The Country of the Blind, And Other Stories
H. G. Wells
Part 5 out of 9
it. I can't think what you're about, Cave, not to take the gentleman's
Mr. Cave, greatly perturbed by the irruption, looked angrily at her over
the rims of his spectacles, and, without excessive assurance, asserted his
right to manage his business in his own way. An altercation began. The two
customers watched the scene with interest and some amusement, occasionally
assisting Mrs. Cave with suggestions. Mr. Cave, hard driven, persisted in
a confused and impossible story of an inquiry for the crystal that
morning, and his agitation became painful. But he stuck to his point with
extraordinary persistence. It was the young Oriental who ended this
curious controversy. He proposed that they should call again in the course
of two days--so as to give the alleged inquirer a fair chance. "And then
we must insist," said the clergyman. "Five pounds." Mrs. Cave took it on
herself to apologise for her husband, explaining that he was sometimes "a
little odd," and as the two customers left, the couple prepared for a free
discussion of the incident in all its bearings.
Mrs. Cave talked to her husband with singular directness. The poor little
man, quivering with emotion, muddled himself between his stories,
maintaining on the one hand that he had another customer in view, and on
the other asserting that the crystal was honestly worth ten guineas. "Why
did you ask five pounds?" said his wife. "_Do_ let me manage my
business my own way!" said Mr. Cave.
Mr. Cave had living with him a step-daughter and a step-son, and at supper
that night the transaction was re-discussed. None of them had a high
opinion of Mr. Cave's business methods, and this action seemed a
"It's my opinion he's refused that crystal before," said the step-son, a
loose-limbed lout of eighteen.
"But _Five Pounds_!" said the step-daughter, an argumentative young
woman of six-and-twenty.
Mr. Cave's answers were wretched; he could only mumble weak assertions
that he knew his own business best. They drove him from his half-eaten
supper into the shop, to close it for the night, his ears aflame and tears
of vexation behind his spectacles. Why had he left the crystal in the
window so long? The folly of it! That was the trouble closest in his mind.
For a time he could see no way of evading sale.
After supper his step-daughter and step-son smartened themselves up and
went out and his wife retired upstairs to reflect upon the business
aspects of the crystal, over a little sugar and lemon and so forth in hot
water. Mr. Cave went into the shop, and stayed there until late,
ostensibly to make ornamental rockeries for gold-fish cases, but really
for a private purpose that will be better explained later. The next day
Mrs. Cave found that the crystal had been removed from the window, and
was lying behind some second-hand books on angling. She replaced it in a
conspicuous position. But she did not argue further about it, as a nervous
headache disinclined her from debate. Mr. Cave was always disinclined. The
day passed disagreeably. Mr. Cave was, if anything, more absent-minded
than usual, and uncommonly irritable withal. In the afternoon, when his
wife was taking her customary sleep, he removed the crystal from the
The next day Mr. Cave had to deliver a consignment of dog-fish at one of
the hospital schools, where they were needed for dissection. In his
absence Mrs. Cave's mind reverted to the topic of the crystal, and the
methods of expenditure suitable to a windfall of five pounds. She had
already devised some very agreeable expedients, among others a dress of
green silk for herself and a trip to Richmond, when a jangling of the
front door bell summoned her into the shop. The customer was an
examination coach who came to complain of the non-delivery of certain
frogs asked for the previous day. Mrs. Cave did not approve of this
particular branch of Mr. Cave's business, and the gentleman, who had
called in a somewhat aggressive mood, retired after a brief exchange of
words--entirely civil, so far as he was concerned. Mrs. Cave's eye then
naturally turned to the window; for the sight of the crystal was an
assurance of the five pounds and of her dreams. What was her surprise to
find it gone!
She went to the place behind the locker on the counter, where she had
discovered it the day before. It was not there; and she immediately began
an eager search about the shop.
When Mr. Cave returned from his business with the dogfish, about a quarter
to two in the afternoon, he found the shop in some confusion, and his
wife, extremely exasperated and on her knees behind the counter, routing
among his taxidermic material. Her face came up hot and angry over the
counter, as the jangling bell announced his return, and she forthwith
accused him of "hiding it."
"Hid _what_?" asked Mr. Cave.
At that Mr. Cave, apparently much surprised, rushed to the window. "Isn't
it here?" he said. "Great Heavens! what has become of it?"
Just then Mr. Cave's step-son re-entered the shop from, the inner room--he
had come home a minute or so before Mr. Cave--and he was blaspheming
freely. He was apprenticed to a second-hand furniture dealer down the
road, but he had his meals at home, and he was naturally annoyed to find
no dinner ready.
But when he heard of the loss of the crystal, he forgot his meal, and his
anger was diverted from his mother to his step-father. Their first idea,
of course, was that he had hidden it. But Mr. Cave stoutly denied all
knowledge of its fate, freely offering his bedabbled affidavit in the
matter--and at last was worked up to the point of accusing, first, his
wife and then his stepson of having taken it with a view to a private
sale. So began an exceedingly acrimonious and emotional discussion, which
ended for Mrs. Cave in a peculiar nervous condition midway between
hysterics and amuck, and caused the step-son to be half-an-hour late at
the furniture establishment in the afternoon. Mr. Cave took refuge from
his wife's emotions in the shop.
In the evening the matter was resumed, with less passion and in a judicial
spirit, under the presidency of the step-daughter. The supper passed
unhappily and culminated in a painful scene. Mr. Cave gave way at last to
extreme exasperation, and went out banging the front door violently. The
rest of the family, having discussed him with the freedom his absence
warranted, hunted the house from garret to cellar, hoping to light upon
The next day the two customers called again. They were received by Mrs.
Cave almost in tears. It transpired that no one _could_ imagine all
that she had stood from Cave at various times in her married pilgrimage.
... She also gave a garbled account of the disappearance. The clergyman
and the Oriental laughed silently at one another, and said it was very
extraordinary. As Mrs. Cave seemed disposed to give them the complete
history of her life they made to leave the shop. Thereupon Mrs. Cave,
still clinging to hope, asked for the clergyman's address, so that, if she
could get anything out of Cave, she might communicate it. The address was
duly given, but apparently was afterwards mislaid. Mrs. Cave can remember
nothing about it.
In the evening of that day the Caves seem to have exhausted their
emotions, and Mr. Cave, who had been out in the afternoon, supped in a
gloomy isolation that contrasted pleasantly with the impassioned
controversy of the previous days. For some time matters were very badly
strained in the Cave household, but neither crystal nor customer
Now, without mincing the matter, we must admit that Mr. Cave was a liar.
He knew perfectly well where the crystal was. It was in the rooms of Mr.
Jacoby Wace, Assistant Demonstrator at St. Catherine's Hospital,
Westbourne Street. It stood on the sideboard partially covered by a black
velvet cloth, and beside a decanter of American whisky. It is from Mr.
Wace, indeed, that the particulars upon which this narrative is based were
derived. Cave had taken off the thing to the hospital hidden in the
dog-fish sack, and there had pressed the young investigator to keep it for
him. Mr. Wace was a little dubious at first. His relationship to Cave was
peculiar. He had a taste for singular characters, and he had more than
once invited the old man to smoke and drink in his rooms, and to unfold
his rather amusing views of life in general and of his wife in particular.
Mr. Wace had encountered Mrs. Cave, too, on occasions when Mr. Cave was
not at home to attend to him. He knew the constant interference to which
Cave was subjected, and having weighed the story judicially, he decided to
give the crystal a refuge. Mr. Cave promised to explain the reasons for
his remarkable affection for the crystal more fully on a later occasion,
but he spoke distinctly of seeing visions therein. He called on Mr. Wace
the same evening.
He told a complicated story. The crystal he said had come into his
possession with other oddments at the forced sale of another curiosity
dealer's effects, and not knowing what its value might be, he had ticketed
it at ten shillings. It had hung upon his hands at that price for some
months, and he was thinking of "reducing the figure," when he made a
At that time his health was very bad--and it must be borne in mind that,
throughout all this experience, his physical condition was one of ebb--and
he was in considerable distress by reason of the negligence, the positive
ill-treatment even, he received from his wife and step-children. His wife
was vain, extravagant, unfeeling, and had a growing taste for private
drinking; his step-daughter was mean and over-reaching; and his step-son
had conceived a violent dislike for him, and lost no chance of showing it.
The requirements of his business pressed heavily upon him, and Mr. Wace
does not think that he was altogether free from occasional intemperance.
He had begun life in a comfortable position, he was a man of fair
education, and he suffered, for weeks at a stretch, from melancholia and
insomnia. Afraid to disturb his family, he would slip quietly from his
wife's side, when his thoughts became intolerable, and wander about the
house. And about three o'clock one morning, late in August, chance
directed him into the shop.
The dirty little place was impenetrably black except in one spot, where he
perceived an unusual glow of light. Approaching this, he discovered it to
be the crystal egg, which was standing on the corner of the counter
towards the window. A thin ray smote through a crack in the shutters,
impinged upon the object, and seemed as it were to fill its entire
It occurred to Mr. Cave that this was not in accordance with the laws of
optics as he had known them in his younger days. He could understand the
rays being refracted by the crystal and coming to a focus in its interior,
but this diffusion jarred with his physical conceptions. He approached the
crystal nearly, peering into it and round it, with a transient revival of
the scientific curiosity that in his youth had determined his choice of a
calling. He was surprised to find the light not steady, but writhing
within the substance of the egg, as though that object was a hollow sphere
of some luminous vapour. In moving about to get different points of view,
he suddenly found that he had come between it and the ray, and that the
crystal none the less remained luminous. Greatly astonished, he lifted it
out of the light ray and carried it to the darkest part of the shop. It
remained bright for some four or five minutes, when it slowly faded and
went out. He placed it in the thin streak of daylight, and its
luminousness was almost immediately restored.
So far, at least, Mr. Wace was able to verify the remarkable story of Mr.
Cave. He has himself repeatedly held this crystal in a ray of light (which
had to be of a less diameter than one millimetre). And in a perfect
darkness, such as could be produced by velvet wrapping, the crystal did
undoubtedly appear very faintly phosphorescent. It would seem, however,
that the luminousness was of some exceptional sort, and not equally
visible to all eyes; for Mr. Harbinger--whose name will be familiar to the
scientific reader in connection with the Pasteur Institute--was quite
unable to see any light whatever. And Mr. Wace's own capacity for its
appreciation was out of comparison inferior to that of Mr. Cave's. Even
with Mr. Cave the power varied very considerably: his vision was most
vivid during states of extreme weakness and fatigue.
Now, from the outset, this light in the crystal exercised a curious
fascination upon Mr. Cave. And it says more for his loneliness of soul
than a volume of pathetic writing could do, that he told no human being of
his curious observations. He seems to have been living in such an
atmosphere of petty spite that to admit the existence of a pleasure would
have been to risk the loss of it. He found that as the dawn advanced, and
the amount of diffused light increased, the crystal became to all
appearance non-luminous. And for some time he was unable to see anything
in it, except at night-time, in dark corners of the shop.
But the use of an old velvet cloth, which he used as a background for a
collection of minerals, occurred to him, and by doubling this, and putting
it over his head and hands, he was able to get a sight of the luminous
movement within the crystal even in the day-time. He was very cautious
lest he should be thus discovered by his wife, and he practised this
occupation only in the afternoons, while she was asleep upstairs, and then
circumspectly in a hollow under the counter. And one day, turning the
crystal about in his hands, he saw something. It came and went like a
flash, but it gave him the impression that the object had for a moment
opened to him the view of a wide and spacious and strange country; and
turning it about, he did, just as the light faded, see the same vision
Now it would be tedious and unnecessary to state all the phases of Mr.
Cave's discovery from this point. Suffice that the effect was this: the
crystal, being peered into at an angle of about 137 degrees from the
direction of the illuminating ray, gave a clear and consistent picture of
a wide and peculiar country-side. It was not dream-like at all: it
produced a definite impression of reality, and the better the light the
more real and solid it seemed. It was a moving picture: that is to say,
certain objects moved in it, but slowly in an orderly manner like real
things, and, according as the direction of the lighting and vision
changed, the picture changed also. It must, indeed, have been like looking
through an oval glass at a view, and turning the glass about to get at
Mr. Cave's statements, Mr. Wace assures me, were extremely circumstantial,
and entirely free from any of that emotional quality that taints
hallucinatory impressions. But it must be remembered that all the efforts
of Mr. Wace to see any similar clarity in the faint opalescence of the
crystal were wholly unsuccessful, try as he would. The difference in
intensity of the impressions received by the two men was very great, and
it is quite conceivable that what was a view to Mr. Cave was a mere
blurred nebulosity to Mr. Wace.
The view, as Mr. Cave described it, was invariably of an extensive plain,
and he seemed always to be looking at it from a considerable height, as if
from a tower or a mast. To the east and to the west the plain was bounded
at a remote distance by vast reddish cliffs, which reminded him of those
he had seen in some picture; but what the picture was Mr. Wace was unable
to ascertain. These cliffs passed north and south--he could tell the
points of the compass by the stars that were visible of a night--receding
in an almost illimitable perspective and fading into the mists of the
distance before they met. He was nearer the eastern set of cliffs; on the
occasion of his first vision the sun was rising over them, and black
against the sunlight and pale against their shadow appeared a multitude of
soaring forms that Mr. Cave regarded as birds. A vast range of buildings
spread below him; he seemed to be looking down upon them; and as they
approached the blurred and refracted edge of the picture they became
indistinct. There were also trees curious in shape, and in colouring a
deep mossy green and an exquisite grey, beside a wide and shining canal.
And something great and brilliantly coloured flew across the picture. But
the first time Mr. Cave saw these pictures he saw only in flashes, his
hands shook, his head moved, the vision came and went, and grew foggy and
indistinct. And at first he had the greatest difficulty in finding the
picture again once the direction of it was lost.
His next clear vision, which came about a week after the first, the
interval having yielded nothing but tantalising glimpses and some useful
experience, showed him the view down the length of the valley. The view
was different, but he had a curious persuasion, which his subsequent
observations abundantly confirmed, that he was regarding the strange world
from exactly the same spot, although he was looking in a different
direction. The long facade of the great building, whose roof he had looked
down upon before, was now receding in perspective. He recognised the roof.
In the front of the facade was a terrace of massive proportions and
extraordinary length, and down the middle of the terrace, at certain
intervals, stood huge but very graceful masts, bearing small shiny objects
which reflected the setting sun. The import of these small objects did not
occur to Mr. Cave until some time after, as he was describing the scene to
Mr. Wace. The terrace overhung a thicket of the most luxuriant and
graceful vegetation, and beyond this was a wide grassy lawn on which
certain broad creatures, in form like beetles but enormously larger,
reposed. Beyond this again was a richly decorated causeway of pinkish
stone; and beyond that, and lined with dense red weeds, and passing up the
valley exactly parallel with the distant cliffs, was a broad and
mirror-like expanse of water. The air seemed full of squadrons of great
birds, manoeuvring in stately curves; and across the river was a multitude
of splendid buildings, richly coloured and glittering with metallic tracery
and facets, among a forest of moss-like and lichenous trees. And suddenly
something flapped repeatedly across the vision, like the fluttering of a
jewelled fan or the beating of a wing, and a face, or rather the upper
part of a face with very large eyes, came as it were close to his own and
as if on the other side of the crystal. Mr. Cave was so startled and so
impressed by the absolute reality of these eyes that he drew his head back
from the crystal to look behind it. He had become so absorbed in watching
that he was quite surprised to find himself in the cool darkness of his
little shop, with its familiar odour of methyl, mustiness, and decay. And
as he blinked about him, the glowing crystal faded and went out.
Such were the first general impressions of Mr. Cave. The story is
curiously direct and circumstantial. From the outset, when the valley
first flashed momentarily on his senses, his imagination was strangely
affected, and as he began to appreciate the details of the scene he saw,
his wonder rose to the point of a passion. He went about his business
listless and distraught, thinking only of the time when he should be able
to return to his watching. And then a few weeks after his first sight of
the valley came the two customers, the stress and excitement of their
offer, and the narrow escape of the crystal from sale, as I have already
Now, while the thing was Mr. Cave's secret, it remained a mere wonder, a
thing to creep to covertly and peep at, as a child might peep upon a
forbidden garden. But Mr. Wace has, for a young scientific investigator, a
particularly lucid and consecutive habit of mind. Directly the crystal and
its story came to him, and he had satisfied himself, by seeing the
phosphorescence with his own eyes, that there really was a certain
evidence for Mr. Cave's statements, he proceeded to develop the matter
systematically. Mr. Cave was only too eager to come and feast his eyes on
this wonderland he saw, and he came every night from half-past eight until
half-past ten, and sometimes, in Mr. Wace's absence, during the day. On
Sunday afternoons, also, he came. From the outset Mr. Wace made copious
notes, and it was due to his scientific method that the relation between
the direction from which the initiating ray entered the crystal and the
orientation of the picture were proved. And, by covering the crystal in a
box perforated only with a small aperture to admit the exciting ray, and
by substituting black holland for his buff blinds, he greatly improved the
conditions of the observations; so that in a little while they were able
to survey the valley in any direction they desired.
So having cleared the way, we may give a brief account of this visionary
world within the crystal. The things were in all cases seen by Mr. Cave,
and the method of working was invariably for him to watch the crystal and
report what he saw, while Mr. Wace (who as a science student had learnt
the trick of writing in the dark) wrote a brief note of his report. When
the crystal faded, it was put into its box in the proper position and the
electric light turned on. Mr. Wace asked questions, and suggested
observations to clear up difficult points. Nothing, indeed, could have
been less visionary and more matter-of-fact.
The attention of Mr. Cave had been speedily directed to the bird-like
creatures he had seen so abundantly present in each of his earlier
visions. His first impression was soon corrected, and he considered for a
time that they might represent a diurnal species of bat. Then he thought,
grotesquely enough, that they might be cherubs. Their heads were round and
curiously human, and it was the eyes of one of them that had so startled
him on his second observation. They had broad, silvery wings, not
feathered, but glistening almost as brilliantly as new-killed fish and
with the same subtle play of colour, and these wings were not built on the
plan of bird-wing or bat, Mr. Wace learned, but supported by curved ribs
radiating from the body. (A sort of butterfly wing with curved ribs seems
best to express their appearance.) The body was small, but fitted with two
bunches of prehensile organs, like long tentacles, immediately under the
mouth. Incredible as it appeared to Mr. Wace, the persuasion at last
became irresistible that it was these creatures which owned the great
quasi-human buildings and the magnificent garden that made the broad
valley so splendid. And Mr. Cave perceived that the buildings, with other
peculiarities, had no doors, but that the great circular windows, which
opened freely, gave the creatures egress and entrance. They would alight
upon their tentacles, fold their wings to a smallness almost rod-like, and
hop into the interior. But among them was a multitude of smaller-winged
creatures, like great dragon-flies and moths and flying beetles, and
across the greensward brilliantly-coloured gigantic ground-beetles crawled
lazily to and fro. Moreover, on the causeways and terraces, large-headed
creatures similar to the greater winged flies, but wingless, were visible,
hopping busily upon their hand-like tangle of tentacles.
Allusion has already been made to the glittering objects upon masts that
stood upon the terrace of the nearer building. It dawned upon Mr. Cave,
after regarding one of these masts very fixedly on one particularly vivid
day that the glittering object there was a crystal exactly like that into
which he peered. And a still more careful scrutiny convinced him that each
one in a vista of nearly twenty carried a similar object.
Occasionally one of the large flying creatures would flutter up to one,
and folding its wings and coiling a number of its tentacles about the
mast, would regard the crystal fixedly for a space,--sometimes for as long
as fifteen minutes. And a series of observations, made at the suggestion
of Mr. Wace, convinced both watchers that, so far as this visionary world
was concerned, the crystal into which they peered actually stood at the
summit of the end-most mast on the terrace, and that on one occasion at
least one of these inhabitants of this other world had looked into Mr.
Cave's face while he was making these observations.
So much for the essential facts of this very singular story. Unless we
dismiss it all as the ingenious fabrication of Mr. Wace, we have to
believe one of two things: either that Mr. Cave's crystal was in two
worlds at once, and that while it was carried about in one, it remained
stationary in the other, which seems altogether absurd; or else that it
had some peculiar relation of sympathy with another and exactly similar
crystal in this other world, so that what was seen in the interior of the
one in this world was, under suitable conditions, visible to an observer
in the corresponding crystal in the other world; and _vice versa_. At
present, indeed, we do not know of any way in which two crystals could so
come _en rapport_, but nowadays we know enough to understand that the
thing is not altogether impossible. This view of the crystals as _en
rapport_ was the supposition that occurred to Mr. Wace, and to me at
least it seems extremely plausible...
And where was this other world? On this, also, the alert intelligence of
Mr. Wace speedily threw light. After sunset, the sky darkened rapidly--
there was a very brief twilight interval indeed--and the stars shone out.
They were recognisably the same as those we see, arranged in the same
constellations. Mr. Cave recognised the Bear, the Pleiades, Aldebaran, and
Sirius; so that the other world must be somewhere in the solar system,
and, at the utmost, only a few hundreds of millions of miles from our own.
Following up this clue, Mr. Wace learned that the midnight sky was a
darker blue even than our midwinter sky, and that the sun seemed a little
smaller. _And there were two small moons!_ "like our moon but
smaller, and quite differently marked," one of which moved so rapidly that
its motion was clearly visible as one regarded it. These moons were never
high in the sky, but vanished as they rose: that is, every time they
revolved they were eclipsed because they were so near their primary
planet. And all this answers quite completely, although Mr. Cave did not
know it, to what must be the condition of things on Mars.
Indeed, it seems an exceedingly plausible conclusion that peering into
this crystal Mr. Cave did actually see the planet Mars and its
inhabitants. And if that be the case, then the evening star that shone so
brilliantly in the sky of that distant vision was neither more nor less
than our own familiar earth.
For a time the Martians--if they were Martians--do not seem to have known
of Mr. Cave's inspection. Once or twice one would come to peer, and go
away very shortly to some other mast, as though the vision was
unsatisfactory. During this time Mr. Cave was able to watch the
proceedings of these winged people without being disturbed by their
attentions, and although his report is necessarily vague and fragmentary,
it is nevertheless very suggestive. Imagine the impression of humanity a
Martian observer would get who, after a difficult process of preparation
and with considerable fatigue to the eyes, was able to peer at London from
the steeple of St. Martin's Church for stretches, at longest, of four
minutes at a time. Mr. Cave was unable to ascertain if the winged Martians
were the same as the Martians who hopped about the causeways and terraces,
and if the latter could put on wings at will. He several times saw certain
clumsy bipeds, dimly suggestive of apes, white and partially translucent,
feeding among certain of the lichenous trees, and once some of these fled
before one of the hopping, round-headed Martians. The latter caught one in
its tentacles, and then the picture faded suddenly and left Mr. Cave most
tantalisingly in the dark. On another occasion a vast thing, that Mr. Cave
thought at first was some gigantic insect, appeared advancing along the
causeway beside the canal with extraordinary rapidity. As this drew nearer
Mr. Cave perceived that it was a mechanism of shining metals and of
extraordinary complexity. And then, when he looked again, it had passed
out of sight.
After a time Mr. Wace aspired to attract the attention of the Martians,
and the next time that the strange eyes of one of them appeared close to
the crystal Mr. Cave cried out and sprang away, and they immediately
turned on the light and began to gesticulate in a manner suggestive of
signalling. But when at last Mr. Cave examined the crystal again the
Martian had departed.
Thus far these observations had progressed in early November, and then Mr.
Cave, feeling that the suspicions of his family about the crystal were
allayed, began to take it to and fro with him in order that, as occasion
arose in the daytime or night, he might comfort himself with what was fast
becoming the most real thing in his existence.
In December Mr. Wace's work in connection with a forthcoming examination
became heavy, the sittings were reluctantly suspended for a week, and for
ten or eleven days--he is not quite sure which--he saw nothing of Cave. He
then grew anxious to resume these investigations, and, the stress of his
seasonal labours being abated, he went down to Seven Dials. At the corner
he noticed a shutter before a bird fancier's window, and then another at a
cobbler's. Mr. Cave's shop was closed.
He rapped and the door was opened by the step-son in black. He at once
called Mrs. Cave, who was, Mr. Wace could not but observe, in cheap but
ample widow's weeds of the most imposing pattern. Without any very great
surprise Mr. Wace learnt that Cave was dead and already buried. She was in
tears, and her voice was a little thick. She had just returned from
Highgate. Her mind seemed occupied with her own prospects and the
honourable details of the obsequies, but Mr. Wace was at last able to
learn the particulars of Cave's death. He had been found dead in his shop
in the early morning, the day after his last visit to Mr. Wace, and the
crystal had been clasped in his stone-cold hands. His face was smiling,
said Mrs. Cave, and the velvet cloth from the minerals lay on the floor at
his feet. He must have been dead five or six hours when he was found.
This came as a great shock to Wace, and he began to reproach himself
bitterly for having neglected the plain symptoms of the old man's
ill-health. But his chief thought was of the crystal. He approached that
topic in a gingerly manner, because he knew Mrs. Cave's peculiarities. He
was dumfounded to learn that it was sold.
Mrs. Cave's first impulse, directly Cave's body had been taken upstairs,
had been to write to the mad clergyman who had offered five pounds for the
crystal, informing him of its recovery; but after a violent hunt, in which
her daughter joined her, they were convinced of the loss of his address.
As they were without the means required to mourn and bury Cave in the
elaborate style the dignity of an old Seven Dials inhabitant demands, they
had appealed to a friendly fellow-tradesman in Great Portland Street. He
had very kindly taken over a portion of the stock at a valuation. The
valuation was his own, and the crystal egg was included in one of the
lots. Mr. Wace, after a few suitable condolences, a little off-handedly
proffered perhaps, hurried at once to Great Portland Street. But there he
learned that the crystal egg had already been sold to a tall, dark man in
grey. And there the material facts in this curious, and to me at least
very suggestive, story come abruptly to an end. The Great Portland Street
dealer did not know who the tall dark man in grey was, nor had he observed
him with sufficient attention to describe him minutely. He did not even
know which way this person had gone after leaving the shop. For a time Mr.
Wace remained in the shop, trying the dealer's patience with hopeless
questions, venting his own exasperation. And at last, realising abruptly
that the whole thing had passed out of his hands, had vanished like a
vision of the night, he returned to his own rooms, a little astonished to
find the notes he had made still tangible and visible upon, his untidy
His annoyance and disappointment were naturally very great. He made a
second call (equally ineffectual) upon the Great Portland Street dealer,
and he resorted to advertisements in such periodicals as were lively to
come into the hands of a _bric-a-brac_ collector. He also wrote
letters to _The Daily Chronicle_ and _Nature_, but both those
periodicals, suspecting a hoax, asked him to reconsider his action before
they printed, and he was advised that such a strange story, unfortunately
so bare of supporting evidence, might imperil his reputation as an
investigator. Moreover, the calls of his proper work were urgent. So that
after a month or so, save for an occasional reminder to certain dealers,
he had reluctantly to abandon the quest for the crystal egg, and from that
day to this it remains undiscovered. Occasionally, however, he tells me,
and I can quite believe him, he has bursts of zeal, in which he abandons
his more urgent occupation and resumes the search.
Whether or not it will remain lost for ever, with the material and origin
of it, are things equally speculative at the present time. If the present
purchaser is a collector, one would have expected the enquiries of Mr.
Wace to have reached him through the dealers. He has been able to discover
Mr. Cave's clergyman and "Oriental"--no other than the Rev. James Parker
and the young Prince of Bosso-Kuni in Java. I am obliged to them for
certain particulars. The object of the Prince was simply curiosity--and
extravagance. He was so eager to buy because Cave was so oddly reluctant
to sell. It is just as possible that the buyer in the second instance was
simply a casual purchaser and not a collector at all, and the crystal egg,
for all I know, may at the present moment be within a mile of me,
decorating a drawing-room or serving as a paper-weight--its remarkable
functions all unknown. Indeed, it is partly with the idea of such a
possibility that I have thrown this narrative into a form that will give
it a chance of being read by the ordinary consumer of fiction.
My own ideas in the matter are practically identical with those of Mr.
Wace. I believe the crystal on the mast in Mars and the crystal egg of Mr.
Cave's to be in some physical, but at present quite inexplicable, way
_en rapport_, and we both believe further that the terrestrial
crystal must have been--possibly at some remote date--sent hither from
that planet, in order to give the Martians a near view of our affairs.
Possibly the fellows to the crystals on the other masts are also on our
globe. No theory of hallucination suffices for the facts.
It was on the first day of the new year that the announcement was made,
almost simultaneously from three observatories, that the motion of the
planet Neptune, the outermost of all the planets that wheel about the sun,
had become very erratic. Ogilvy had already called attention to a
suspected retardation in its velocity in December. Such a piece of news
was scarcely calculated to interest a world the greater portion of whose
inhabitants were unaware of the existence of the planet Neptune, nor
outside the astronomical profession did the subsequent discovery of a
faint remote speck of light in the region of the perturbed planet cause
any very great excitement. Scientific people, however, found the
intelligence remarkable enough, even before it became known that the new
body was rapidly growing larger and brighter, that its motion was quite
different from the orderly progress of the planets, and that the
deflection of Neptune and its satellite was becoming now of an
Few people without a training in science can realise the huge isolation of
the solar system. The sun with its specks of planets, its dust of
planetoids, and its impalpable comets, swims in a vacant immensity that
almost defeats the imagination. Beyond the orbit of Neptune there is
space, vacant so far as human observation has penetrated, without warmth
or light or sound, blank emptiness, for twenty million times a million
miles. That is the smallest estimate of the distance to be traversed
before the very nearest of the stars is attained. And, saving a few comets
more unsubstantial than the thinnest flame, no matter had ever to human
knowledge crossed this gulf of space until early in the twentieth century
this strange wanderer appeared. A vast mass of matter it was, bulky,
heavy, rushing without warning out of the black mystery of the sky into
the radiance of the sun. By the second day it was clearly visible to any
decent instrument, as a speck with a barely sensible diameter, in the
constellation Leo near Regulus. In a little while an opera glass could
On the third day of the new year the newspaper readers of two hemispheres
were made aware for the first time of the real importance of this unusual
apparition in the heavens. "A Planetary Collision," one London paper
headed the news, and proclaimed Duchaine's opinion that this strange new
planet would probably collide with Neptune. The leader-writers enlarged
upon the topic. So that in most of the capitals of the world, on January
3rd, there was an expectation, however vague, of some imminent phenomenon
in the sky; and as the night followed the sunset round the globe,
thousands of men turned their eyes skyward to see--the old familiar stars
just as they had always been.
Until it was dawn in London and Pollux setting and the stars overhead
grown pale. The Winter's dawn it was, a sickly filtering accumulation of
daylight, and the light of gas and candles shone yellow in the windows to
show where people were astir. But the yawning policeman saw the thing, the
busy crowds in the markets stopped agape, workmen going to their work
betimes, milkmen, the drivers of news-carts, dissipation going home jaded
and pale, homeless wanderers, sentinels on their beats, and, in the
country, labourers trudging afield, poachers slinking home, all over the
dusky quickening country it could be seen--and out at sea by seamen
watching for the day--a great white star, come suddenly into the westward
Brighter it was than any star in our skies; brighter than the evening star
at its brightest. It still glowed out white and large, no mere twinkling
spot of light, but a small, round, clear shining disc, an hour after the
day had come. And where science has not reached, men stared and feared,
telling one another of the wars and pestilences that are foreshadowed by
these fiery signs in the Heavens. Sturdy Boers, dusky Hottentots, Gold
Coast negroes, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Portuguese, stood in the warmth of
the sunrise watching the setting of this strange new star.
And in a hundred observatories there had been suppressed excitement,
rising almost to shouting pitch, as the two remote bodies had rushed
together, and a hurrying to and fro, to gather photographic apparatus and
spectroscope, and this appliance and that, to record this novel,
astonishing sight, the destruction of a world. For it was a world, a
sister planet of our earth, far greater than our earth indeed, that had so
suddenly flashed into flaming death. Neptune it was had been struck,
fairly and squarely, by the strange planet from outer space, and the heat
of the concussion had incontinently turned two solid globes into one vast
mass of incandescence. Round the world that day, two hours before the
dawn, went the pallid great white star, fading only as it sank westward
and the sun mounted above it. Everywhere men marvelled at it, but of all
those who saw it none could have marvelled more than those sailors,
habitual watchers of the stars, who far away at sea had heard nothing of
its advent and saw it now rise like a pigmy moon and climb zenithward and
hang overhead and sink westward with the passing of the night.
And when next it rose over Europe everywhere were crowds of watchers on
hilly slopes, on house-roofs, in open spaces, staring eastward for the
rising of the great new star. It rose with a white glow in front of it,
like the glare of a white fire, and those who had seen it come into
existence the night before cried out at the sight of it. "It is larger,"
they cried. "It is brighter!" And indeed the moon, a quarter full and
sinking in the west, was in its apparent size beyond comparison, but
scarcely in all its breadth had it as much brightness now as the little
circle of the strange new star.
"It is brighter!" cried the people clustering in the streets. But in the
dim observatories the watchers held their breath and peered at one
another. "_It is nearer_!" they said. "_Nearer_!"
And voice after voice repeated, "It is nearer," and the clicking telegraph
took that up, and it trembled along telephone wires, and in a thousand
cities grimy compositors fingered the type. "It is nearer." Men writing in
offices, struck with a strange realisation, flung down their pens, men
talking in a thousand places suddenly came upon a grotesque possibility in
those words, "It is nearer." It hurried along awakening streets, it was
shouted down the frost-stilled ways of quiet villages, men who had read
these things from the throbbing tape stood in yellow-lit doorways shouting
the news to the passers-by. "It is nearer," Pretty women, flushed and
glittering, heard the news told jestingly between the dances, and feigned
an intelligent interest they did not feel. "Nearer! Indeed. How curious!
How very, very clever people must be to find out things like that!"
Lonely tramps faring through the wintry night murmured those words to
comfort themselves--looking skyward. "It has need to be nearer, for the
night's as cold as charity. Don't seem much warmth from it if it _is_
nearer, all the same."
"What is a new star to me?" cried the weeping woman, kneeling beside her
The schoolboy, rising early for his examination work, puzzled it out for
himself--with the great white star shining broad and bright through the
frost-flowers of his window. "Centrifugal, centripetal," he said, with his
chin on his fist. "Stop a planet in its flight, rob it of its centrifugal
force, what then? Centripetal has it, and down it falls into the sun! And
"Do _we_ come in the way? I wonder--"
The light of that day went the way of its brethren, and with the later
watches of the frosty darkness rose the strange star again. And it was now
so bright that the waxing moon seemed but a pale yellow ghost of itself,
hanging huge in the sunset. In a South African city a great man had
married, and the streets were alight to welcome his return with his bride.
"Even the skies have illuminated," said the flatterer. Under Capricorn,
two negro lovers, daring the wild beasts and evil spirits for love of one
another, crouched together in a cane brake where the fire-flies hovered.
"That is our star," they whispered, and felt strangely comforted by the
sweet brilliance of its light.
The master mathematician sat in his private room and pushed the papers from
him. His calculations were already finished. In a small white phial there
still remained a little of the drug that had kept him awake and active for
four long nights. Each day, serene, explicit, patient as ever, he had
given his lecture to his students, and then had come back at once to this
momentous calculation. His face was grave, a little drawn and hectic from
his drugged activity. For some time he seemed lost in thought. Then he
went to the window, and the blind went up with a click. Half-way up the
sky, over the clustering roofs, chimneys, and steeples of the city, hung
He looked at it as one might look into the eyes of a brave enemy. "You may
kill me," he said after a silence. "But I can hold you--and all the
universe for that matter--in the grip of this small brain. I would not
change. Even now."
He looked at the little phial. "There will be no need of sleep again," he
said. The next day at noon, punctual to the minute, he entered his lecture
theatre, put his hat on the end of the table as his habit was, and
carefully selected a large piece of chalk. It was a joke among his
students that he could not lecture without that piece of chalk to fumble
in his fingers, and once he had been stricken to impotence by their hiding
his supply. He came and looked under his grey eyebrows at the rising tiers
of young fresh faces, and spoke with his accustomed studied commonness of
"Circumstances have arisen--circumstances beyond my control," he said, and
paused, "which will debar me from completing the course I had designed.
It would seem, gentlemen, if I may put the thing clearly and briefly,
that--Man has lived in vain."
The students glanced at one another. Had they heard aright? Mad? Raised
eyebrows and grinning lips there were, but one or two faces remained
intent upon his calm grey-fringed face. "It will be interesting," he was
saying, "to devote this morning to an exposition, so far as I can make it
clear to you, of the calculations that have led me to this conclusion. Let
He turned towards the blackboard, meditating a diagram in the way that was
usual to him. "What was that about 'lived in vain'?" whispered one student
to another. "Listen," said the other, nodding towards the lecturer.
And presently they began to understand.
* * * * *
That night the star rose later, for its proper eastward motion had carried
it some way across Leo towards Virgo, and its brightness was so great that
the sky became a luminous blue as it rose, and every star was hidden in
its turn, save only Jupiter near the zenith, Capella, Aldebaran, Sirius,
and the pointers of the Bear. It was very white and beautiful. In many
parts of the world that night a pallid halo encircled it about. It was
perceptibly larger; in the clear refractive sky of the tropics it seemed
as if it were nearly a quarter the size of the moon. The frost was still
on the ground in England, but the world was as brightly lit as if it were
midsummer moonlight. One could see to read quite ordinary print by that
cold, clear light, and in the cities the lamps burnt yellow and wan.
And everywhere the world was awake that night, and throughout Christendom
a sombre murmur hung in the keen air over the country-side like the
belling of bees in the heather, and this murmurous tumult grew to a
clangour in the cities. It was the tolling of the bells in a million
belfry towers and steeples, summoning the people to sleep no more, to sin
no more, but to gather in their churches and pray. And overhead, growing
larger and brighter, as the earth rolled on its way and the night passed,
rose the dazzling star.
And the streets and houses were alight in all the cities, the shipyards
glared, and whatever roads led to high country were lit and crowded all
night long. And in all the seas about the civilized lands, ships with
throbbing engines, and ships with bellying sails, crowded with men and
living creatures, were standing out to ocean and the north. For already
the warning of the master mathematician had been telegraphed all over the
world and translated into a hundred tongues. The new planet and Neptune,
locked in a fiery embrace, were whirling headlong, ever faster and faster
towards the sun. Already every second this blazing mass flew a hundred
miles, and every second its terrific velocity increased. As it flew now,
indeed, it must pass a hundred million of miles, wide of the earth and
scarcely affect it. But near its destined path, as yet only slightly
perturbed, spun the mighty planet Jupiter and his moons sweeping splendid
round the sun. Every moment now the attraction between the fiery star and
the greatest of the planets grew stronger. And the result of that
attraction? Inevitably Jupiter would be deflected from its orbit into
an elliptical path, and the burning star, swung by his attraction wide of
its sunward rush, would "describe a curved path," and perhaps collide
with, and certainly pass very close to, our earth. "Earthquakes, volcanic
outbreaks, cyclones, sea waves, floods, and a steady rise in temperature
to I know not what limit"--so prophesied the master mathematician.
And overhead, to carry out his words, lonely and cold and livid blazed the
star of the coming doom.
To many who stared at it that night until their eyes ached it seemed that
it was visibly approaching. And that night, too, the weather changed, and
the frost that had gripped all Central Europe and France and England
softened towards a thaw.
But you must not imagine, because I have spoken of people praying through
the night and people going aboard ships and people fleeing towards
mountainous country, that the whole world was already in a terror because
of the star. As a matter of fact, use and wont still ruled the world, and
save for the talk of idle moments and the splendour of the night, nine
human beings out of ten were still busy at their common occupations. In
all the cities the shops, save one here and there, opened and closed at
their proper hours, the doctor and the undertaker plied their trades, the
workers gathered in the factories, soldiers drilled, scholars studied,
lovers sought one another, thieves lurked and fled, politicians planned
their schemes. The presses of the newspapers roared through the nights,
and many a priest of this church and that would not open his holy building
to further what he considered a foolish panic. The newspapers insisted on
the lesson of the year 1000--for then, too, people had anticipated the
end. The star was no star--mere gas--a comet; and were it a star it could
not possibly strike the earth. There was no precedent for such a thing.
Common-sense was sturdy everywhere, scornful, jesting, a little inclined
to persecute the obdurate fearful. That night, at seven-fifteen by
Greenwich time, the star would be at its nearest to Jupiter. Then the
world would see the turn things would take. The master mathematician's
grim warnings were treated by many as so much mere elaborate
self-advertisement. Common-sense at last, a little heated by argument,
signified its unalterable convictions by going to bed. So, too, barbarism
and savagery, already tired of the novelty, went about their nightly
business, and, save for a howling dog here and there, the beast world left
the star unheeded.
And yet, when at last the watchers in the European States saw the star
rise, an hour later, it is true, but no larger than it had been the night
before, there were still plenty awake to laugh at the master
mathematician--to take the danger as if it had passed.
But hereafter the laughter ceased. The star grew--it grew with a terrible
steadiness hour after hour, a little larger each hour, a little nearer
the midnight zenith, and brighter and brighter, until it had turned night
into a second day. Had it come straight to the earth instead of in a
curved path, had it lost no velocity to Jupiter, it must have leapt the
intervening gulf in a day; but as it was, it took five days altogether to
come by our planet. The next night it had become a third the size of the
moon before it set to English eyes, and the thaw was assured. It rose over
America near the size of the moon, but blinding white to look at, and
_hot_; and a breath of hot wind blew now with its rising and
gathering strength, and in Virginia, and Brazil, and down the St. Lawrence
valley, it shone intermittently through a driving reek of thunder-clouds,
flickering violet lightning, and hail unprecedented. In Manitoba was a
thaw and devastating floods. And upon all the mountains of the earth the
snow and ice began to melt that night, and all the rivers coming out of
high country flowed thick and turbid, and soon--in their upper reaches--
with swirling trees and the bodies of beasts and men. They rose steadily,
steadily in the ghostly brilliance, and came trickling over their banks at
last, behind the flying population of their valleys.
And along the coast of Argentina and up the South Atlantic the tides were
higher than had ever been in the memory of man, and the storms drove the
waters in many cases scores of miles inland, drowning whole cities. And so
great grew the heat during the night that the rising of the sun was like
the coming of a shadow. The earthquakes began and grew until all down
America from the Arctic Circle to Cape Horn, hillsides were sliding,
fissures were opening, and houses and walls crumbling to destruction. The
whole side of Cotopaxi slipped out in one vast convulsion, and a tumult of
lava poured out so high and broad and swift and liquid that in one day it
reached the sea.
So the star, with the wan moon in its wake, marched across the Pacific,
trailed the thunder-storms like the hem of a robe, and the growing tidal
wave that toiled behind it, frothing and eager, poured over island and
island and swept them clear of men: until that wave came at last--in a
blinding light and with the breath of a furnace, swift and terrible it
came--a wall of water, fifty feet high, roaring hungrily, upon the long
coasts of Asia, and swept inland across the plains of China. For a space
the star, hotter now and larger and brighter than the sun in its strength,
showed with pitiless brilliance the wide and populous country; towns and
villages with their pagodas and trees, roads, wide cultivated fields,
millions of sleepless people staring in helpless terror at the
incandescent sky; and then, low and growing, came the murmur of the flood.
And thus it was with millions of men that night--a flight nowhither, with
limbs heavy with heat and breath fierce and scant, and the flood like a
wall swift and white behind. And then death.
China was lit glowing white, but over Japan and Java and all the islands
of Eastern Asia the great star was a ball of dull red fire because of the
steam and smoke and ashes the volcanoes were spouting forth to salute its
coming. Above was the lava, hot gases and ash, and below the seething
floods, and the whole earth swayed and rumbled with the earthquake shocks.
Soon the immemorial snows of Thibet and the Himalaya were melting and
pouring down by ten million deepening converging channels upon the plains
of Burmah and Hindostan. The tangled summits of the Indian jungles were
aflame in a thousand places, and below the hurrying waters around the
stems were dark objects that still struggled feebly and reflected the
blood-red tongues of fire. And in a rudderless confusion a multitude of
men and women fled down the broad river-ways to that one last hope of
men--the open sea.
Larger grew the star, and larger, hotter, and brighter with a terrible
swiftness now. The tropical ocean had lost its phosphorescence, and the
whirling steam rose in ghostly wreaths from the black waves that plunged
incessantly, speckled with storm-tossed ships.
And then came a wonder. It seemed to those who in Europe watched for the
rising of the star that the world must have ceased its rotation. In a
thousand open spaces of down and upland the people who had fled thither
from the floods and the falling houses and sliding slopes of hill watched
for that rising in vain. Hour followed hour through a terrible suspense,
and the star rose not. Once again men set their eyes upon the old
constellations they had counted lost to them for ever. In England it was
hot and clear overhead, though the ground quivered perpetually, but in the
tropics, Sirius and Capella and Aldebaran showed through a veil of steam.
And when at last the great star rose near ten hours late, the sun rose
close upon it, and in the centre of its white heart was a disc of black.
Over Asia it was the star had begun to fall behind the movement of the
sky, and then suddenly, as it hung over India, its light had been veiled.
All the plain of India from the mouth of the Indus to the mouths of the
Ganges was a shallow waste of shining water that night, out of which rose
temples and palaces, mounds and hills, black with people. Every minaret
was a clustering mass of people, who fell one by one into the turbid
waters, as heat and terror overcame them. The whole land seemed a-wailing,
and suddenly there swept a shadow across that furnace of despair, and a
breath of cold wind, and a gathering of clouds, out of the cooling air.
Men looking up, near blinded, at the star, saw that a black disc was
creeping across the light. It was the moon, coming between the star and
the earth. And even as men cried to God at this respite, out of the East
with a strange inexplicable swiftness sprang the sun. And then star, sun,
and moon rushed together across the heavens.
So it was that presently to the European watchers star and sun rose close
upon each other, drove headlong for a space and then slower, and at last
came to rest, star and sun merged into one glare of flame at the zenith of
the sky. The moon no longer eclipsed the star but was lost to sight in the
brilliance of the sky. And though those who were still alive regarded it
for the most part with that dull stupidity that hunger, fatigue, heat and
despair engender, there were still men who could perceive the meaning of
these signs. Star and earth had been at their nearest, had swung about one
another, and the star had passed. Already it was receding, swifter and
swifter, in the last stage of its headlong journey downward into the sun.
And then the clouds gathered, blotting out the vision of the sky, the
thunder and lightning wove a garment round the world; all over the earth
was such a downpour of rain as men had never before seen, and where the
volcanoes flared red against the cloud canopy there descended torrents of
mud. Everywhere the waters were pouring off the land, leaving mud-silted
ruins, and the earth littered like a storm-worn beach with all that had
floated, and the dead bodies of the men and brutes, its children. For days
the water streamed off the land, sweeping away soil and trees and houses
in the way, and piling huge dykes and scooping out Titanic gullies over
the country-side. Those were the days of darkness that followed the star
and the heat. All through them, and for many weeks and months, the
But the star had passed, and men, hunger-driven and gathering courage only
slowly, might creep back to their ruined cities, buried granaries, and
sodden fields. Such few ships as had escaped the storms of that time came
stunned and shattered and sounding their way cautiously through the new
marks and shoals of once familiar ports. And as the storms subsided men
perceived that everywhere the days were hotter than of yore, and the sun
larger, and the moon, shrunk to a third of its former size, took now
fourscore days between its new and new.
But of the new brotherhood that grew presently among men, of the saving of
laws and books and machines, of the strange change that had come over
Iceland and Greenland and the shores of Baffin's Bay, so that the sailors
coming there presently found them green and gracious, and could scarce
believe their eyes, this story does not tell. Nor of the movement of
mankind, now that the earth was hotter, northward and southward towards
the poles of the earth. It concerns itself only with the coming and the
passing of the star.
The Martian astronomers--for there are astronomers on Mars, although they
are very different beings from men--were naturally profoundly interested
by these things. They saw them from their own standpoint of course.
"Considering the mass and temperature of the missile that was flung
through our solar system into the sun," one wrote, "it is astonishing what
a little damage the earth, which it missed so narrowly, has sustained. All
the familiar continental markings and the masses of the seas remain
intact, and indeed the only difference seems to be a shrinkage of the
white discolouration (supposed to be frozen water) round either pole."
Which only shows how small the vastest of human catastrophes may seem at a
distance of a few million miles.
THE MAN WHO COULD WORK MIRACLES.
A PANTOUM IN PROSE.
It is doubtful whether the gift was innate. For my own part, I think it
came to him suddenly. Indeed, until he was thirty he was a sceptic, and
did not believe in miraculous powers. And here, since it is the most
convenient place, I must mention that he was a little man, and had eyes of
a hot brown, very erect red hair, a moustache with ends that he twisted
up, and freckles. His name was George McWhirter Fotheringay--not the sort
of name by any means to lead to any expectation of miracles--and he was
clerk at Gomshott's. He was greatly addicted to assertive argument. It was
while he was asserting the impossibility of miracles that he had his first
intimation of his extraordinary powers. This particular argument was being
held in the bar of the Long Dragon, and Toddy Beamish was conducting the
opposition by a monotonous but effective "So _you_ say," that drove
Mr. Fotheringay to the very limit of his patience.
There were present, besides these two, a very dusty cyclist, landlord Cox,
and Miss Maybridge, the perfectly respectable and rather portly barmaid of
the Dragon. Miss Maybridge was standing with her back to Mr. Fotheringay,
washing glasses; the others were watching him, more or less amused by the
present ineffectiveness of the assertive method. Goaded by the Torres
Vedras tactics of Mr. Beamish, Mr. Fotheringay determined to make an
unusual rhetorical effort. "Looky here, Mr. Beamish," said Mr.
Fotheringay. "Let us clearly understand what a miracle is. It's something
contrariwise to the course of nature, done by power of will, something
what couldn't happen without being specially willed."
"So _you_ say," said Mr. Beamish, repulsing him.
Mr. Fotheringay appealed to the cyclist, who had hitherto been a silent
auditor, and received his assent--given with a hesitating cough and a
glance at Mr. Beamish. The landlord would express no opinion, and Mr.
Fotheringay, returning to Mr. Beamish, received the unexpected concession
of a qualified assent to his definition of a miracle.
"For instance," said Mr. Fotheringay, greatly encouraged. "Here would be a
miracle. That lamp, in the natural course of nature, couldn't burn like
that upsy-down, could it, Beamish?"
"_You_ say it couldn't," said Beamish.
"And you?" said Fotheringay. "You don't mean to say--eh?"
"No," said Beamish reluctantly. "No, it couldn't."
"Very well," said Mr. Fotheringay. "Then here comes someone, as it might
be me, along here, and stands as it might be here, and says to that lamp,
as I might do, collecting all my will--Turn upsy-down without breaking,
and go on burning steady, and--Hullo!"
It was enough to make anyone say "Hullo!" The impossible, the incredible,
was visible to them all. The lamp hung inverted in the air, burning
quietly with its flame pointing down. It was as solid, as indisputable as
ever a lamp was, the prosaic common lamp of the Long Dragon bar.
Mr. Fotheringay stood with an extended forefinger and the knitted brows of
one anticipating a catastrophic smash. The cyclist, who was sitting next
the lamp, ducked and jumped across the bar. Everybody jumped, more or
less. Miss Maybridge turned and screamed. For nearly three seconds the
lamp remained still. A faint cry of mental distress came from Mr.
Fotheringay. "I can't keep it up," he said, "any longer." He staggered
back, and the inverted lamp suddenly flared, fell against the corner of
the bar, bounced aside, smashed upon the floor, and went out.
It was lucky it had a metal receiver, or the whole place would have been
in a blaze. Mr. Cox was the first to speak, and his remark, shorn of
needless excrescences, was to the effect that Fotheringay was a fool.
Fotheringay was beyond disputing even so fundamental a proposition as
that! He was astonished beyond measure at the thing that had occurred. The
subsequent conversation threw absolutely no light on the matter so far as
Fotheringay was concerned; the general opinion not only followed Mr. Cox
very closely but very vehemently. Everyone accused Fotheringay of a silly
trick, and presented him to himself as a foolish destroyer of comfort and
security. His mind was in a tornado of perplexity, he was himself inclined
to agree with them, and he made a remarkably ineffectual opposition to the
proposal of his departure.
He went home flushed and heated, coat-collar crumpled, eyes smarting, and
ears red. He watched each of the ten street lamps nervously as he passed
it. It was only when he found himself alone in his little bedroom in
Church Row that he was able to grapple seriously with his memories of the
occurrence, and ask, "What on earth happened?"
He had removed his coat and boots, and was sitting on the bed with his
hands in his pockets repeating the text of his defence for the seventeenth
time, "I didn't want the confounded thing to upset," when it occurred to
him that at the precise moment he had said the commanding words he had
inadvertently willed the thing he said, and that when he had seen the lamp
in the air he had felt that it depended on him to maintain it there
without being clear how this was to be done. He had not a particularly
complex mind, or he might have stuck for a time at that "inadvertently
willed," embracing, as it does, the abstrusest problems of voluntary
action; but as it was, the idea came to him with a quite acceptable
haziness. And from that, following, as I must admit, no clear logical
path, he came to the test of experiment.
He pointed resolutely to his candle and collected his mind, though he felt
he did a foolish thing. "Be raised up," he said. But in a second that
feeling vanished. The candle was raised, hung in the air one giddy moment,
and as Mr. Fotheringay gasped, fell with a smash on his toilet-table,
leaving him in darkness save for the expiring glow of its wick.
For a time Mr. Fotheringay sat in the darkness, perfectly still. "It did
happen, after all," he said. "And 'ow _I'm_ to explain it I
_don't_ know." He sighed heavily, and began feeling in his pockets
for a match. He could find none, and he rose and groped about the
toilet-table. "I wish I had a match," he said. He resorted to his coat,
and there was none there, and then it dawned upon him that miracles were
possible even with matches. He extended a hand and scowled at it in the
dark. "Let there be a match in that hand," he said. He felt some light
object fall across his palm and his fingers closed upon a match.
After several ineffectual attempts to light this, he discovered it was a
safety match. He threw it down, and then it occurred to him that he might
have willed it lit. He did, and perceived it burning in the midst of his
toilet-table mat. He caught it up hastily, and it went out. His perception
of possibilities enlarged, and he felt for and replaced the candle in its
candlestick. "Here! _you_ be lit," said Mr. Fotheringay, and
forthwith the candle was flaring, and he saw a little black hole in the
toilet-cover, with a wisp of smoke rising from it. For a time he stared
from this to the little flame and back, and then looked up and met his own
gaze in the looking-glass. By this help he communed with himself in
silence for a time.
"How about miracles now?" said Mr. Fotheringay at last, addressing his
The subsequent meditations of Mr. Fotheringay were of a severe but
confused description. So far, he could see it was a case of pure willing
with him. The nature of his experiences so far disinclined him for any
further experiments, at least until he had reconsidered them. But he
lifted a sheet of paper, and turned a glass of water pink and then green,
and he created a snail, which he miraculously annihilated, and got himself
a miraculous new tooth-brush. Somewhere in the small hours he had reached
the fact that his will-power must be of a particularly rare and pungent
quality, a fact of which he had indeed had inklings before, but no certain
assurance. The scare and perplexity of his first discovery was now
qualified by pride in this evidence of singularity and by vague
intimations of advantage. He became aware that the church clock was
striking one, and as it did not occur to him that his daily duties at
Gomshott's might be miraculously dispensed with, he resumed undressing, in
order to get to bed without further delay. As he struggled to get his
shirt over his head, he was struck with a brilliant idea. "Let me be in
bed," he said, and found himself so. "Undressed," he stipulated; and,
finding the sheets cold, added hastily, "and in my nightshirt--ho, in a
nice soft woollen nightshirt. Ah!" he said with immense enjoyment. "And
now let me be comfortably asleep..."
He awoke at his usual hour and was pensive all through breakfast-time,
wondering whether his over-night experience might not be a particularly
vivid dream. At length his mind turned again to cautious experiments. For
instance, he had three eggs for breakfast; two his landlady had supplied,
good, but shoppy, and one was a delicious fresh goose-egg, laid, cooked,
and served by his extraordinary will. He hurried off to Gomshott's in a
state of profound but carefully concealed excitement, and only remembered
the shell of the third egg when his landlady spoke of it that night. All
day he could do no work because of this astonishing new self-knowledge,
but this caused him no inconvenience, because he made up for it
miraculously in his last ten minutes.
As the day wore on his state of mind passed from wonder to elation, albeit
the circumstances of his dismissal from the Long Dragon were still
disagreeable to recall, and a garbled account of the matter that had
reached his colleagues led to some badinage. It was evident he must be
careful how he lifted frangible articles, but in other ways his gift
promised more and more as he turned it over in his mind. He intended among
other things to increase his personal property by unostentatious acts of
creation. He called into existence a pair of very splendid diamond studs,
and hastily annihilated them again as young Gomshott came across the
counting-house to his desk. He was afraid young Gomshott might wonder how
he had come by them. He saw quite clearly the gift required caution and
watchfulness in its exercise, but so far as he could judge the
difficulties attending its mastery would be no greater than those he had
already faced in the study of cycling. It was that analogy, perhaps, quite
as much as the feeling that he would be unwelcome in the Long Dragon, that
drove him out after supper into the lane beyond the gasworks, to rehearse
a few miracles in private.
There was possibly a certain want of originality in his attempts, for,
apart from his will-power, Mr. Fotheringay was not a very exceptional man.
The miracle of Moses' rod came to his mind, but the night was dark and
unfavourable to the proper control of large miraculous snakes. Then he
recollected the story of "Tannhaeuser" that he had read on the back of the
Philharmonic programme. That seemed to him singularly attractive and
harmless. He stuck his walking-stick--a very nice Poona-Penang lawyer--
into the turf that edged the footpath, and commanded the dry wood to
blossom. The air was immediately full of the scent of roses, and by means
of a match he saw for himself that this beautiful miracle was indeed
accomplished. His satisfaction was ended by advancing footsteps. Afraid of
a premature discovery of his powers, he addressed the blossoming stick
hastily: "Go back." What he meant was "Change back;" but of course he was
confused. The stick receded at a considerable velocity, and incontinently
came a cry of anger and a bad word from the approaching person. "Who are
you throwing brambles at, you fool?" cried a voice. "That got me on the
"I'm sorry, old chap," said Mr. Fotheringay, and then, realising the
awkward nature of the explanation, caught nervously at his moustache. He
saw Winch, one of the three Immering constables, advancing.
"What d'yer mean by it?" asked the constable. "Hullo! it's you, is it? The
gent that broke the lamp at the Long Dragon!"
"I don't mean anything by it," said Mr. Fotheringay. "Nothing at all."
"What d'yer do it for then?"
"Oh, bother!" said Mr. Fotheringay.
"Bother indeed! D'yer know that stick hurt? What d'yer do it for, eh?"
For the moment Mr. Fotheringay could not think what he had done it for.
His silence seemed to irritate Mr. Winch. "You've been assaulting the
police, young man, this time. That's what _you_ done."
"Look here, Mr. Winch," said Mr. Fotheringay, annoyed and confused, "I'm
sorry, very. The fact is----"
He could think of no way but the truth. "I was working a miracle." He
tried to speak in an off-hand way, but try as he would he couldn't.
"Working a--! 'Ere, don't you talk rot. Working a miracle, indeed!
Miracle! Well, that's downright funny! Why, you's the chap that don't
believe in miracles... Fact is, this is another of your silly conjuring
tricks--that's what this is. Now, I tell you--"
But Mr. Fotheringay never heard what Mr. Winch was going to tell him. He
realised he had given himself away, flung his valuable secret to all the
winds of heaven. A violent gust of irritation swept him to action. He
turned on the constable swiftly and fiercely. "Here," he said, "I've had
enough of this, I have! I'll show you a silly conjuring trick, I will! Go
to Hades! Go, now!"
He was alone!
Mr. Fotheringay performed no more miracles that night, nor did he trouble
to see what had become of his flowering stick. He returned to the town,
scared and very quiet, and went to his bedroom. "Lord!" he said, "it's a
powerful gift--an extremely powerful gift. I didn't hardly mean as much as
that. Not really... I wonder what Hades is like!"
He sat on the bed taking off his boots. Struck by a happy thought he
transferred the constable to San Francisco, and without any more
interference with normal causation went soberly to bed. In the night he
dreamt of the anger of Winch.
The next day Mr. Fotheringay heard two interesting items of news. Someone
had planted a most beautiful climbing rose against the elder Mr.
Gomshott's private house in the Lullaborough Road, and the river as far as
Rawling's Mill was to be dragged for Constable Winch.
Mr. Fotheringay was abstracted and thoughtful all that day, and performed
no miracles except certain provisions for Winch, and the miracle of
completing his day's work with punctual perfection in spite of all the
bee-swarm of thoughts that hummed through his mind. And the extraordinary
abstraction and meekness of his manner was remarked by several people, and
made a matter for jesting. For the most part he was thinking of Winch.
On Sunday evening he went to chapel, and oddly enough, Mr. Maydig, who
took a certain interest in occult matters, preached about "things that are
not lawful." Mr. Fotheringay was not a regular chapelgoer, but the system
of assertive scepticism, to which I have already alluded, was now very
much shaken. The tenor of the sermon threw an entirely new light on these
novel gifts, and he suddenly decided to consult Mr. Maydig immediately
after the service. So soon as that was determined, he found himself
wondering why he had not done so before.
Mr. Maydig, a lean, excitable man with quite remarkably long wrists and
neck, was gratified at a request for a private conversation from a young
man whose carelessness in religious matters was a subject for general
remark in the town. After a few necessary delays, he conducted him to the
study of the manse, which was contiguous to the chapel, seated him
comfortably, and, standing in front of a cheerful fire--his legs threw a
Rhodian arch of shadow on the opposite wall--requested Mr. Fotheringay to
state his business.
At first Mr. Fotheringay was a little abashed, and found some difficulty
in opening the matter. "You will scarcely believe me, Mr. Maydig, I am
afraid"--and so forth for some time. He tried a question at last, and
asked Mr. Maydig his opinion of miracles.
Mr. Maydig was still saying "Well" in an extremely judicial tone, when Mr.
Fotheringay interrupted again: "You don't believe, I suppose, that some
common sort of person--like myself, for instance--as it might be sitting
here now, might have some sort of twist inside him that made him able to
do things by his will."
"It's possible," said Mr. Maydig. "Something of the sort, perhaps, is
"If I might make free with something here, I think I might show you by a
sort of experiment," said Mr. Fotheringay. "Now, take that tobacco-jar on
the table, for instance. What I want to know is whether what I am going to
do with it is a miracle or not. Just half a minute, Mr. Maydig, please."
He knitted his brows, pointed to the tobacco-jar and said: "Be a bowl of
The tobacco-jar did as it was ordered.
Mr. Maydig started violently at the change, and stood looking from the
thaumaturgist to the bowl of flowers. He said nothing. Presently he
ventured to lean over the table and smell the violets; they were
fresh-picked and very fine ones. Then he stared at Mr. Fotheringay again.
"How did you do that?" he asked.
Mr. Fotheringay pulled his moustache. "Just told it--and there you are. Is
that a miracle, or is it black art, or what is it? And what do you think's
the matter with me? That's what I want to ask."
"It's a most extraordinary occurrence."
"And this day last week I knew no more that I could do things like that
than you did. It came quite sudden. It's something odd about my will, I
suppose, and that's as far as I can see."
"Is that--the only thing. Could you do other things besides that?"
"Lord, yes!" said Mr. Fotheringay. "Just anything." He thought, and
suddenly recalled a conjuring entertainment he had seen. "Here!" he
pointed, "change into a bowl of fish--no, not that--change into a glass
bowl full of water with goldfish swimming in it. That's better! You see
that, Mr. Maydig?"
"It's astonishing. It's incredible. You are either a most extraordinary...
"I could change it into anything," said Mr. Fotheringay. "Just anything.
Here! be a pigeon, will you?"
In another moment a blue pigeon was fluttering round the room and making
Mr. Maydig duck every time it came near him. "Stop there, will you?" said
Mr. Fotheringay; and the pigeon hung motionless in the air. "I could
change it back to a bowl of flowers," he said, and after replacing the
pigeon on the table worked that miracle. "I expect you will want your pipe
in a bit," he said, and restored the tobacco-jar.
Mr. Maydig had followed all these later changes in a sort of ejaculatory
silence. He stared at Mr. Fotheringay and in a very gingerly manner picked
up the tobacco-jar, examined it, replaced it on the table. "_Well_!"
was the only expression of his feelings.
"Now, after that it's easier to explain what I came about," said Mr.
Fotheringay; and proceeded to a lengthy and involved narrative of his
strange experiences, beginning with the affair of the lamp in the Long
Dragon and complicated by persistent allusions to Winch. As he went on,
the transient pride Mr. Maydig's consternation had caused passed away; he
became the very ordinary Mr. Fotheringay of everyday intercourse again.
Mr. Maydig listened intently, the tobacco-jar in his hand, and his bearing
changed also with the course of the narrative. Presently, while Mr.
Fotheringay was dealing with the miracle of the third egg, the minister
interrupted with a fluttering, extended hand.
"It is possible," he said. "It is credible. It is amazing, of course, but
it reconciles a number of amazing difficulties. The power to work miracles
is a gift--a peculiar quality like genius or second sight; hitherto it has
come very rarely and to exceptional people. But in this case...I have
always wondered at the miracles of Mahomet, and at Yogi's miracles, and
the miracles of Madame Blavatsky. But, of course--Yes, it is simply a
gift! It carries out so beautifully the arguments of that great thinker"--
Mr. Maydig's voice sank--"his Grace the Duke of Argyll. Here we plumb some
profounder law--deeper than the ordinary laws of nature. Yes--yes. Go on.
Mr. Fotheringay proceeded to tell of his misadventure with Winch, and Mr.
Maydig, no longer overawed or scared, began to jerk his limbs about and
interject astonishment. "It's this what troubled me most," proceeded Mr.
Fotheringay; "it's this I'm most mijitly in want of advice for; of course
he's at San Francisco--wherever San Francisco may be--but of course it's
awkward for both of us, as you'll see, Mr. Maydig. I don't see how he can
understand what has happened, and I daresay he's scared and exasperated
something tremendous, and trying to get at me. I daresay he keeps on
starting off to come here. I send him back, by a miracle, every few hours,
when I think of it. And, of course, that's a thing he won't be able to
understand, and it's bound to annoy him; and, of course, if he takes a
ticket every time it will cost him a lot of money. I done the best I could
for him, but, of course, it's difficult for him to put himself in my
place. I thought afterwards that his clothes might have got scorched, you
know--if Hades is all it's supposed to be--before I shifted him. In that
case I suppose they'd have locked him up in San Francisco. Of course I
willed him a new suit of clothes on him directly I thought of it. But, you
see, I'm already in a deuce of a tangle----"
Mr. Maydig looked serious. "I see you are in a tangle. Yes, it's a
difficult position. How you are to end it..." He became diffuse and
"However, we'll leave Winch for a little and discuss the larger question.
I don't think this is a case of the black art or anything of the sort. I
don't think there is any taint of criminality about it at all, Mr.
Fotheringay--none whatever, unless you are suppressing material facts. No,
it's miracles--pure miracles--miracles, if I may say so, of the very
He began to pace the hearthrug and gesticulate, while Mr. Fotheringay sat
with his arm on the table and his head on his arm, looking worried. "I
don't see how I'm to manage about Winch," he said.
"A gift of working miracles--apparently a very powerful gift," said Mr.
Maydig, "will find a way about Winch--never fear. My dear sir, you are a
most important man--a man of the most astonishing possibilities. As
evidence, for example! And in other ways, the things you may do..."
"Yes, _I've_ thought of a thing or two," said Mr. Fotheringay. "But--
some of the things came a bit twisty. You saw that fish at first? Wrong
sort of bowl and wrong sort of fish. And I thought I'd ask someone."
"A proper course," said Mr. Maydig, "a very proper course--altogether the
proper course." He stopped and looked at Mr. Fotheringay. "It's
practically an unlimited gift. Let us test your powers, for instance. If
they really _are_ ... If they really are all they seem to be."
And so, incredible as it may seem, in the study of the little house behind
the Congregational Chapel, on the evening of Sunday, Nov. 10, 1896, Mr.
Fotheringay, egged on and inspired by Mr. Maydig, began to work miracles.
The reader's attention is specially and definitely called to the date. He
will object, probably has already objected, that certain points in this
story are improbable, that if any things of the sort already described had
indeed occurred, they would have been in all the papers at that time. The
details immediately following he will find particularly hard to accept,
because among other things they involve the conclusion that he or she, the
reader in question, must have been killed in a violent and unprecedented
manner more than a year ago. Now a miracle is nothing if not improbable,
and as a matter of fact the reader _was_ killed in a violent and
unprecedented manner in 1896. In the subsequent course of this story that
will become perfectly clear and credible, as every right-minded and
reasonable reader will admit. But this is not the place for the end of the
story, being but little beyond the hither side of the middle. And at first
the miracles worked by Mr. Fotheringay were timid little miracles--little
things with the cups and parlour fitments, as feeble as the miracles of
Theosophists, and, feeble as they were, they were received with awe by his
collaborator. He would have preferred to settle the Winch business out of
hand, but Mr. Maydig would not let him. But after they had worked a dozen
of these domestic trivialities, their sense of power grew, their
imagination began to show signs of stimulation, and their ambition
enlarged. Their first larger enterprise was due to hunger and the
negligence of Mrs. Minchin, Mr. Maydig's housekeeper. The meal to which
the minister conducted Mr. Fotheringay was certainly ill-laid and
uninviting as refreshment for two industrious miracle-workers; but they
were seated, and Mr. Maydig was descanting in sorrow rather than in anger
upon his housekeeper's shortcomings, before it occurred to Mr. Fotheringay
that an opportunity lay before him. "Don't you think, Mr. Maydig," he
said, "if it isn't a liberty, _I_----"
"My dear Mr. Fotheringay! Of course! No--I didn't think."
Mr. Fotheringay waved his hand. "What shall we have?" he said, in a large,
inclusive spirit, and, at Mr. Maydig's order, revised the supper very
thoroughly. "As for me," he said, eyeing Mr. Maydig's selection, "I am
always particularly fond of a tankard of stout and a nice Welsh rarebit,
and I'll order that. I ain't much given to Burgundy," and forthwith stout
and Welsh rarebit promptly appeared at his command. They sat long at their
supper, talking like equals, as Mr. Fotheringay presently perceived, with
a glow of surprise and gratification, of all the miracles they would
presently do. "And, by-the-by, Mr. Maydig," said Mr. Fotheringay, "I might
perhaps be able to help you--in a domestic way."
"Don't quite follow," said Mr. Maydig, pouring out a glass of miraculous
Mr. Fotheringay helped himself to a second Welsh rarebit out of vacancy,
and took a mouthful. "I was thinking," he said, "I might be able (_chum,
chum_) to work (_chum, chum_) a miracle with Mrs. Minchin
(_chum, chum_)--make her a better woman."
Mr. Maydig put down the glass and looked doubtful.
"She's----She strongly objects to interference, you know, Mr.
Fotheringay. And--as a matter of fact--it's well past eleven and she's
probably in bed and asleep. Do you think, on the whole----"
Mr. Fotheringay considered these objections. "I don't see that it
shouldn't be done in her sleep."
For a time Mr. Maydig opposed the idea, and then he yielded. Mr.
Fotheringay issued his orders, and a little less at their ease, perhaps,
the two gentlemen proceeded with their repast. Mr. Maydig was enlarging on
the changes he might expect in his housekeeper next day, with an optimism,
that seemed even to Mr. Fotheringay's supper senses a little forced and
hectic, when a series of confused noises from upstairs began. Their eyes
exchanged interrogations, and Mr. Maydig left the room hastily. Mr.
Fotheringay heard him calling up to his housekeeper and then his footsteps
going softly up to her.
In a minute or so the minister returned, his step light, his face radiant.
"Wonderful!" he said, "and touching! Most touching!"
He began pacing the hearthrug. "A repentance--a most touching repentance--
through the crack of the door. Poor woman! A most wonderful change! She
had got up. She must have got up at once. She had got up out of her sleep
to smash a private bottle of brandy in her box. And to confess it too!...
But this gives us--it opens--a most amazing vista of possibilities. If we
can work this miraculous change in _her_..."
"The thing's unlimited seemingly," said Mr. Fotheringay. "And about Mr.
"Altogether unlimited." And from the hearthrug Mr. Maydig, waving the
Winch difficulty aside, unfolded a series of wonderful proposals--
proposals he invented as he went along.
Now what those proposals were does not concern the essentials of this
story. Suffice it that they were designed in a spirit of infinite
benevolence, the sort of benevolence that used to be called post-prandial.
Suffice it, too, that the problem of Winch remained unsolved. Nor is it
necessary to describe how far that series got to its fulfilment. There
were astonishing changes. The small hours found Mr. Maydig and Mr.
Fotheringay careering across the chilly market square under the still
moon, in a sort of ecstasy of thaumaturgy, Mr. Maydig all flap and
gesture, Mr. Fotheringay short and bristling, and no longer abashed at his
greatness. They had reformed every drunkard in the Parliamentary division,
changed all the beer and alcohol to water (Mr. Maydig had overruled Mr.
Fotheringay on this point); they had, further, greatly improved the
railway communication of the place, drained Flinder's swamp, improved the
soil of One Tree Hill, and cured the vicar's wart. And they were going to
see what could be done with the injured pier at South Bridge. "The place,"
gasped Mr. Maydig, "won't be the same place to-morrow. How surprised and
thankful everyone will be!" And just at that moment the church clock
"I say," said Mr. Fotheringay, "that's three o'clock! I must be getting
back. I've got to be at business by eight. And besides, Mrs. Wimms----"
"We're only beginning," said Mr. Maydig, full of the sweetness of
unlimited power. "We're only beginning. Think of all the good we're doing.
When people wake----"
"But----," said Mr. Fotheringay.
Mr. Maydig gripped his arm suddenly. His eyes were bright and wild. "My
dear chap," he said, "there's no hurry. Look"--he pointed to the moon at
"Joshua?" said Mr. Fotheringay.
"Joshua," said Mr. Maydig. "Why not? Stop it."
Mr. Fotheringay looked at the moon.
"That's a bit tall," he said, after a pause.
"Why not?" said Mr. Maydig. "Of course it doesn't stop. You stop the
rotation of the earth, you know. Time stops. It isn't as if we were doing
"H'm!" said Mr. Fotheringay. "Well," he sighed, "I'll try. Here!"
He buttoned up his jacket and addressed himself to the habitable globe,
with as good an assumption of confidence as lay in his power. "Jest stop
rotating, will you?" said Mr. Fotheringay.
Incontinently he was flying head over heels through the air at the rate of
dozens of miles a minute. In spite of the innumerable circles he was
describing per second, he thought; for thought is wonderful--sometimes as
sluggish as flowing pitch, sometimes as instantaneous as light. He thought
in a second, and willed. "Let me come down safe and sound. Whatever else
happens, let me down safe and sound."
He willed it only just in time, for his clothes, heated by his rapid
flight through the air, were already beginning to singe. He came down with
a forcible, but by no means injurious, bump in what appeared to be a mound
of fresh-turned earth. A large mass of metal and masonry, extraordinarily
like the clock-tower in the middle of the market square, hit the earth
near him, ricochetted over him, and flew into stonework, bricks, and
cement, like a bursting bomb. A hurtling cow hit one of the larger blocks
and smashed like an egg. There was a crash that made all the most violent
crashes of his past life seem like the sound of falling dust, and this was
followed by a descending series of lesser crashes. A vast wind roared
throughout earth and heaven, so that he could scarcely lift his head to
look. For a while he was too breathless and astonished even to see where
he was or what had happened. And his first movement was to feel his head
and reassure himself that his streaming hair was still his own.
"Lord!" gasped Mr. Fotheringay, scarce able to speak for the gale, "I've
had a squeak! What's gone wrong? Storms and thunder. And only a minute ago
a fine night. It's Maydig set me on to this sort of thing. _What_ a
wind! If I go on fooling in this way I'm bound to have a thundering
"What a confounded mess everything's in!"
He looked about him so far as his flapping jacket would permit. The
appearance of things was really extremely strange. "The sky's all right
anyhow," said Mr. Fotheringay. "And that's about all that is all right.
And even there it looks like a terrific gale coming up. But there's the
moon overhead. Just as it was just now. Bright as midday. But as for the
rest----Where's the village? Where's--where's anything? And what on earth
set this wind a-blowing? I didn't order no wind."
Mr. Fotheringay struggled to get to his feet in vain, and after one
failure, remained on all fours, holding on. He surveyed the moonlit world
to leeward, with the tails of his jacket streaming over his head. "There's
something seriously wrong," said Mr. Fotheringay. "And what it is--
Far and wide nothing was visible in the white glare through the haze of
dust that drove before a screaming gale but tumbled masses of earth and
heaps of inchoate ruins, no trees, no houses, no familiar shapes, only a
wilderness of disorder, vanishing at last into the darkness beneath the
whirling columns and streamers, the lightnings and thunderings of a
swiftly rising storm. Near him in the livid glare was something that might
once have been an elm-tree, a smashed mass of splinters, shivered from
boughs to base, and further a twisted mass of iron girders--only too
evidently the viaduct--rose out of the piled confusion.
You see, when Mr. Fotheringay had arrested the rotation of the solid
globe, he had made no stipulation concerning the trifling movables upon
its surface. And the earth spins so fast that the surface at its equator
is travelling at rather more than a thousand miles an hour, and in these
latitudes at more than half that pace. So that the village, and Mr.
Maydig, and Mr. Fotheringay, and everybody and everything had been jerked
violently forward at about nine miles per second--that is to say, much
more violently than if they had been fired out of a cannon. And every
human being, every living creature, every house, and every tree--all the
world as we know it--had been so jerked and smashed and utterly destroyed.
That was all.
These things Mr. Fotheringay did not, of course, fully appreciate. But he
perceived that his miracle had miscarried, and with that a great disgust
of miracles came upon him. He was in darkness now, for the clouds had
swept together and blotted out his momentary glimpse of the moon, and the
air was full of fitful struggling tortured wraiths of hail. A great
roaring of wind and waters filled earth and sky, and peering under his
hand through the dust and sleet to windward, he saw by the play of the
lightnings a vast wall of water pouring towards him.
"Maydig!" screamed Mr. Fotheringay's feeble voice amid the elemental
"Stop!" cried Mr. Fotheringay to the advancing water. "Oh, for goodness'
"Just a moment," said Mr. Fotheringay to the lightnings and thunder. "Stop
jest a moment while I collect my thoughts... And now what shall I do?" he
said. "What _shall_ I do? Lord! I wish Maydig was about."
"I know," said Mr. Fotheringay. "And for goodness' sake let's have it
right _this_ time."
He remained on all fours, leaning against the wind, very intent to have
"Ah!" he said. "Let nothing what I'm going to order happen until I say
'Off!'...Lord! I wish I'd thought of that before!"
He lifted his little voice against the whirlwind, shouting louder and
louder in the vain desire to hear himself speak. "Now then!--here goes!
Mind about that what I said just now. In the first place, when all I've
got to say is done, let me lose my miraculous power, let my will become
just like anybody else's will, and all these dangerous miracles be
stopped. I don't like them. I'd rather I didn't work 'em. Ever so much.
That's the first thing. And the second is--let me be back just before the
miracles begin; let everything be just as it was before that blessed lamp
turned up. It's a big job, but it's the last. Have you got it? No more
miracles, everything as it was--me back in the Long Dragon just before I
drank my half-pint. That's it! Yes."
He dug his fingers into the mould, closed his eyes, and said "Off!"
Everything became perfectly still. He perceived that he was standing
"So _you_ say," said a voice.
He opened his eyes. He was in the bar of the Long Dragon, arguing about
miracles with Toddy Beamish. He had a vague sense of some great thing
forgotten that instantaneously passed. You see that, except for the loss
of his miraculous powers, everything was back as it had been, his mind and
memory therefore were now just as they had been at the time when this
story began. So that he knew absolutely nothing of all that is told here--
knows nothing of all that is told here to this day. And among other
things, of course, he still did not believe in miracles.
"I tell you that miracles, properly speaking, can't possibly happen," he
said, "whatever you like to hold. And I'm prepared to prove it up to the
"That's what _you_ think," said Toddy Beamish, and "Prove it if you
"Looky here, Mr. Beamish," said Mr. Fotheringay. "Let us clearly
understand what a miracle is. It's something contrariwise to the course of
nature done by power of Will..."
A VISION OF JUDGMENT.
I listened, not understanding.
"Good Lord!" said I, still only half awake. "What an infernal shindy!"
"It's enough," said I, "to wake----" and stopped short. Where was I?
Ta-rra-rara--louder and louder.
"It's either some new invention----"
"No," said I, speaking loud in order to hear myself. "That's the Last
The last note jerked me out of my grave like a hooked minnow.
I saw my monument (rather a mean little affair, and I wished I knew who'd
done it), and the old elm tree and the sea view vanished like a puff of
steam, and then all about me--a multitude no man could number, nations,
tongues, kingdoms, peoples--children of all the ages, in an amphitheatral
space as vast as the sky. And over against us, seated on a throne of
dazzling white cloud, the Lord God and all the host of his angels. I
recognised Azrael by his darkness and Michael by his sword, and the great
angel who had blown the trumpet stood with the trumpet still half raised.
"Prompt," said the little man beside me. "Very prompt. Do you see the
angel with the book?"
He was ducking and craning his head about to see over and under and
between the souls that crowded round us. "Everybody's here," he said.
"Everybody. And now we shall know--
"There's Darwin," he said, going off at a tangent. "_He'll_ catch it!
And there--you see?--that tall, important-looking man trying to catch the
eye of the Lord God, that's the Duke. But there's a lot of people one
"Oh! there's Priggles, the publisher. I have always wondered about
printers' overs. Priggles was a clever man ... But we shall know now--even
"I shall hear all that. I shall get most of the fun before ... _My_
He drew the air in between his teeth.
"Historical characters, too. See? That's Henry the Eighth. There'll be a
good bit of evidence. Oh, damn! He's Tudor."
He lowered his voice. "Notice this chap, just in front of us, all covered
with hair. Paleolithic, you know. And there again--"
But I did not heed him, because I was looking at the Lord God.
"Is this _all_?" asked the Lord God.
The angel at the book--it was one of countless volumes, like the British
Museum Reading-room Catalogue, glanced at us and seemed to count us in the
"That's all," he said, and added: "It was, O God, a very little planet."
The eyes of God surveyed us.
"Let us begin," said the Lord God.
The angel opened the book and read a name. It was a name full of A's, and
the echoes of it came back out of the uttermost parts of space. I did not
catch it clearly, because the little man beside me said, in a sharp jerk,
"_What's_ that?" It sounded like "Ahab" to me; but it could not have
been the Ahab of Scripture.
Instantly a small black figure was lifted up to a puffy cloud at the very
feet of God. It was a stiff little figure, dressed in rich outlandish
robes and crowned, and it folded its arms and scowled.
"Well?" said God, looking down at him.
We were privileged to hear the reply, and indeed the acoustic properties
of the place were marvellous.
"I plead guilty," said the little figure.
"Tell them what you have done," said the Lord God.
"I was a king," said the little figure, "a great king, and I was lustful
and proud and cruel. I made wars, I devastated countries, I built palaces,
and the mortar was the blood of men. Hear, O God, the witnesses against
me, calling to you for vengeance. Hundreds and thousands of witnesses." He
waved his hands towards us. "And worse! I took a prophet--one of your
"One of my prophets," said the Lord God.
"And because he would not bow to me, I tortured him for four days and
nights, and in the end he died. I did more, O God, I blasphemed. I robbed
you of your honours----"
"Robbed me of my honours," said the Lord God.
"I caused myself to be worshipped in your stead. No evil was there but I
practised it; no cruelty wherewith I did not stain my soul. And at last
you smote me, O God!"
God raised his eyebrows slightly.
"And I was slain in battle. And so I stand before you, meet for your
nethermost Hell! Out of your greatness daring no lies, daring no pleas,
but telling the truth of my iniquities before all mankind."
He ceased. His face I saw distinctly, and it seemed to me white and
terrible and proud and strangely noble. I thought of Milton's Satan.
"Most of that is from the Obelisk," said the Recording Angel, finger on
"It is," said the Tyrannous Man, with a faint touch of surprise.
Then suddenly God bent forward and took this man in his hand, and held him
up on his palm as if to see him better. He was just a little dark stroke
in the middle of God's palm.
"_Did_ he do all this?" said the Lord God.
The Recording Angel flattened his book with his hand.
"In a way," said the Recording Angel, carelessly. Now when I looked again
at the little man his face had changed in a very curious manner. He was
looking at the Recording Angel with a strange apprehension in his eyes,
and one hand fluttered to his mouth. Just the movement of a muscle or so,
and all that dignity of defiance was gone.
"Read," said the Lord God.
And the angel read, explaining very carefully and fully all the wickedness
of the Wicked Man. It was quite an intellectual treat.--A little "daring"
in places, I thought, but of course Heaven has its privileges...
Everybody was laughing. Even the prophet of the Lord whom the Wicked Man
had tortured had a smile on his face. The Wicked Man was really such a
preposterous little fellow.
"And then," read the Recording Angel, with a smile that set us all agog,
"one day, when he was a little irascible from over-eating, he--"
"Oh, not _that_," cried the Wicked Man, "nobody knew of _that_.
"It didn't happen," screamed the Wicked Man. "I was bad--I was really bad.
Frequently bad, but there was nothing so silly--so absolutely silly--"
The angel went on reading.
"O God!" cried the Wicked Man. "Don't let them know that! I'll repent!
The Wicked Man on God's hand began to dance and weep. Suddenly shame
overcame him. He made a wild rush to jump off the ball of God's little
finger, but God stopped him by a dexterous turn of the wrist. Then he made
a rush for the gap between hand and thumb, but the thumb closed. And all
the while the angel went on reading--reading. The Wicked Man rushed to and
fro across God's palm, and then suddenly turned about and fled up the
sleeve of God.
I expected God would turn him out, but the mercy of God is infinite.
The Recording Angel paused.
"Eh?" said the Recording Angel.
"Next," said God, and before the Recording Angel could call the name a
hairy creature in filthy rags stood upon God's palm.
"Has God got Hell up his sleeve then?" said the little man beside me.
"_Is_ there a Hell?" I asked.
"If you notice," he said--he peered between the feet of the great angels--
"there's no particular indication of a Celestial City."
"'Ssh!" said a little woman near us, scowling. "Hear this blessed Saint!"
"He was Lord of the Earth, but I was the prophet of the God of Heaven,"
cried the Saint, "and all the people marvelled at the sign. For I, O God,
knew of the glories of thy Paradise. No pain, no hardship, gashing with
knives, splinters thrust under my nails, strips of flesh flayed off, all
for the glory and honour of God."
"And at last I went, I in my rags and sores, smelling of my holy
Gabriel laughed abruptly.
"And lay outside his gates, as a sign, as a wonder----"
"As a perfect nuisance," said the Recording Angel, and began to read,
heedless of the fact that the saint was still speaking of the gloriously
unpleasant things he had done that Paradise might be his.
And behold, in that book the record of the Saint also was a revelation, a
It seemed not ten seconds before the Saint also was rushing to and fro
over the great palm of God. Not ten seconds! And at last he also shrieked
beneath that pitiless and cynical exposition, and fled also, even as the
Wicked Man had fled, into the shadow of the sleeve. And it was permitted
us to see into the shadow of the sleeve. And the two sat side by side,
stark of all delusions, in the shadow of the robe of God's charity, like
And thither also I fled in my turn.
"And now," said God, as he shook us out of his sleeve upon the planet he
had given us to live upon, the planet that whirled about green Sirius for
a sun, "now that you understand me and each other a little better,...try
Then he and his great angels turned themselves about and suddenly had
The Throne had vanished.
All about me was a beautiful land, more beautiful than any I had ever seen
before--waste, austere, and wonderful; and all about me were the
enlightened souls of men in new clean bodies...
JIMMY GOGGLES THE GOD.
"It isn't every one who's been a god," said the sunburnt man. "But it's
happened to me--among other things."
I intimated my sense of his condescension.
"It don't leave much for ambition, does it?" said the sunburnt man.
"I was one of those men who were saved from the _Ocean Pioneer_.
Gummy! how time flies! It's twenty years ago. I doubt if you'll remember
anything of the _Ocean Pioneer_?"
The name was familiar, and I tried to recall when and where I had read it.
The _Ocean Pioneer_? "Something about gold dust," I said vaguely,
"but the precise--"
"That's it," he said. "In a beastly little channel she hadn't no business
in--dodging pirates. It was before they'd put the kybosh on that business.
And there'd been volcanoes or something and all the rocks was wrong.
There's places about by Soona where you fair have to follow the rocks
about to see where they're going next. Down she went in twenty fathoms
before you could have dealt for whist, with fifty thousand pounds worth of
gold aboard, it was said, in one form or another."
"I remember the case now," I said. "There was something about salvage----"
But at the word salvage the sunburnt man exploded into language so
extraordinarily horrible that I stopped aghast. He came down to more
ordinary swearing, and pulled himself up abruptly. "Excuse me," he said,
He leant over towards me. "I was in that job," he said. "Tried to make
myself a rich man, and got made a god instead. I've got my feelings----
"It ain't all jam being a god," said the sunburnt man, and for some time
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