The Country of the Blind, And Other Stories
H. G. Wells
Part 2 out of 9
smells. It reminded me of Trinidad. Did they get any more eggs? Some of
the eggs I found were a foot-and-a-half long. The swamp goes circling
round, you know, and cuts off this bit. It's mostly salt, too. Well...
What a time I had of it! I found the things quite by accident. We went for
eggs, me and two native chaps, in one of those rum canoes all tied
together, and found the bones at the same time. We had a tent and
provisions for four days, and we pitched on one of the firmer places. To
think of it brings that odd tarry smell back even now. It's funny work.
You go probing into the mud with iron rods, you know. Usually the egg gets
smashed. I wonder how long it is since these AEpyornises really lived. The
missionaries say the natives have legends about when they were alive, but
I never heard any such stories myself.[*] But certainly those eggs we got
were as fresh as if they had been new laid. Fresh! Carrying them down to
the boat one of my nigger chaps dropped one on a rock and it smashed. How
I lammed into the beggar! But sweet it was, as if it was new laid, not
even smelly, and its mother dead these four hundred years, perhaps. Said a
centipede had bit him. However, I'm getting off the straight with the
story. It had taken us all day to dig into the slush and get these eggs
out unbroken, and we were all covered with beastly black mud, and
naturally I was cross. So far as I knew they were the only eggs that have
ever been got out not even cracked. I went afterwards to see the ones they
have at the Natural History Museum in London; all of them were cracked and
just stuck together like a mosaic, and bits missing. Mine were perfect,
and I meant to blow them when I got back. Naturally I was annoyed at the
silly duffer dropping three hours' work just on account of a centipede. I
hit him about rather."
[Footnote *: No European is known to have seen a live AEpyornis, 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 had
given him had upset the one--he was always a cantankerous sort--and he
persuaded the other.
"I remember I was sitting and smoking and boiling up the water over a
spirit-lamp business I used to take on these expeditions. Incidentally I
was admiring the swamp under the sunset. All black and blood-red it was,
in streaks--a beautiful sight. And up beyond the land rose grey and hazy
to the hills, and the sky behind them red, like a furnace mouth. And fifty
yards behind the back of me was these blessed 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. He didn't
laugh that time. The third time I got his head, and over he went, and the
paddle with him. It was a precious lucky shot for a revolver. I reckon it
was fifty yards. He went right under. I don't know if he was shot, or
simply stunned and drowned. Then I began to shout to the other chap to
come back, but he huddled up in the canoe and refused to answer. So I
fired out my revolver at him and never got near him.
"I felt a precious fool, I can tell you. There I was on this rotten, black
beach, flat swamp all behind me, and the flat sea, cold after the sun set,
and just this black canoe drifting steadily out to sea. I tell you I
damned Dawson's and Jamrach's and Museums and all the rest of it just to
rights. I bawled to this nigger to come back, until my voice went up into
"There was nothing for it but to swim after him and take my luck with the
sharks. So I opened my clasp-knife and put it in my mouth, and took off
my clothes and waded in. As soon as I was in the water I lost sight of
the canoe, but I aimed, as I judged, to head it off. I hoped the man in it
was too bad to navigate it, and that it would keep on drifting in the
same direction. Presently it came up over the horizon again to the
south-westward about. The afterglow of sunset was well over now and the
dim of night creeping up. The stars were coming through the blue. I swum
like a champion, though my legs and arms were soon aching.
"However, I came up to him by the time the stars were fairly out. As it
got darker I began to see all manner of glowing things in the water--
phosphorescence, you know. At times it made me giddy. I hardly knew which
was stars and which was phosphorescence, and whether I was swimming on my
head or my heels. The canoe was as black as sin, and the ripple under the
bows like liquid fire. I was naturally chary of clambering up into it. I
was anxious to see what he was up to first. He seemed to be lying cuddled
up in a lump in the bows, and the stern was all out of water. The thing
kept turning round slowly as it drifted---kind of waltzing, don't you
know. I went to the stern and pulled it down, expecting him to wake up.
Then I began to clamber in with my knife in my hand, and ready for a rush.
But he never stirred. So there I sat in the stern of the little canoe,
drifting away over the calm phosphorescent sea, and with all the host of
the stars above me, waiting for something to happen.
"After a long time I called him by name, but he never answered. I was too
tired to take any risks by going along to him. So we sat there. I fancy I
dozed once or twice. When the dawn came I saw he was as dead as a 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 I could use as one, so I settled to drift until I was
picked up. I held an inquest on him, brought in a verdict against some
snake, scorpion, or centipede unknown, and sent him overboard.
"After that I had a drink of water and a few biscuits, and took a look
round. I suppose a man low down as I was don't see very far; leastways,
Madagascar was clean out of sight, and any trace of land at all. I saw a
sail going south-westward--looked like a schooner but her hull never came
up. Presently the sun got high in the sky and began to beat down upon me.
Lord! it pretty near made my brains boil. I tried dipping my head in the
sea, but after a while my eye fell on the Cape _Argus_, and I lay
down flat in the canoe and spread this over me. Wonderful things these
newspapers! I never read one through thoroughly before, but it's odd what
you get up to when you're alone, as I was. I suppose I read that blessed
old Cape _Argus_ twenty times. The pitch in the canoe simply reeked
with the heat and rose up into big blisters.
"I drifted ten days," said the man with the scar. "It's a little thing in
the telling, isn't it? Every day was like the last. Except in the morning
and the evening I never kept a 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 AEpyornis eggs, scraped the
shell away at the end bit by bit, and tried it, and I was glad to find it
was good enough to eat. A bit flavoury--not bad, I mean--but with
something of the taste of a duck's egg. There was a kind of circular
patch, about six inches across, on one side of the yoke, and with streaks
of blood and a white mark like a ladder in it that I thought queer, but I
did not understand what this meant at the time, and I wasn't inclined to
be particular. The egg lasted me three days, with biscuits and a drink of
water. I chewed coffee berries too--invigorating stuff. The second egg I
opened about the eighth day, and it scared me."
The man with the scar paused. "Yes," he said, "developing."
"I daresay you find it hard to believe. _I_ did, with the thing
before me. There the egg had been, sunk in that cold black mud, perhaps
three hundred years. But there was no mistaking it. There was the--what is
it?--embryo, with its big head and curved back, and its heart beating
under its throat, and the yolk shrivelled up and great membranes spreading
inside of the shell and all over the yolk. Here was I hatching out the
eggs of the biggest of all extinct birds, in a little canoe in the midst
of the Indian Ocean. If old Dawson had known that! It was worth four
years' salary. What do _you_ think?
"However, I had to eat that precious thing up, every bit of it, before I
sighted the reef, and some of the mouthfuls were beastly unpleasant. I
left the third one alone. I held it up to the light, but the shell was too
thick for me to get any notion of what might be happening inside; and
though I fancied I heard blood pulsing, it might have been the rustle in
my own ears, like what you listen to in a seashell.
"Then came the atoll. Came out of the sunrise, as it were, suddenly, close
up to me. I drifted straight towards it until I was about half a mile from
shore, not more, and then the current took a turn, and I had to paddle as
hard as I could with my hands and bits of the AEpyornis shell to make the
place. However, I got there. It was just a common atoll about four miles
round, with a few trees growing and a spring in one place, and the lagoon
full of parrot-fish. I took the egg ashore and put it in a good place,
well above the tide lines and in the sun, to give it all the chance I
could, and pulled the canoe up safe, and loafed about prospecting. It's
rum how dull an atoll is. As soon as I had found a spring all the interest
seemed to vanish. When I was a kid I thought nothing could be finer or
more adventurous than the Robinson Crusoe business, but that place was as
monotonous as a book of sermons. I went round finding eatable things and
generally thinking; but I tell you I was bored to death before the first
day was out. It shows my luck--the very day I landed the weather changed.
A thunderstorm went by to the north and flicked its wing over the island,
and in the night there came a drencher and a howling wind slap over us. It
wouldn't have taken much, you know, to upset that canoe.
"I was sleeping under the canoe, and the egg was luckily among the sand
higher up the beach, and the first thing I remember was a sound like a
hundred pebbles hitting the boat at once, and a rush of water over my
body. I'd been dreaming of Antananarivo, and I sat up and 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
"The storm was over before the morning. There wasn't a rag of cloud left
in the sky when the dawn came, and all along the beach there were bits of
plank scattered--which was the disarticulated skeleton, so to speak, of my
canoe. However, that gave me something to do, for, taking advantage of two
of the trees being together, I rigged up a kind of storm-shelter with
these vestiges. And that day the egg hatched.
"Hatched, sir, when my head was pillowed on it and I was asleep. I heard a
whack and felt a jar and sat up, and there was the end of the egg pecked
out and a rum little brown head looking out at me. 'Lord!' I said, 'you're
welcome'; and with a little difficulty he came out.
"He was a nice friendly little chap at first, about the size of a small
hen--very much like most other young birds, only bigger. His plumage was a
dirty brown to begin with, with a sort of grey scab that fell off it very
soon, and scarcely feathers--a kind of downy hair. I can hardly express
how pleased I was to see him. I tell you, Robinson Crusoe don't make near
enough of his loneliness. But here was interesting company. He looked at
me and winked his eye from the front backwards, like a hen, and gave a
chirp and began to peck about at once, as though being hatched three
hundred years too late was just nothing. 'Glad to see you, Man Friday!'
says I, for I had naturally settled he was to be called Man Friday if ever
he was hatched, as soon as ever I found the egg in the canoe had
developed. I was a bit anxious about his feed, so I gave him a lump of raw
parrot-fish at once. He took it, and opened his beak for more. I was glad
of that for, under the circumstances, if he'd been at all fanciful, I
should have had to eat him after all.
"You'd be surprised what an interesting bird that AEpyornis chick was. He
followed me about from the very beginning. He used to stand by me and
watch while I fished in the lagoon, and go shares in anything I caught.
And he was sensible, too. There were nasty green warty things, like
pickled gherkins, used to lie about on the beach, and he tried one of
these and it upset him. He never even looked at any of them again.
"And he grew. You could almost see him grow. And as I was never much of a
society man, his quiet, friendly ways suited me to a T. For nearly two
years we were as happy as we could be on that island. I had no business
worries, for I knew my salary was mounting up at Dawsons'. We would see a
sail now and then, but nothing ever came near us. I amused myself, too, by
decorating the island with designs worked in sea-urchins and fancy shells
of various kinds. I put AEPYORNIS ISLAND all round the place very nearly,
in big letters, like what you see done with coloured stones at railway
stations in the old country, and mathematical calculations and drawings of
various sorts. And I used to lie watching the blessed bird stalking round
and growing, growing; and think how I could make a living out of him by
showing him about if I ever got taken off. After his first moult he began
to get handsome, with a crest and a blue wattle, and a lot of green
feathers at the behind of him. And then I used to puzzle whether Dawsons'
had any right to claim him or not. Stormy weather and in the rainy season
we lay snug under the shelter I had made out of the old canoe, and I used
to tell him lies about my friends at home. And after a storm we would go
round the island together to see if there was any drift. It was a kind of
idyll, you might say. If only I had had some tobacco it would have been
simply just like heaven.
"It was about the end of the second year our little paradise went wrong.
Friday was then about fourteen feet high to the bill of him, with a big,
broad head like the end of a pickaxe, and two huge brown eyes with yellow
rims, set together like a man's--not out of sight of each other like a
hen's. His plumage was fine--none of the half-mourning style of your
ostrich--more like a cassowary as far as colour and texture go. And then
it was he began to cock his comb at me and give himself airs, and show
signs of a nasty temper ...
"At last came a time when my fishing had been rather unlucky, and he began
to hang about me in a queer, meditative way. I thought he might have been
eating sea-cucumbers or something, but it was really just discontent on
his part. I was hungry too, and when at last I landed a fish I wanted it
for myself. Tempers were short that morning on both sides. He pecked at it
and grabbed it, and I gave him a whack on the head to make him leave go.
And at that he went for me. Lord! ...
"He gave me this in the face." The man indicated his scar. "Then he kicked
me. It was like a carthorse. 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 racehorse, and kept landing out at
me with sledgehammer kicks, and bringing his pickaxe down on the back of
my head. I made for the lagoon, and went in up to my neck. He stopped at
the water, for he hated getting his feet wet, and began to make a shindy,
something like a peacock's, only hoarser. He started strutting up and down
the beach. I'll admit I felt small to see this blessed fossil lording it
there. And my head and face were all bleeding, and--well, my body just one
jelly of bruises.
"I decided to swim across the lagoon and leave him alone for a bit, until
the affair blew over. I shinned up the tallest palm-tree, and sat there
thinking of it all. I don't suppose I ever felt so hurt by anything before
or since. It was the brutal ingratitude of the creature. I'd been more
than a brother to him. I'd hatched him, educated him. A great gawky,
out-of-date bird! And me a human being--heir of the ages and all that.
"I thought after a time he'd begin to see things in that light himself,
and feel a little sorry for his behaviour. I thought if I was to catch
some nice little bits of fish, perhaps, and go to him presently in a
casual kind of way, and offer them to him, he might do the sensible thing.
It took me some time to learn how unforgiving and cantankerous an extinct
bird can be. Malice!
"I won't tell you all the little devices I tried to get that bird round
again, I simply can't. It makes my cheek burn with shame even now to think
of the snubs and buffets I had from this infernal curiosity. I tried
violence. I chucked lumps of coral at him from a safe distance, but he
only swallowed them. I shied my open knife at him and almost lost it,
though it was too big for him to swallow. I tried starving him out and
struck fishing, but he took to picking along the beach at low water after
worms, and rubbed along on that. Half my time I spent up to my neck in the
lagoon, and the rest up the palm-trees. One of them was scarcely high
enough, and when he caught me up it he had a regular Bank Holiday with the
calves of my legs. It got unbearable. I don't know if you have ever tried
sleeping up a palm-tree. It gave me the most horrible nightmares. Think of
the shame of it, too! Here was this extinct animal mooning about my island
like a sulky duke, and me not allowed to rest the sole of my foot on the
place. I used to cry with weariness and vexation. I told him straight that
I didn't mean to be chased about a desert island by any damned
anachronisms. I told him to go and peck a navigator of his own age. But he
only snapped his beak at me. Great ugly bird, all legs and neck!
"I shouldn't like to say how long that went on altogether. I'd have killed
him sooner if I'd known how. However, I hit on a way of settling him at
last. It is a South American dodge. I joined all my fishing-lines together
with stems of seaweed and things, and made a stoutish string, perhaps
twelve yards in length or more, and I fastened two lumps of coral rock to
the ends of this. It took me some time to do, because every now and then
I had to go into the lagoon or up a tree as the fancy took me. This I
whirled rapidly round my head, and then let it go at him. The first time I
missed, but the next time the string caught his legs beautifully, and
wrapped round them again and again. Over he went. I threw it standing
waist-deep in the lagoon, and as soon as he went down I was out of the
water and sawing at his neck with my knife ...
"I don't like to think of that even now. I felt like a murderer while I
did it, though my anger was hot against him. When I stood over him and saw
him bleeding on the white sand, and his beautiful great legs and neck
writhing in his last agony ... Pah!
"With that tragedy loneliness came upon me like a curse. Good Lord! you
can't imagine how I missed that bird. I sat by his corpse and sorrowed
over him, and shivered as I looked round the desolate, silent reef.
I thought of what a jolly little bird he had been when he was hatched, and
of a thousand pleasant tricks he had played before he went wrong.
I thought if I'd only wounded him I might have nursed him round into a
better understanding. If I'd had any means of digging into the coral rock
I'd have buried him. I felt exactly as if he was human. As it was,
I couldn't think of eating him, so I put him in the lagoon, and the little
fishes picked him clean. I didn't even save the feathers. Then one day a
chap cruising about in a yacht had a fancy to see if my atoll still
"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 AEpyornis--what was it?"
"_AEpyornis vastus_," said I. "It's funny, the very thing was
mentioned to me by a friend of mine. When they found an AEpyornis, with a
thigh a yard long, they thought they had reached the top of the scale, and
called him _AEpyornis maximus_. Then some one turned up another
thigh-bone four feet six or more, and that they called _AEpyornis
Titan_. Then your _vastus_ was found after old Havers died, in his
collection, and then a _vastissimus_ turned up."
"Winslow was telling me as much," said the man with the scar. "If they get
any more AEpyornises, he reckons some scientific swell will go and burst a
blood-vessel. But it was a queer thing to happen to a man; wasn't it--
THE REMARKABLE CASE OF DAVIDSON'S EYES.
The transitory mental aberration of Sidney Davidson, remarkable enough in
itself, is still more remarkable if Wade's explanation is to be credited.
It sets one dreaming of the oddest possibilities of intercommunication in
the future, of spending an intercalary five minutes on the other side of
the world, or being watched in our most secret operations by unsuspected
eyes. It happened that I was the immediate witness of Davidson's seizure,
and so it falls naturally to me to put the story upon paper.
When I say that I was the immediate witness of his seizure, I mean that I
was the first on the scene. The thing happened at the Harlow Technical
College, just beyond the Highgate Archway. He was alone in the larger
laboratory when the thing happened. I was in a 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 floor.
"Davidson!" cried I. "What's the matter with you?" He turned round in my
direction and looked about for me. He looked over me and at me and on
either side of me, without the slightest sign of seeing me. "Waves," he
said; "and a remarkably neat schooner. I'd swear that was Bellow'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 scared. "Davidson," said I, "don't
He was startled at my voice, but not so excessively as before. I repeated
my words in as clear and as 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
"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. Horse-hair 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
Wade repeated it very patiently. Davidson shut his eyes, and pressed his
hands upon his forehead. "Yes," said he. "It's quite right. Now my eyes
are shut I know you're right. That's you, Bellows, sitting by me on the
couch. I'm in England again. And we're in the dark."
Then he opened his eyes. "And there," said he, "is the sun just rising,
and the yards of the ship, and a tumbled sea, and a couple of birds
flying. I never saw anything so real. And I'm sitting up to my neck in a
bank of sand."
He bent forward and covered his face with his hands. Then he opened his
eyes again. "Dark sea and sunrise! And yet I'm sitting on a sofa in old
Boyce's room!... God help me!"
That was the beginning. For three weeks this strange affection of
Davidson's eyes continued unabated. It was far worse than being blind. He
was absolutely helpless, and had to be fed like a newly-hatched bird, and
led about and undressed. If he attempted to move, he fell over things or
struck himself against walls or doors. After a day or so he got used to
hearing our voices without seeing us, and willingly admitted he was at
home, and that Wade was right in what he told him. My sister, to whom he
was engaged, insisted on coming to see him, and would sit for hours every
day while he talked about this beach of his. Holding her hand seemed to
comfort him immensely. He explained that when we left the College and
drove home--he lived in Hampstead village--it appeared to him as if we
drove right through a sandhill--it was perfectly black until he emerged
again--and through rocks and trees and solid obstacles, and when he was
taken to his own room it made him giddy and almost frantic with the fear
of falling, because going upstairs seemed to lift him thirty or forty feet
above the rocks of his imaginary island. He kept saying he should smash
all the eggs. The end was that he had to be taken down into his father's
consulting room and laid upon a couch that stood there.
He described the island as being a bleak kind of place on the whole, with
very little vegetation, except some peaty stuff, and a lot of bare rock.
There were multitudes of penguins, and they made the rocks white and
disagreeable to see. The sea was often rough, and once there was a
thunderstorm, and he lay and shouted at the silent flashes. Once or twice
seals pulled up on the beach, but only on the first two or three days. He
said it was very funny the way in which the penguins used to waddle right
through him, and how he seemed to lie among them without disturbing them.
I remember one odd thing, and that was when he wanted very badly to smoke.
We put a pipe in his hands--he almost poked his eye out with it--and lit
it. But he couldn't taste anything. I've since found it's the same with
me--I don't know if it's the usual case--that I cannot enjoy tobacco at
all unless I can see the smoke.
But the queerest part of his vision came when Wade sent him out in a
Bath-chair to get fresh air. The Davidsons hired a chair, and got that
deaf and obstinate dependant of theirs, Widgery, to attend to it.
Widgery's ideas of healthy expeditions were peculiar. My sister, who had
been to the Dogs' 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 uphill
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 in
the distance selling the special _Pall Mall_.
"I kept sinking down deeper and deeper into the water. It became inky
black about me, not a ray from above came down into that darkness, and the
phosphorescent things grew brighter and brighter. The snaky branches of
the deeper weeds flickered like the flames of spirit-lamps; but, after a
time, there were no more weeds. The fishes came staring and gaping towards
me, and into me and through me. I never imagined such fishes before. They
had lines of fire along the sides of them as though they had been outlined
with a luminous pencil. And there was a ghastly thing swimming 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 ghastly!"
For three weeks Davidson remained in this singular state, seeing what at
the time we imagined was an altogether phantasmal world, and stone blind
to the world around him. Then, one Tuesday, when I called I met old
Davidson in the passage. "He can see his thumb!" the old gentleman said,
in a perfect transport. He was struggling into his overcoat. "He can see
his thumb, Bellows!" he said, with the tears in his eyes. "The lad will be
all right yet."
I rushed in to Davidson. He was holding up a little book before his face,
and looking at it and laughing in a weak kind of way.
"It's amazing," said he. "There's a kind of patch come there." He pointed
with his finger. "I'm on the rocks as usual, and the penguins are
staggering and flapping about as usual, and there's been a whale showing
every now and then, but it's got too dark now to make him out. But put
something _there_, and I see it--I do see it. It's very dim and
broken in places, but I see it all the same, like a faint 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 darkling
sky. Just by it there's a group of stars like a cross coming out."
From that time Davidson began to mend. His account of the change, like his
account of the vision, was oddly convincing. Over patches of his field of
vision, the phantom world grew fainter, grew transparent, as it were, and
through these translucent gaps he began to see dimly the real world about
him. The patches grew in size and number, ran together and spread until
only here and there were blind spots left upon his eyes. He was able to
get up and steer himself about, feed himself once more, read, smoke, and
behave like an ordinary citizen again. At first it was very confusing to
him to have these two pictures overlapping each other like the changing
views of a lantern, but in a little while he began to distinguish the real
from the illusory.
At first he was unfeignedly glad, and seemed only too anxious to complete
his cure by taking exercise and tonics. But as that odd island of his
began to fade away from him, he became queerly interested in it. He wanted
particularly to go down into the deep sea again, and would spend half his
time wandering about the low-lying parts of London, trying to find the
water-logged wreck he had seen drifting. The glare of real daylight very
soon impressed him so vividly as to blot out everything of his shadowy
world, but of a night-time, in a darkened room, he could still see the
white-splashed rocks of the island, and the clumsy penguins staggering to
and fro. But even these grew fainter and fainter, and, at last, soon after
he married my sister, he saw them for the last time.
And now to tell of the queerest thing of all. About two years after his
cure I dined with the Davidsons, and after dinner a man named Atkins
called in. He is a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and a pleasant, talkative
man. He was on friendly terms with my brother-in-law, and was soon on
friendly terms with me. It came out that he was engaged to Davidson's
cousin, and incidentally he took out a kind of pocket photograph case to
show us a new rendering of his _fiancee_. "And, by-the-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 now 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's perhaps the
best authenticated case in existence of 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 LORD OF THE DYNAMOS.
The chief attendant of the three dynamos that buzzed and rattled at
Camberwell, and kept the electric railway going, came out of Yorkshire,
and his name was James Holroyd. He was a practical electrician, but fond
of whisky, a heavy, red-haired brute with irregular teeth. He doubted the
existence of the Deity, but accepted Carnot's cycle, and he had read
Shakespeare and found him weak in chemistry. His helper came out of the
mysterious East, and his name was Azuma-zi. But Holroyd called him
Pooh-bah. Holroyd liked a nigger help because he would stand kicking--a
habit with Holroyd--and did not pry into the machinery and try to learn
the ways of it. Certain odd possibilities of the negro mind brought into
abrupt contact with the crown of our civilisation Holroyd never fully
realised, though just at the end he got some inkling of them.
To define Azuma-zi was beyond ethnology. He was, perhaps, more negroid
than anything else, though his hair was curly rather than frizzy, and his
nose had a bridge. Moreover, his skin was brown rather than black, and the
whites of his eyes were yellow. His broad cheekbones and narrow chin gave
his face something of the viperine V. His head, too, was broad behind, and
low and narrow at the forehead, as if his brain had been twisted round in
the reverse way to a European's. He was short of stature and still shorter
of English. In conversation he made numerous odd noises of no known
marketable value, and his infrequent words were carved and wrought into
heraldic grotesqueness. Holroyd tried to elucidate his religious beliefs,
and--especially after whisky--lectured to him against superstition and
missionaries. Azuma-zi, however, shirked the discussion of his gods, even
though he was kicked for it.
Azuma-zi had come, clad in white but insufficient raiment, out of the
stoke-hole of the _Lord Clive_, from the Straits Settlements and
beyond, into London. He had heard even in his youth of the greatness and
riches of London, where all the women are white and fair, and even the
beggars in the streets are white, and he 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 ironwork humming. The place made the
visitor's head reel with the throb, throb, throb of the engines, the
rotation of the big wheels, the spinning ball-valves, the occasional
spittings of the steam, and over all the deep, unceasing, surging note of
the big dynamo. This last noise was from an engineering point of view a
defect, but Azuma-zi accounted it unto the monster for mightiness and
If it were possible we would have the noises of that shed always about the
reader as he reads, we would tell all our story to such an accompaniment.
It was a steady stream of din, from which the ear picked out first one
thread and then another; there was the intermittent snorting, panting, and
seething of the steam engines, the suck and thud of their pistons, the
dull beat on the air as the spokes of the great driving wheels came round,
a note the leather straps made as they ran tighter and looser, and a
fretful tumult from the dynamos; and, over all, sometimes inaudible, as
the ear tired of it, and then creeping back upon the senses again, was
this trombone note of the big machine. The floor never felt steady and
quiet beneath one's feet, but quivered and jarred. It was a confusing,
unsteady place, and enough to send anyone's thoughts jerking into odd
zigzags. And for three months, while the big strike of the engineers was
in progress, Holroyd, who was a blackleg, and Azuma-zi, who was a mere
black, were never out of the stir and eddy of it, but slept and fed in the
little wooden shanty between the shed and the gates.
Holroyd delivered a theological lecture on the text of his big machine
soon after Azuma-zi came. He had to shout to be heard in the din. "Look at
that," said Holroyd; "where's your 'eathen idol to match 'im?" And
Azuma-zi looked. For a moment Holroyd was inaudible, and then Azuma-zi
heard: "Kill a hundred men. Twelve per cent, on the ordinary shares," said
Holroyd, "and that's something like a Gord."
Holroyd was proud of his big dynamo, and expatiated upon its size and
power to Azuma-zi until heaven knows what odd currents of thought that and
the incessant whirling and shindy set up within the curly black cranium.
He would explain in the most graphic manner the dozen or so ways in which
a man might be killed by it, and once he gave Azuma-zi a shock as a sample
of its quality. After that, in the breathing-times of his labour--it was
heavy labour, being not only his own, but most of Holroyd's--Azuma-zi
would sit and watch the big machine. Now and then the brushes would
sparkle and spit blue flashes, at which Holroyd would swear, but all the
rest was as smooth and rhythmic as breathing. The band ran shouting over
the shaft, and ever behind one as one watched was the complacent thud of
the piston. So it lived all day in this big airy shed, with him and
Holroyd to wait upon it; not prisoned up and slaving to drive a ship as
the other engines he knew--mere captive devils of the British Solomon--had
been, but a machine enthroned. Those two smaller dynamos Azuma-zi by force
of contrast despised; the large one he privately christened the Lord of
the Dynamos. They were fretful and irregular, but the big dynamo was
steady. How great it was! How serene and easy in its working! Greater and
calmer even than the Buddhas he had seen at Rangoon, and yet not
motionless, but living! The great black coils spun, spun, spun, the rings
ran round under the brushes, and the deep note of its coil steadied the
whole. It affected Azuma-zi queerly.
Azuma-zi was not fond of labour. He would sit about and watch the Lord of
the Dynamos while Holroyd went away to persuade the yard porter to get
whisky, although his proper place was not in the dynamo shed but behind
the engines, and, moreover, if Holroyd caught him skulking he got hit for
it with a rod of stout copper wire. He would go and stand close to the
colossus, and look up at the great leather band running overhead. There
was a black patch on the band that came round, and it pleased him somehow
among all the clatter to watch this return again and again. Odd thoughts
spun with the whirl of it. Scientific people tell us that savages give
souls to rocks and trees,--and a machine is a thousand times more alive
than a rock or a tree. And Azuma-zi was practically a savage still; the
veneer of civilisation lay no deeper than his slop suit, his bruises, and
the coal grime on his face and hands. His father before him had worshipped
a meteoric stone, kindred blood, it may be, had splashed the broad wheels
He took every opportunity Holroyd gave him of touching and handling the
great dynamo that was fascinating him. He polished and cleaned it until
the metal parts were blinding in the sun. He felt a mysterious sense of
service in doing this. He would go up to it and touch its spinning coils
gently. The gods he had worshipped were all far away. The people in London
hid their gods.
At last his dim feelings grew more distinct, and took shape in thoughts,
and at last in acts. When he came into the roaring shed one morning he
salaamed to the Lord of the Dynamos, and then, when Holroyd was away, he
went and whispered to the thundering machine that he was its servant, and
prayed it to have pity on him and save him from Holroyd. As he did so a
rare gleam of light came in through the open archway of the throbbing
machine-shed, and the Lord of the Dynamos, as he whirled and roared, was
radiant with pale gold. Then Azuma-zi knew that his service was acceptable
to his Lord. After that he did not feel so lonely as he had done, and he
had indeed been very much alone in London. And even when his work-time was
over, which was rare, he loitered about the shed.
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 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. "Han't I
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
"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
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, and the driving wheels were beating
round, and the steam in the pistons went thud, thud, exactly as it had
been earlier in the evening. After all, from the mechanical point of view,
it had been a most insignificant incident--the mere temporary deflection
of a current. But now the slender form and slender shadow of the
scientific manager replaced the sturdy outline of Holroyd travelling up
and down the lane of light upon the vibrating floor under the straps
between the engines and the dynamos.
"Have I not served my Lord?" said Azuma-zi inaudibly, from his shadow, and
the note of the great dynamo rang out full and clear. As he looked at the
big whirling mechanism the strange fascination of it that had been a
little in abeyance since Holroyd's death resumed its sway.
Never had Azuma-zi seen a man killed so swiftly and pitilessly. The big
humming machine had slain its victim without wavering for a second from
its steady beating. It was indeed a mighty god.
The unconscious scientific manager stood with his back to him, scribbling
on a piece of paper. His shadow lay at the foot of the monster.
Was the Lord Dynamo still hungry? His servant was ready.
Azuma-zi made a stealthy step forward; then stopped. The scientific
manager suddenly ceased his writing, walked down the shed to the endmost
of the dynamos, and began to examine the brushes.
Azuma-zi hesitated, and then slipped across noiselessly into 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 hideously.
They rolled over on the floor, and the black, who had apparently slipped
from the vice of the teeth or parted with some ear--the scientific manager
wondered which at the time--tried to throttle him. The scientific manager
was making some ineffectual 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
"Poor Holroyd! I see now." Then almost mechanically he went towards the
switch in the shadow and turned the current into the railway circuit
again. As he did so the singed body loosened its grip upon the machine and
fell forward on its face. The core of the dynamo roared out loud and
clear, and the armature beat the air.
So ended prematurely the worship of the Dynamo Deity, perhaps the most
short-lived of all religions. Yet withal it could at least boast a
Martyrdom and a Human Sacrifice.
Probably you have heard of Hapley--not W. T. Hapley, the son, but the
celebrated Hapley, the Hapley of _Periplaneta Hapliia_, Hapley the
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
Encyclopaedia. That fantastic extension of the Cephalopods to cover the
Pteropods ... But I wander from Hapley and Pawkins.
It began years and years ago, with a revision of the Microlepidoptera
(whatever these may be) by Pawkins, in which he extinguished a new species
created by Hapley. Hapley, who was always quarrelsome, replied by a
stinging impeachment of the entire classification of Pawkins.[A] Pawkins
in his "Rejoinder"[B] suggested that Hapley's microscope was as defective
as his power of observation, and called him an "irresponsible meddler"--
Hapley was not a professor at that time. Hapley in his retort,[C] spoke of
"blundering collectors," and described, as if inadvertently, Pawkins'
revision as a "miracle of ineptitude." It was war to the knife. However,
it would scarcely interest the reader to detail how these two great men
quarrelled, and how the split between them widened until from the
Microlepidoptera they were at war upon every open question in entomology.
There were memorable occasions. At times the Royal Entomological Society
meetings resembled nothing so much as the Chamber of Deputies. On the
whole, I fancy Pawkins was nearer the truth than Hapley. But Hapley was
skilful with his rhetoric, had a turn for ridicule rare in a scientific
man, was endowed with vast energy, and had a fine sense of injury in the
matter of the extinguished species; while Pawkins was a man of dull
presence, prosy of speech, in shape not unlike a water-barrel, over
conscientious with testimonials, and suspected of jobbing museum
appointments. So the young men gathered round Hapley and applauded him. It
was a long struggle, vicious from the beginning and growing at last to
pitiless antagonism. The successive turns of fortune, now an advantage to
one side and now to another--now Hapley tormented by some success of
Pawkins, and now Pawkins outshone by Hapley, belong rather to the history
of entomology than to this story.
[Footnote A: "Remarks on a Recent Revision of Microlepidoptera."
_Quart. Journ. Entomological Soc._, 1863.]
[Footnote B: "Rejoinder to certain Remarks," etc. _Ibid._ 1864.]
[Footnote C: "Further Remarks," etc. _Ibid._]
But in 1891 Pawkins, whose health had been bad for some time, published
some work upon the "mesoblast" of the Death's Head Moth. What the
mesoblast of the Death's Head Moth may be does not matter a rap in this
story. But the work was far below his usual standard, and gave Hapley an
opening he had coveted for years. He must have worked night and day to
make the most of his advantage.
In an elaborate critique he rent Pawkins to tatters--one can fancy the
man's disordered black hair, and his queer dark eyes flashing as he went
for his antagonist--and Pawkins made a reply, halting, ineffectual, with
painful gaps of silence, and yet malignant. There was no mistaking his
will to wound Hapley, nor his incapacity to do it. But few of those who
heard him--I was absent from that meeting--realised how ill the man was.
Hapley got his opponent down, and meant to finish him. He followed with a
simply brutal attack upon Pawkins, in the form of a paper upon the
development of moths in general, a paper showing evidence of a most
extraordinary amount of mental labour, and yet couched in a violently
controversial tone. Violent as it was, an editorial note witnesses that it
was modified. It must have covered Pawkins with shame and confusion of
face. It left no loophole; it was murderous in argument, and utterly
contemptuous in tone; an awful thing for the declining years of a man's
The world of entomologists waited breathlessly for the rejoinder from
Pawkins. He would try one, for Pawkins had always been game. But when it
came it surprised them. For the rejoinder of Pawkins was to catch
influenza, proceed to pneumonia, and die.
It was perhaps as effectual a reply as he could make under the
circumstances, and largely turned the current of feeling against Hapley.
The very people who had most gleefully cheered on those gladiators became
serious at the consequence. There could be no reasonable doubt the fret of
the defeat had contributed to the death of Pawkins. There was a limit even
to scientific controversy, said serious people. Another crushing attack
was already in the press and appeared on the day before the funeral. I
don't think Hapley exerted himself to stop it. People remembered how
Hapley had hounded down his rival, and forgot that rival's defects.
Scathing satire reads ill over fresh mould. The thing provoked comment in
the daily papers. This it was that made me think that you had probably
heard of Hapley and this controversy. But, as I have already remarked,
scientific workers live very much in a world of their own; half the
people, I dare say, who go along Piccadilly to the Academy every year,
could not tell you where the learned societies abide. Many even think that
research is a kind of happy-family cage in which all kinds of men lie down
together in peace.
In his private thoughts Hapley could not forgive Pawkins for dying. In
the first place, it was a mean dodge to escape the absolute pulverisation
Hapley had in hand for him, and in the second, it left Hapley's mind with
a queer gap in it. For twenty years he had worked hard, sometimes far
into the night, and seven days a week, with microscope, scalpel,
collecting-net, and pen, and almost entirely with reference to Pawkins.
The European reputation he had won had come as an incident in that great
antipathy. He had gradually worked up to a climax in this last
controversy. It had killed Pawkins, but it had also thrown Hapley out of
gear, so to speak, and his doctor advised him to give up work for a time,
and rest. So Hapley went down into a quiet village in Kent, and thought
day and night of Pawkins, and good things it was now impossible to say
At last Hapley began to realise in what direction the pre-occupation
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
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 check-mate, 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 way-side pool.
It was on the third day of the diatoms that Hapley became aware of a novel
addition to the local fauna. He was working late at the microscope, and
the only light in the room was the brilliant little lamp with the special
form of green shade. Like all experienced microscopists, he kept both eyes
open. It is the only way to avoid excessive fatigue. One eye was over the
instrument, and bright and distinct before that was the circular field of
the microscope, across which a brown diatom was slowly moving. With the
other eye Hapley saw, as it were, without seeing. He was only dimly
conscious of the brass side of the instrument, the illuminated part of the
table-cloth, a sheet of notepaper, the foot of the lamp, and the darkened
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 that to him, Hapley, the great entomologist, it
was altogether unknown. There was no delusion. It was crawling slowly
towards the foot of the lamp.
"New Genus, by heavens! And in England!" said Hapley, staring.
Then he suddenly thought of Pawkins. Nothing would have maddened Pawkins
more...And Pawkins was dead!
Something about the head and body of the insect became singularly
suggestive of Pawkins, just as the chess king had been.
"Confound Pawkins!" said Hapley. "But I must catch this." And looking
round him for some means of capturing the moth, he rose slowly out of his
chair. Suddenly the insect rose, struck the edge of the lampshade--Hapley
heard the "ping"--and vanished into the shadow.
In a moment Hapley had whipped off the shade, so that the whole room was
illuminated. The thing had disappeared, but soon his practised eye
detected it upon the wall-paper near the door. He went towards it poising
the lamp-shade for capture. Before he was within striking distance,
however, it had risen and was fluttering round the room. After the fashion
of its kind, it flew with sudden starts and turns, seeming to vanish here
and reappear there. Once Hapley struck, and missed; then again.
The third time he hit his microscope. The instrument swayed, struck and
overturned the lamp, and fell noisily upon the floor. The lamp turned over
on the table and, very luckily, went out. Hapley was left in the dark.
With a start he felt the strange moth blunder into his face.
It was maddening. He had no lights. If he opened the door of the room the
thing would get away. In the darkness he saw Pawkins quite distinctly
laughing at him. Pawkins had ever an oily laugh. He swore furiously and
stamped his foot on the floor.
There was a timid rapping at the door.
Then it opened, perhaps a foot, and very slowly. The alarmed face of the
landlady appeared behind a pink candle flame; she wore a 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 and talk to reassure her. He talked to her about beans and potatoes,
bees, caterpillars, and the price of fruit. She replied in her usual
manner, but she looked at him a little suspiciously, and kept walking as
he walked, so that there was always a bed of flowers, or a row of beans,
or something of the sort, between them. After a while he began to feel
singularly irritated at this, and to conceal his vexation went indoors and
presently went out for a walk.
The moth, or butterfly, trailing an odd flavour of Pawkins with it, kept
coming into that walk, though he did his best to keep his mind off it.
Once he saw it quite distinctly, with its wings flattened out, upon the
old stone wall that runs along the west edge of the park, but going up to
it he found it was only two lumps of grey and yellow lichen. "This," said
Hapley, "is the reverse of mimicry. Instead of a butterfly looking like a
stone, here is a stone looking like a butterfly!" Once something hovered
and fluttered round his head, but by an effort of will he drove that
impression out of his mind again.
In the afternoon Hapley called upon the Vicar, and argued with him upon
theological questions. They sat in the little arbour covered with briar,
and smoked as they wrangled. "Look at that moth!" said Hapley, suddenly,
pointing to the edge of the wooden table.
"Where?" said the Vicar.
"You don't see a moth on the edge of the table there?" said Hapley.
"Certainly not," said the Vicar.
Hapley was thunderstruck. He gasped. The Vicar was staring at him. Clearly
the man saw nothing. "The eye of faith is no better than the eye of
science," said Hapley awkwardly.
"I don't see your point," said the Vicar, thinking it was part of the
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 lampshade, 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 candle-light. He saw the hairy body, and the short
feathery antennae, the jointed legs, even a place where the down was
rubbed from the wing. He suddenly felt angry with himself for being afraid
of a little insect.
His landlady had got the servant to sleep with her that night, because she
was afraid to be alone. In addition she had locked the door, and put the
chest of drawers against it. They listened and talked in whispers after
they had gone to bed, but nothing occurred to alarm them. About eleven
they had ventured to put the candle out, and had both dozed off to sleep.
They woke up with a start, and sat up in bed, listening in the darkness.
Then they heard slippered feet going to and fro in Hapley's room. A chair
was overturned, and there was a violent dab at the wall. Then a china
mantel ornament smashed upon the fender. Suddenly the door of the room
opened, and they heard him upon the landing. They clung to one another,
listening. He seemed to be dancing upon the staircase. Now he would go
down three or four steps quickly, then up again, then hurry down into the
hall. They heard the umbrella stand go over, and the fanlight break. Then
the bolt shot and the chain rattled. He was opening the door.
They hurried to the window. It was a dim grey night; an almost unbroken
sheet of watery cloud was sweeping across the moon, and the hedge and
trees in front of the house were black against the pale roadway. They saw
Hapley, looking like a ghost in his shirt and white trousers, running to
and fro in the road, and beating the air. Now he would stop, now he would
dart very rapidly at something invisible, now he would move upon it with
stealthy strides. At last he went out of sight up the road towards the
down. Then, while they argued who should go down and lock the door, he
returned. He was walking very fast, and he came straight into the house,
closed the door carefully, and went quietly up to his bedroom. Then
everything was silent.
"Mrs. Colville," said Hapley, calling down the staircase next morning, "I
hope I did not alarm you last night."
"You may well ask that!" said Mrs. Colville.
"The fact is, I am a sleep-walker, and the last two nights I have been
without my sleeping mixture. There is nothing to be alarmed about, really.
I am sorry I made such an ass of myself. I will go over the down to
Shoreham, and get some stuff to make me sleep soundly. I ought to have
done that yesterday."
But 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--came upon him again. 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 just-qualified general practitioner, and
quite ignorant of mental science. He simply said there was no moth. Had he
possessed the wit, he might still, perhaps, have saved Hapley from his
fate by entering into his delusion, and covering his face with gauze, as
he prayed might be done. But, as I say, the doctor was a blockhead, and
until the leg was healed Hapley was kept tied to his bed, and with the
imaginary moth crawling over him. It never left him while he was awake and
it grew to a monster in his dreams. While he was awake he longed for
sleep, and from sleep he awoke screaming.
So now Hapley is spending the remainder of his days in a padded room,
worried by a moth that no one else can see. The asylum doctor calls it
hallucination; but Hapley, when he is in his easier mood, and can talk,
says it is the ghost of Pawkins, and consequently a unique specimen and
well worth the trouble of catching.
THE TREASURE IN THE FOREST.
The canoe was now approaching the land. The bay opened out, and a gap in
the white surf of the reef marked where the little river ran out to the
sea; the thicker and deeper green of the virgin forest showed its course
down the distant hill slope. The forest here came close to the beach. Far
beyond, dim and almost cloudlike in texture, rose the mountains, like
suddenly frozen waves. The sea was still save for an almost imperceptible
swell. The sky blazed.
The man with the carved paddle stopped. "It should be somewhere here," he
said. He shipped the paddle and held his arms out straight before him.
The other man had been in the fore part of the canoe, closely scrutinising
the land. He had a sheet of yellow paper on his knee.
"Come and look at this, Evans," he said.
Both men spoke in low tones, and their lips were hard and dry.
The man called Evans came swaying along the canoe until he could look over
his companion's shoulder.
The paper had the appearance of a rough map. By much folding it was
creased and worn to the pitch of separation, and the second man held the
discoloured fragments together where they had parted. On it one could
dimly make out, in almost obliterated pencil, the outline of the bay.
"Here," said Evans, "is the reef, and here is the gap." He ran his
thumb-nail over the chart.
"This curved and twisting line is the river--I could do with a drink
now!--and this star is the place."
"You see this dotted line," said the man with the map; "it is a straight
line, and runs from the opening of the reef to a clump of palm-trees. The
star comes just where it cuts the river. We must mark the place as we go
into the lagoon."
"It's queer," said Evans, after a pause, "what these little marks down
here are for. It looks like the plan of a house or something; but what all
these little dashes, pointing this way and that, may mean I can't get a
notion. And what's the writing?"
"Chinese," said the man with the map.
"Of course! _He_ was a 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, for the sun was
near the zenith. Though they were so near the Treasure he did not feel the
exaltation he had anticipated. The intense excitement of the struggle for
the plan, and the long night voyage from the mainland in the unprovisioned
canoe had, to use his own expression, "taken it out of him." He tried to
arouse himself by directing his mind to the ingots the Chinamen had spoken
of, but it would not rest there; it came back headlong to the thought of
sweet water rippling in the river, and to the almost unendurable dryness
of his lips and throat. The rhythmic wash of the sea upon the reef was
becoming audible now, and it had a pleasant sound in his ears; the water
washed along the side of the canoe, and the paddle dripped between each
stroke. Presently he began to doze.
He was still dimly conscious of the island, but a queer dream texture
interwove with his sensations. Once again it was the night when he and
Hooker had hit upon the Chinamen's secret; he saw the moonlit trees, the
little fire burning, and the black figures of the three Chinamen--silvered
on one side by moonlight, and on the other glowing from the firelight--and
heard them talking together in pigeon-English--for they came from
different provinces. Hooker had caught the drift of their talk first, and
had motioned to him to listen. Fragments of the conversation were
inaudible, and fragments incomprehensible. A Spanish galleon from the
Philippines hopelessly aground, and its treasure buried against the day of
return, lay in the background of the story; a shipwrecked crew thinned by
disease, a quarrel or so, and the needs of discipline, and at last taking
to their boats never to be heard of again. Then Chang-hi, only a year
since, wandering ashore, had happened upon the ingots hidden for two
hundred years, had deserted his junk, and reburied them with infinite
toil, single-handed but very safe. He laid great stress on the safety--it
was a secret of his. Now he wanted help to return and exhume them.
Presently the little map fluttered and the voices sank. A fine story for
two, stranded British wastrels to hear! Evans' dream shifted to the moment
when he had Chang-hi's pigtail in his hand. The life of a Chinaman is
scarcely sacred like a European's. The cunning little face of Chang-hi,
first keen and furious like a startled snake, and then fearful,
treacherous, and pitiful, became overwhelmingly prominent in the dream. At
the end Chang-hi had grinned, a most incomprehensible and startling grin.
Abruptly things became very unpleasant, as they will do at times in
dreams. Chang-hi gibbered and threatened him. He saw in his dream heaps
and heaps of gold, and Chang-hi intervening and struggling to hold him
back from it. He took Chang-hi by the pig-tail--how big the yellow brute
was, and how he struggled and grinned! He kept growing bigger, too. Then
the bright heaps of gold turned to a roaring furnace, and a vast devil,
surprisingly like Chang-hi, but with a huge black tail, began to feed him
with coals. They burnt his mouth horribly. Another devil was shouting his
name: "Evans, Evans, you sleepy fool!"--or was it Hooker?
He woke up. They were in the mouth of the lagoon.
"There are the three palm-trees. It must be in a line with that clump of
bushes," said his companion. "Mark that. If we, go to those bushes and
then strike into the bush in a straight line from here, we shall come to
it when we come to the stream."
They could see now where the mouth of the stream opened out. At the sight
of it Evans revived. "Hurry up, man," he said, "or by heaven I shall have
to drink sea water!" He gnawed his hand and stared at the gleam of silver
among the rocks and green tangle.
Presently he turned almost fiercely upon Hooker. "Give _me_ the
paddle," he said.
So they reached the river mouth. A little way up Hooker took some water in
the hollow of his hand, tasted it, and spat it out. A little further he
tried again. "This will do," he said, and they began drinking eagerly.
"Curse this!" said Evans suddenly. "It's too slow." And, leaning
dangerously over the fore part of the canoe, he began to suck up the water
with his lips.
Presently they made an end of drinking, and, running the canoe into a
little creek, were about to land among the thick growth that overhung the
"We shall have to scramble through this to the beach to find our bushes
and get the line to the place," said Evans.
"We had better paddle round," said Hooker.
So they pushed out again into the river and paddled back down it to the
sea, and along the shore to the place where the clump of bushes grew. Here
they landed, pulled the light canoe far up the beach, and then went up
towards the edge of the jungle until they could see the opening of the
reef and the bushes in a straight line. Evans had taken a native implement
out of the canoe. It was L-shaped, and the transverse piece was armed with
polished stone. Hooker carried the paddle. "It is straight now in this
direction," said he; "we must push through this till we strike the stream.
Then we must prospect."
They pushed through a close tangle of reeds, broad fronds, and young
trees, and at first it was toilsome going, but very speedily the trees
became larger and the ground beneath them opened out. The blaze of the
sunlight was replaced by insensible degrees by cool shadow. The trees
became at last vast pillars that rose up to a canopy of greenery far
overhead. Dim white flowers hung from their stems, and ropy creepers swung
from tree to tree. The shadow deepened. On the ground, blotched fungi and
a red-brown incrustation became frequent.
Evans shivered. "It seems almost cold here after the blaze outside."
"I hope we are keeping to the straight," said Hooker.
Presently they saw, far ahead, a gap in the sombre darkness where white
shafts of hot sunlight smote into the forest. There also was brilliant
green undergrowth and coloured flowers. Then they heard the rush of water.
"Here is the river. We should be close to it now," said Hooker.
The vegetation was thick by the river bank. Great plants, as yet unnamed,
grew among the roots of the big trees, and spread rosettes of huge green
fans towards the strip of sky. Many flowers and a creeper with shiny
foliage clung to the exposed stems. On the water of the broad, quiet pool
which the treasure-seekers now overlooked there floated big oval leaves
and a waxen, pinkish-white flower not unlike a water-lily. Further, as the
river bent away from them, the water suddenly frothed and became noisy in
"Well?" said Evans.
"We have swerved a little from the straight," said Hooker. "That was to be
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
"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
"This is as much as we can carry," said he. Then suddenly, with a queer
rush of irritation, "What are you staring at?"
Hooker turned to him. "I can't stand him ..." He nodded towards the
corpse. "It's so like----"
"Rubbish!" said Evans. "All Chinamen are alike."
Hooker looked into his face. "I'm going to bury _that_, anyhow,
before I lend a hand with this stuff."
"Don't be a fool, Hooker," said Evans, "Let that mass of corruption bide."
Hooker hesitated, and then his eye went carefully over the brown soil
about them. "It scares me somehow," he said.
"The thing is," said Evans, "what to do with these ingots. Shall we
re-bury them over here, or take them across the strait in the canoe?"
Hooker thought. His puzzled gaze wandered among the tall tree-trunks, and
up into the remote sunlit greenery overhead. He shivered again as his eye
rested upon the blue figure of the Chinaman. He stared searchingly among
the grey depths between the trees.
"What's come to you, Hooker?" said Evans. "Have you lost your wits?"
"Let's get the gold out of this place, anyhow," said Hooker.
He took the ends of the collar of the coat in his hands, and Evans took
the opposite corners, and they lifted the mass. "Which way?" said Evans.
"To the canoe?"
"It's queer," said Evans, when they had advanced only a few steps, "but my
arms ache still with that paddling."
"Curse it!" he said. "But they ache! I must rest."
They let the coat down, Evans' face was white, and little drops of sweat
stood out upon his forehead. "It's stuffy, somehow, in this forest."
Then with an abrupt transition to unreasonable anger: "What is the good of
waiting here all the day? Lend a hand, I say! You have done nothing but
moon since we saw the dead Chinaman."
Hooker was looking steadfastly at his companion's face. He helped raise
the coat bearing the ingots, and they went forward perhaps a hundred yards
in silence. Evans began to breathe heavily. "Can't you speak?" he said.
"What's the matter with you?" said Hooker.
Evans stumbled, and then with a sudden curse flung the coat from him. He
stood for a moment staring at Hooker, and then with a groan clutched at
his own throat.
"Don't come near me," he said, and went and leant against a tree. Then in
a steadier voice, "I'll be better in a minute."
Presently his grip upon the trunk loosened, and he slipped slowly down the
stem of the tree until he was a crumpled heap at its foot. His hands were
clenched convulsively. His face became distorted with pain. Hooker
"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
Evans gave an inarticulate cry and rolled over.
Hooker's jaw dropped. He stared at the thorn for a moment with dilated
eyes. Then he looked at Evans, who was now crumpled together on the
ground, his back bending and straightening spasmodically. Then he looked
through the pillars of the trees and net-work of creeper stems, to where
in the dim grey shadow the blue-clad body of the Chinaman was still
indistinctly visible. He thought of the little dashes in the corner of the
plan, and in a moment he understood.
"God help me!" he said. For the thorns were similar to those the Dyaks
poison and use in their blowing-tubes. He understood now what Chang-hi's
assurance of the safety of his treasure meant. He understood that grin
"Evans!" he cried.
But Evans was silent and motionless, save for a horrible spasmodic
twitching of his limbs. A profound silence brooded over the forest.
Then Hooker began to suck furiously at the little pink spot on the ball of
his thumb--sucking for dear life. Presently he felt a strange aching pain
in his arms and shoulders, and his fingers seemed difficult to bend. Then
he knew that sucking was no good.
Abruptly he stopped, and sitting down by the pile of ingots, and resting
his chin upon his hands and his elbows upon his knees, stared at the
distorted but still quivering body of his companion. Chang-hi's grin came
into his mind again. The dull pain spread towards his throat and grew
slowly in intensity. Far above him a faint breeze stirred the greenery,
and the white petals of some unknown flower came floating down through the
THE STORY OF THE LATE MR. ELVESHAM.
I set this story down, not expecting it will be believed, but, if
possible, to prepare a way of escape for the next victim. He, perhaps, may
profit by my misfortune. My own case, I know, is hopeless, and I am now in
some measure prepared to meet my fate.
My name is Edward George Eden. I was born at Trentham, in Staffordshire,
my father being employed in the gardens there. I lost my mother when I was
three years old, and my father when I was five, my uncle, George Eden,
then adopting me as his own son. He was a single man, self-educated, and
well-known in Birmingham as an enterprising journalist; he educated me
generously, fired my ambition to succeed in the world, and at his death,
which happened four years ago, left me his entire fortune, a matter of
about five hundred pounds after all outgoing charges were paid. I was then
eighteen. He advised me in his will to expend the money in completing my
education. I had already chosen the profession of medicine, and through
his posthumous generosity and my good fortune in a scholarship
competition, I became a medical student at University College, London. At
the time of the beginning of my story I lodged at 11A University Street in
a little upper room, very shabbily furnished and draughty, overlooking the
back of Shoolbred's premises. I used this little room both to live in and
sleep in, because I was anxious to eke out my means to the very last
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
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
"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
He laid a persuasive skinny hand that trembled a little upon my arm.
I was not so old that an old man might not treat me to a lunch. Yet at the
same time I was not altogether pleased by this abrupt invitation. "I had
rather----" I began. "But I had rather," he said, catching me up, "and a
certain civility is surely due to my grey hairs."
And so I consented, and went with him.
He took me to Blavitiski's; I had to walk slowly to accommodate myself to
his paces; and over such a lunch as I had never tasted before, he fended
off my leading question, and I took a better note of his appearance. His
clean-shaven face was lean and wrinkled, his shrivelled, lips fell over a
set of false teeth, and his white hair was thin and rather long; he seemed
small to me,--though indeed, most people seemed small to me,--and his
shoulders were rounded and bent. And watching him, I could not help but
observe that he too was taking note of me, running his eyes, with a
curious touch of greed in them, over me, from my broad shoulders to my
suntanned hands, and up to my freckled face again. "And now," said he, as
we lit our cigarettes, "I must tell you of the business in hand.
"I must tell you, then, that I am an old man, a very old man." He paused
momentarily. "And it happens that I have money that I must presently be
leaving, and never a child have I to leave it to." I thought of the
confidence trick, and resolved I would be on the alert for the vestiges of
my five hundred pounds. He proceeded to enlarge on his loneliness, and the
trouble he had to find a proper disposition of his money. "I have weighed
this plan and that plan, charities, institutions, and scholarships, and
libraries, and I have come to this conclusion at last,"--he fixed his eyes
on my face,--"that I will find some young fellow, ambitious, pure-minded,
and poor, healthy in body and healthy in mind, and, in short, make him my
heir, give him all that I have." He repeated, "Give him all that I have.
So that he will suddenly be lifted out of all the trouble and struggle in
which his sympathies have been educated, to freedom and influence."
I tried to seem disinterested. With a transparent hypocrisy I said, "And
you want my help, my professional services maybe, to find that person."
He smiled, and looked at me over his cigarette, and I laughed at his quiet
exposure of my modest pretence.
"What a career such a man might have!" he said. "It fills me with envy to
think how I have accumulated that another man may spend----
"But there are conditions, of course, burdens to be imposed. He must, for
instance, take my name. You cannot expect everything without some return.
And I must go into all the circumstances of his life before I can accept
him. He _must_ be sound. I must know his heredity, how his parents
and grandparents died, have the strictest inquiries made into his private
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 Blavitiski 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
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