deputy-Commissioner to the Lieutenant,

standing in the treasure-room (which looked as though the palace had

been bombarded), and regarding the battered but still inviolable safe.

“Here we seem to have the key of the whole position.”

“Key!” said the Lieutenant. “It’s the key they haven’t got.”

“Curious mingling of the new and the old,” said the Deputy-Commissioner.

“Patent safe—and a hoard.”

“Send to Allapore and wire Chobbs, I suppose?” said the Lieutenant.

The Deputy-Commissioner signified that was his intention, and they set

guards before and behind and all about the treasure-room, until the

proper instructions about the lock should come.

So it was that the _Pax Britannica_ solemnly took possession of the

Rajah’s hoard, and men in Simla heard the news, and envied that

Deputy-Commissioner his adventure with all their hearts. For his

promptitude and decision was a matter of praise, and they said that

Mindapore would certainly be annexed and added to the district over

which he ruled. Only a fat old man named MacTurk, living in Allapore, a

big man with a noisy quivering laugh, and a secret trade with certain

native potentates, did not hear the news, excepting only the news of the

murder of the Rajah and the departure of the Deputy-Commissioner, for

several days. He heard nothing of the disposition of the treasure—an

unfortunate thing, since, among other things, he had sold the Rajah his

safe, and may even have known the word by which the lock was opened.

The Deputy-Commissioner had theatrical tastes. These he gratified under

the excuse that display was above all things necessary in dealing with

Orientals. He imprisoned his four malefactors theatrically, and when the

instructions came from Chobbs he had the safe lugged into the Hall of

Audience, in order to open it with more effect. The Commissioner sat on

the daïs, while the engineer worked at the safe on the crimson steps.

In the central space was stretched a large white cloth. It reminded the

Deputy-Commissioner of a picture he had seen of Alexander at Damascus

receiving the treasures of Darius.

“It is gold,” said one bystander to another. “There was a sound of

chinking as they brought the safe in. My brother was among those who


The engineer clicked the lock. Every eye in the Hall of Audience grew

brighter and keener, excepting the eyes of the Deputy-Commissioner. He

felt the dignity of his responsibilities, and sat upon the daïs looking

as much like the _Pax Britannica_ as possible.

“Holy Smoke!” said the engineer, and slammed the safe again. A murmur of

exclamations ran round the hall. Every one was asking every one else

what they had seen.

“An asp!” said some one.

The Deputy-Commissioner lost his imperturbability. “What is it?” he

said, springing to his feet. The engineer leant across the safe and

whispered two words, something indistinct and with a blasphemous

adjective in front.

“_What?_” said the Deputy-Commissioner, sharply.

“Glass!” said the engineer, in a bitter whisper. “Broken bottles.


“Let me see!” said the Deputy-Commissioner, losing all his dignity.

“Scotch, if I’m not mistaken,” said the engineer, sniffing curiously.

“Curse it!” said the Deputy-Commissioner, and looked up to meet a

multitude of ironical eyes. “Er—

“The assembly is dismissed,” said the Deputy-Commissioner.

“What a _fool_ he must have looked!” wheezed MacTurk, who did not like

the Deputy-Commissioner. “What a _fool_ he must have looked!

“Simple enough,” said MacTurk, “when you know how it came about.”

“But how did it come about?” asked the station-master.

“Secret drinking,” said MacTurk. “Bourbon whiskey. I taught him how to

take it myself. But he didn’t dare let on that he was doing it, poor old

chap! Mindapore’s one of the most fanatically Mahometan states in the

hills you see. And he always was a secretive kind of chap, and given to

doing things by himself. So he got that safe to hide it in, and keep the

bottles. Broke ’em up to pack, I s’pose, when it got too full. Lord! I

might ha’ known. When people spoke of his treasure—I never thought of

putting that and the safe and the Bourbon together! But how plain it is!

And _what_ a sell for Parkinson. Pounded glass! The accumulation of

years! Lord!—I’d, ’a’ given a couple of stone off my weight to see him

open that safe!”

                      THE STORY 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 every one swore by that personage. Then he began raising

his feet clumsily, as though he had expected to find them glued to the


“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-defence, 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 electro-magnet—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 humoured 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


“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


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


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 lustre. 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 with a bell crying coals.

“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 backwards 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



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 spectre 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


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 _fiancée_. “And,

by-the-by,” 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 electro-magnet, 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 CONE

The night was hot and overcast, the sky redrimmed with the lingering

sunset of midsummer. 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. Further 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


“_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


“_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


“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 pent-house 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’m 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’s 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. The 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 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 arm-chair,

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


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 gas-lit

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 towards the railway.

Raut hung back. Their eyes met and saw a thousand things in a moment

that their lips came near to say. Horrocks’s hand tightened and then

relaxed. He left go, and before Raut was aware, 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 puddler’s 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’s pull with all his


“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. Half-way across, Horrocks’s 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 block 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


“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


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 whisps 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 underfoot 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,

half way 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 handrail 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’s 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 handrail, 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


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. “Oh, 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 pinewoods 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

arm-chair. 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 arm-chair, 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-by, 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 awhile 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


“You see, Mr. Clarence, what I’ve got to put up with,” said Mrs.


“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

arm-chair, “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

have had 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


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’ latch-key, 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 pinewood 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 turndown 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


“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 caravansary, 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 would n’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.”


“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.”


“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 ’ave to say anything


“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 proceed 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.

                             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 to

conviction. There was that line of cretonnes—four half pieces—untouched,

save for half-a-yard sold to cover a stool. There were those shirtings

at 4¾_d._—Bandersnatch, in the Broadway, was selling them at

2¾_d._—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, & Grab. Why! How about their account?

Winslow stood with a big green box open 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_


“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 cloak, 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 little

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 the 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 little 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, & 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, & Grab, those enterprising outfitters of young men,

would demand their eighty pounds.

After tea there was a customer or so—little 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, & Grab, 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 shirtings, 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, & Grab, and the pitiless world behind

them. What ever 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, & 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 shoulders. 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 him 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” again, 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 little 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 little loose—caught

against the catch of the shop-door, and was torn loose. 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 was 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 a little

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


“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, & 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 re-blocked a cretonne already faultlessly blocked. He was in a

state of grim wretchedness,—a martyr under the harrow of fate. At any

rate, 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. That martyr pose, the gold-in-the-furnace attitude,

lasted all the morning.

At dinner—“potato pie”—he looked up suddenly, and saw Minnie 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 little bell upon the

shop-door began, and Winslow had to jump to his feet, and be a man


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, & 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, & 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 a strange event happened. 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! 7 × 7 × 52 ÷ 20 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 a 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. Brandersnatch, Helter, Skelter, & 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 greatest _éclat_. 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.

                            LE MARI TERRIBLE

“You are always so sympathetic,” she said; and added, reflectively, “and

one can talk of one’s troubles to you without any nonsense.”

I wondered dimly if she meant that as a challenge. I helped myself to a

biscuit thing that looked neither poisonous nor sandy. “You are one of

the most puzzling human beings I ever met,” I said,—a perfectly safe

remark to any woman under any circumstances.

“Do you find me so hard to understand?” she said.

“You are dreadfully complex.” I bit at the biscuit thing, and found it

full of a kind of creamy bird-lime. (I wonder why women _will_ arrange

these unpleasant surprises for me—I sickened of sweets twenty years


“How so?” she was saying, and smiling her most brilliant smile.

I have no doubt she thought we were talking rather nicely. “Oh!” said I,

and waved the cream biscuit thing. “You challenge me to dissect you.”


“And that is precisely what I cannot do.”

“I’m afraid you are very satirical,” she said, with a touch of

disappointment. She is always saying that when our conversation has

become absolutely idiotic—as it invariably does. I felt an inevitable

desire to quote bogus Latin to her. It seemed the very language for her.

“Malorum fiducia pars quosque libet,” I said, in a low voice, looking

meaningly into her eyes.

“Ah!” she said, colouring a little, and turned to pour hot water into

the teapot, looking very prettily at me over her arm as she did so.

“That is one of the truest things that has ever been said of sympathy,”

I remarked. “Don’t you think so?”

“Sympathy,” she said, “is a very wonderful thing, and a very precious


“You speak,” said I (with a cough behind my hand), “as though you knew

what it was to be lonely.”

“There is solitude even in a crowd,” she said, and looked round at the

six other people—three discreet pairs—who were in the room.

“I, too,” I was beginning, but Hopdangle came with a teacup, and seemed

inclined to linger. He belongs to the “Nice Boy” class, and gives

himself ridiculous airs of familiarity with grown-up people. Then the

Giffens went.

“Do you know, I always take such an interest in your work,” she was

saying to me, when her husband(confound him!) came into the room.

He was a violent discord. He wore a short brown jacket and carpet

slippers, and three of his waistcoat buttons were (as usual) undone.

“Got any tea left, Millie?” he said, and came and sat down in the

arm-chair beside the table.

“How do, Delalune?” he said to the man in the corner. “Damned hot,

Bellows,” he remarked to me, subsiding creakily.

She poured some more hot water into the teapot. (Why must charming

married women always have these husbands?)

“It _is_ very hot,” I said.

There was a perceptible pause. He is one of those rather adipose people,

who are not disconcerted by conversational gaps. “Are _you_, too,

working at Argon?” I said. He is some kind of chemical investigator, I


He began at once to explain the most horribly complex things about

elements to me. She gave him his tea, and rose and went and talked to

the other people about autotypes. “Yes,” I said, not hearing what he was


“‘No’ would be more appropriate,” he said. “You are absent-minded,

Bellows. Not in love, I hope—at your age?”

Really, I am not thirty, but a certain perceptible thinness in my hair

may account for his invariably regarding me as a contemporary. But he

should understand that nowadays the beginnings of baldness merely mark

the virile epoch. “I say, Millie,” he said, out loud and across the

room, “you haven’t been collecting Bellows here—have you?”

She looked round startled, and I saw a pained look come into her eyes.

“For the bazaar?” she said. “Not yet, dear.” It seemed to me that she

shot a glance of entreaty at him. Then she turned to the others again.

“My wife,” he said, “has two distinctive traits. She is a born poetess

and a born collector. I ought to warn you.”

“I did not know,” said I, “that she rhymed.”

“I was speaking more of the imaginative quality, the temperament that

finds a splendour in the grass, a glory in the flower, that clothes the

whole world in a vestiture of interpretation.”

“Indeed!” I said. I felt she was watching us anxiously. He could not, of

course, suspect. But I was relieved to fancy he was simply talking


“The magnificent figures of heroic, worshipful, and mysterious womanhood

naturally appeal to her—Cleopatra, Messalina, Beatrice, the Madonna, and

so forth.”

“And she is writing—”

“No, she is acting. That is the real poetry of women and children. A

platonic Cleopatra of infinite variety, spotless reputation, and a large

following. Her make-believe is wonderful. She would use Falstaff for

Romeo without a twinge, if no one else was at hand. She could exert

herself to break the heart of a soldier. I assure you, Bellows—”

I heard her dress rustle behind me.

“I want some more tea,” he said to her. “You misunderstood me about the

collecting, Millie.”

“What were you saying about Cleopatra?” she said, trying, I think, to

look sternly at him.

“Scandal,” he said. “But about the collecting, Bellows—”

“You must come to this bazaar,” she interrupted.

“I shall be delighted,” I said, boldly. “Where is it, and when?”

“About this collecting,” he began.

“It is in aid of that delightful orphanage at Wimblingham,” she

explained, and gave me an animated account of the charity. He emptied

his second cup of tea. “May I have a third cup?” he said.

The two girls signalled departure, and her attention was distracted.

“She collects—and I will confess she does it with extraordinary

skill—the surreptitious addresses—”

“John,” she said over her shoulder, “I wish you would tell Miss Smithers

all those interesting things about Argon.” He gulped down his third cup,

and rose with the easy obedience of the trained husband. Presently she

returned to the tea-things. “Cannot I fill your cup?” she asked. “I

really hope John was not telling you his queer notions about me. He says

the most remarkable things. Quite lately he has got it into his head

that he has a formula for my character.”

“I wish _I_ had,” I said, with a sigh.

“And he goes about explaining me to people, as though I was a mechanism.

‘Scalp collector,’ I think is the favourite phrase. Did he tell you?

Don’t you think it perfectly horrid of him?”

“But he doesn’t understand you,” I said, not grasping his meaning quite

at the minute.

She sighed.

“You have,” I said, with infinite meaning, “my sincere sympathy—” I

hesitated—“my whole sympathy.”

“Thank you _so much_,” she said, quite as meaningly. I rose forthwith,

and we clasped hands, like souls who strike a compact.

Yet, thinking over what he said afterwards, I was troubled by a fancy

that there was the faintest suggestion of a smile of triumph about her

lips and mouth. Possibly it was only an honourable pride. I suppose he

has poisoned my mind a little. Of course, I should not like to think of

myself as one of a fortuitously selected multitude strung neatly

together (if one may use the vulgarism) on a piece of string,—a

stringful like a boy’s string of chestnuts,—nice old gentlemen, nice

boys, sympathetic and humorous men of thirty, kind fellows, gifted

dreamers, and dashing blades, all trailing after her. It is confoundedly

bad form of him, anyhow, to guy her visitors. She certainly took it like

a saint. Of course, I shall see her again soon, and we shall talk to one

another about one another. Something or other cropped up and prevented

my going there on her last Tuesday.

                               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 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


“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


“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 the 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 any one 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


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 out 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 trees 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 the 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 the 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


The stranger answered the unfinished question with the fruit in his open


“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.


“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, no 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


“We inherit their sins—not their knowledge,” said the stranger. “That

would make it all 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 every one 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


“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

some one who thirsted after knowledge, who found no terror in the

thought of that clear perception—”

“Of course,” said Mr. Hinchcliff, thoughtfully, “it might be some 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


“_No!_” shouted the stranger, and made a snatch at it as if to take it


“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 début? It occurred to him that, so

far as they could tell, the fruit might very well be the naïve

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, 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, where 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 the 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


“_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



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 the 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 the 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 the collar

or something, ran me up the little passage, and flung me over the

waste-paper basket into the arm-chair 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 _clichés_ 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 quiet 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 last 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 delicatelystrung 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


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


“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


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 use to.”

“Didn’t use 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 am under a curse.”

I saw her hand tighten upon her sunshade. “You are under some bad

influence or other,” said Delia. “You should give it up. I never knew

any one 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, every one sees it; I grow more “theatrical” every day. And no

one could be more painfully aware of the pungent silliness of theatrical

ways. The quiet, 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 can 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 I 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 to 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

the 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 play-acting 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 whiskey

and soda, and then something always turns up to prevent my explanation.

                          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 in the old days to 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


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 Rev. 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 talk together.

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 grey 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


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 table-cloths. “Yes, m’m. 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


“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


“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.



“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 some one 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 higher 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 fulness 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.

                          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.”


“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’d 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

pairs 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-rimmed 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 any one 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 such-like 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 do 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 and 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 Bismark, 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 the 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 wriggle 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’d 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 me himself in that very last volume of


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 my sympathy. “Fancy hiding it there! Eigh? Of all


He began to fish absently for a dead fly with his 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.

                       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 any rate, 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


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

vengeance. 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 Porrohman?” said Pollock,


“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 some one 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


“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


“_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 a 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 said. 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


“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 filty

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 these 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


“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, were 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, mailcarts, omnibuses go by in one incessant stream; to any

one fresh from the malarious solitudes of Sierra Leone it is a boiling,

maddening confusion. But when an inverted head suddenly comes bouncing,

like an india-rubber 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 horses’ 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


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 SEA RAIDERS


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 zoölogical 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

zoölogists 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


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

coiled 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, and 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.


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 at this, 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 spiring 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 some one, 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. Some one 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


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.


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 coast-line. 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 waylaying 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


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 southwest 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 body, 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 specimen 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.

                           IN THE MODERN VEIN

                      AN UNSYMPATHETIC LOVE STORY

Of course the cultivated reader has heard of Aubrey Vair. He has

published on three several 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 even 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


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 was 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 _frisé_ 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


“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-by, 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 for 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 flowerpots, 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 some one 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


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. Policemen

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 gilded 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


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 a

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-à-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 any one 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


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

had 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. Recking 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


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 half-way 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 éclat 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?”


“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 discontentedly.

“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, with a look of annoyance, 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.”

                        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 whiskey, 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 whiskey—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 had 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

have been there since the beginning are 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 iron-work 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 any one’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 Buddahs 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 whiskey, 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 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.

Then, 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 whirr of the machinery seemed to answer him. Thereafter it

appeared to him that whenever Holroyd came into the shed a different

note came into the sounds of the great 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


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 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. “Ha’n’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 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

table-cloth. 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 any one coming into the shed it would have

looked exactly as if nothing remarkable had ever happened there. Peeping

presently from his engine-room the black saw the Lord Dynamo spin and

whirl beside his little brothers, 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


“Was the Lord Dynamo still hungry? His servant was ready.”

Azuma-zi made a stealthy step forward, then stopped. The scientific

manager suddenly stopped writing, and 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 the 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.

First, the scientific manager was gripped round the body and swung

towards the big dynamo, then, 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


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 efforts 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 is 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


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 cone 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 boast a Martyrdom and

a Human Sacrifice.

                       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 here,”

he said. He shipped the paddle and held his arms out straight before


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 Chinee,” 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


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


“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


“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


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


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


“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 straitening spasmodically. Then he looked

through the pillars of the trees and network 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


“Evans!” he cried.

But Evans was silent and motionless now, 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

in 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 END




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Photo 1 10.11.2019

Gloomy place

Photo 2 10.11.2019

Lonely night

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