The Door in the Wall And Other Stories
H. G. Wells.
Part 1 out of 3
IN THE WALL
And Other Stories
H. G. WELLS
The Door in the Wall 5
The Star 27
A Dream of Armageddon 43
The Cone 75
A Moonlight Fable 91
The Diamond Maker 99
The Lord of the Dynamos 111
The Country of the Blind 125
THE DOOR IN THE WALL
AND OTHER STORIES
THE DOOR IN THE WALL
One confidential evening, not three months ago, Lionel Wallace told
me this story of the Door in the Wall. And at the time I thought
that so far as he was concerned it was a true story.
He told it me with such a direct simplicity of conviction that
I could not do otherwise than believe in him. But in the morning,
in my own flat, I woke to a different atmosphere, and as I lay in
bed and recalled the things he had told me, stripped of the glamour
of his earnest slow voice, denuded of the focussed shaded table
light, the shadowy atmosphere that wrapped about him and the
pleasant bright things, the dessert and glasses and napery of the
dinner we had shared, making them for the time a bright little
world quite cut off from every-day realities, I saw it all as
frankly incredible. "He was mystifying!" I said, and then: "How
well he did it!. . . . . It isn't quite the thing I should have
expected him, of all people, to do well."
Afterwards, as I sat up in bed and sipped my morning tea, I
found myself trying to account for the flavour of reality that
perplexed me in his impossible reminiscences, by supposing they did
in some way suggest, present, convey--I hardly know which word to
use--experiences it was otherwise impossible to tell.
Well, I don't resort to that explanation now. I have got over
my intervening doubts. I believe now, as I believed at the moment
of telling, that Wallace did to the very best of his ability strip
the truth of his secret for me. But whether he himself saw, or only
thought he saw, whether he himself was the possessor of an
inestimable privilege, or the victim of a fantastic dream, I cannot
pretend to guess. Even the facts of his death, which ended my
doubts forever, throw no light on that. That much the reader must
judge for himself.
I forget now what chance comment or criticism of mine moved so
reticent a man to confide in me. He was, I think, defending
himself against an imputation of slackness and unreliability I had
made in relation to a great public movement in which he had
disappointed me. But he plunged suddenly. "I have" he said, "a
"I know," he went on, after a pause that he devoted to the
study of his cigar ash, "I have been negligent. The fact is--it
isn't a case of ghosts or apparitions--but--it's an odd thing to
tell of, Redmond--I am haunted. I am haunted by something--that
rather takes the light out of things, that fills me with longings
. . . . ."
He paused, checked by that English shyness that so often
overcomes us when we would speak of moving or grave or beautiful
things. "You were at Saint Athelstan's all through," he said, and
for a moment that seemed to me quite irrelevant. "Well"--and he
paused. Then very haltingly at first, but afterwards more easily,
he began to tell of the thing that was hidden in his life, the
haunting memory of a beauty and a happiness that filled his heart
with insatiable longings that made all the interests and spectacle
of worldly life seem dull and tedious and vain to him.
Now that I have the clue to it, the thing seems written
visibly in his face. I have a photograph in which that look of
detachment has been caught and intensified. It reminds me of what
a woman once said of him--a woman who had loved him greatly.
"Suddenly," she said, "the interest goes out of him. He forgets
you. He doesn't care a rap for you--under his very nose . . . . ."
Yet the interest was not always out of him, and when he was
holding his attention to a thing Wallace could contrive to be an
extremely successful man. His career, indeed, is set with
successes. He left me behind him long ago; he soared up over my
head, and cut a figure in the world that I couldn't cut--anyhow.
He was still a year short of forty, and they say now that he would
have been in office and very probably in the new Cabinet if he had
lived. At school he always beat me without effort--as it were by
nature. We were at school together at Saint Athelstan's College in
West Kensington for almost all our school time. He came into the
school as my co-equal, but he left far above me, in a blaze of
scholarships and brilliant performance. Yet I think I made a fair
average running. And it was at school I heard first of the Door in
the Wall--that I was to hear of a second time only a month before
To him at least the Door in the Wall was a real door leading
through a real wall to immortal realities. Of that I am now quite
And it came into his life early, when he was a little fellow
between five and six. I remember how, as he sat making his
confession to me with a slow gravity, he reasoned and reckoned the
date of it. "There was," he said, "a crimson Virginia creeper in
it--all one bright uniform crimson in a clear amber sunshine
against a white wall. That came into the impression somehow,
though I don't clearly remember how, and there were horse-chestnut
leaves upon the clean pavement outside the green door. They were
blotched yellow and green, you know, not brown nor dirty, so that
they must have been new fallen. I take it that means October. I
look out for horse-chestnut leaves every year, and I ought to know.
"If I'm right in that, I was about five years and four months old."
He was, he said, rather a precocious little boy--he learned to
talk at an abnormally early age, and he was so sane and
"old-fashioned," as people say, that he was permitted an amount of
initiative that most children scarcely attain by seven or eight.
His mother died when he was born, and he was under the less
vigilant and authoritative care of a nursery governess. His father
was a stern, preoccupied lawyer, who gave him little attention, and
expected great things of him. For all his brightness he found life
a little grey and dull I think. And one day he wandered.
He could not recall the particular neglect that enabled him to
get away, nor the course he took among the West Kensington roads.
All that had faded among the incurable blurs of memory. But the
white wall and the green door stood out quite distinctly.
As his memory of that remote childish experience ran, he did
at the very first sight of that door experience a peculiar emotion,
an attraction, a desire to get to the door and open it and walk in.
And at the same time he had the clearest conviction that either it
was unwise or it was wrong of him--he could not tell which--to
yield to this attraction. He insisted upon it as a curious thing
that he knew from the very beginning--unless memory has played him
the queerest trick--that the door was unfastened, and that he could
go in as he chose.
I seem to see the figure of that little boy, drawn and
repelled. And it was very clear in his mind, too, though why it
should be so was never explained, that his father would be very
angry if he went through that door.
Wallace described all these moments of hesitation to me with
the utmost particularity. He went right past the door, and then,
with his hands in his pockets, and making an infantile attempt to
whistle, strolled right along beyond the end of the wall. There he
recalls a number of mean, dirty shops, and particularly that of a
plumber and decorator, with a dusty disorder of earthenware pipes,
sheet lead ball taps, pattern books of wall paper, and tins of
enamel. He stood pretending to examine these things, and coveting,
passionately desiring the green door.
Then, he said, he had a gust of emotion. He made a run for
it, lest hesitation should grip him again, he went plump with
outstretched hand through the green door and let it slam behind
him. And so, in a trice, he came into the garden that has haunted
all his life.
It was very difficult for Wallace to give me his full sense of
that garden into which he came.
There was something in the very air of it that exhilarated,
that gave one a sense of lightness and good happening and well
being; there was something in the sight of it that made all its
colour clean and perfect and subtly luminous. In the instant of
coming into it one was exquisitely glad--as only in rare moments
and when one is young and joyful one can be glad in this world.
And everything was beautiful there . . . . .
Wallace mused before he went on telling me. "You see," he
said, with the doubtful inflection of a man who pauses at
incredible things, "there were two great panthers there . . . Yes,
spotted panthers. And I was not afraid. There was a long wide
path with marble-edged flower borders on either side, and these two
huge velvety beasts were playing there with a ball. One looked up
and came towards me, a little curious as it seemed. It came right
up to me, rubbed its soft round ear very gently against the small
hand I held out and purred. It was, I tell you, an enchanted
garden. I know. And the size? Oh! it stretched far and wide,
this way and that. I believe there were hills far away. Heaven
knows where West Kensington had suddenly got to. And somehow it
was just like coming home.
"You know, in the very moment the door swung to behind me, I
forgot the road with its fallen chestnut leaves, its cabs and
tradesmen's carts, I forgot the sort of gravitational pull back to
the discipline and obedience of home, I forgot all hesitations and
fear, forgot discretion, forgot all the intimate realities of this
life. I became in a moment a very glad and wonder-happy little
boy--in another world. It was a world with a different quality, a
warmer, more penetrating and mellower light, with a faint clear
gladness in its air, and wisps of sun-touched cloud in the blueness
of its sky. And before me ran this long wide path, invitingly,
with weedless beds on either side, rich with untended flowers, and
these two great panthers. I put my little hands fearlessly on
their soft fur, and caressed their round ears and the sensitive
corners under their ears, and played with them, and it was as
though they welcomed me home. There was a keen sense of
home-coming in my mind, and when presently a tall, fair girl
appeared in the pathway and came to meet me, smiling, and said
'Well?' to me, and lifted me, and kissed me, and put me down, and
led me by the hand, there was no amazement, but only an impression
of delightful rightness, of being reminded of happy things that had
in some strange way been overlooked. There were broad steps, I
remember, that came into view between spikes of delphinium, and up
these we went to a great avenue between very old and shady dark
trees. All down this avenue, you know, between the red chapped
stems, were marble seats of honour and statuary, and very tame and
friendly white doves . . . . .
"And along this avenue my girl-friend led me, looking down--I
recall the pleasant lines, the finely-modelled chin of her sweet
kind face--asking me questions in a soft, agreeable voice, and
telling me things, pleasant things I know, though what they were I
was never able to recall . . . And presently a little Capuchin
monkey, very clean, with a fur of ruddy brown and kindly hazel
eyes, came down a tree to us and ran beside me, looking up at me
and grinning, and presently leapt to my shoulder. So we went on
our way in great happiness . . . ."
"Go on," I said.
"I remember little things. We passed an old man musing among
laurels, I remember, and a place gay with paroquets, and came
through a broad shaded colonnade to a spacious cool palace, full of
pleasant fountains, full of beautiful things, full of the quality
and promise of heart's desire. And there were many things and many
people, some that still seem to stand out clearly and some that are
a little vague, but all these people were beautiful and kind. In
some way--I don't know how--it was conveyed to me that they all
were kind to me, glad to have me there, and filling me with
gladness by their gestures, by the touch of their hands, by the
welcome and love in their eyes. Yes--"
He mused for awhile. "Playmates I found there. That was very
much to me, because I was a lonely little boy. They played
delightful games in a grass-covered court where there was a
sun-dial set about with flowers. And as one played one loved . . . .
"But--it's odd--there's a gap in my memory. I don't remember
the games we played. I never remembered. Afterwards, as a child,
I spent long hours trying, even with tears, to recall the form of
that happiness. I wanted to play it all over again--in my nursery
--by myself. No! All I remember is the happiness and two dear
playfellows who were most with me . . . . Then presently came a
sombre dark woman, with a grave, pale face and dreamy eyes, a
sombre woman wearing a soft long robe of pale purple, who carried
a book and beckoned and took me aside with her into a gallery above
a hall--though my playmates were loth to have me go, and ceased
their game and stood watching as I was carried away. 'Come back to
us!' they cried. 'Come back to us soon!' I looked up at her face,
but she heeded them not at all. Her face was very gentle and
grave. She took me to a seat in the gallery, and I stood beside
her, ready to look at her book as she opened it upon her knee. The
pages fell open. She pointed, and I looked, marvelling, for in the
living pages of that book I saw myself; it was a story about
myself, and in it were all the things that had happened to me since
ever I was born . . . .
"It was wonderful to me, because the pages of that book were
not pictures, you understand, but realities."
Wallace paused gravely--looked at me doubtfully.
"Go on," I said. "I understand."
"They were realities--yes, they must have been; people moved
and things came and went in them; my dear mother, whom I had near
forgotten; then my father, stern and upright, the servants, the
nursery, all the familiar things of home. Then the front door and
the busy streets, with traffic to and fro: I looked and marvelled,
and looked half doubtfully again into the woman's face and turned
the pages over, skipping this and that, to see more of this book,
and more, and so at last I came to myself hovering and hesitating
outside the green door in the long white wall, and felt again the
conflict and the fear.
"'And next?' I cried, and would have turned on, but the cool
hand of the grave woman delayed me.
"'Next?' I insisted, and struggled gently with her hand,
pulling up her fingers with all my childish strength, and as she
yielded and the page came over she bent down upon me like a shadow
and kissed my brow.
"But the page did not show the enchanted garden, nor the
panthers, nor the girl who had led me by the hand, nor the
playfellows who had been so loth to let me go. It showed a long
grey street in West Kensington, on that chill hour of afternoon
before the lamps are lit, and I was there, a wretched little
figure, weeping aloud, for all that I could do to restrain myself,
and I was weeping because I could not return to my dear
play-fellows who had called after me, 'Come back to us! Come back
to us soon!' I was there. This was no page in a book, but harsh
reality; that enchanted place and the restraining hand of the grave
mother at whose knee I stood had gone--whither have they gone?"
He halted again, and remained for a time, staring into the fire.
"Oh! the wretchedness of that return!" he murmured.
"Well?" I said after a minute or so.
"Poor little wretch I was--brought back to this grey world
again! As I realised the fulness of what had happened to me, I
gave way to quite ungovernable grief. And the shame and
humiliation of that public weeping and my disgraceful homecoming
remain with me still. I see again the benevolent-looking old
gentleman in gold spectacles who stopped and spoke to me--prodding
me first with his umbrella. 'Poor little chap,' said he; 'and are
you lost then?'--and me a London boy of five and more! And he must
needs bring in a kindly young policeman and make a crowd of me, and
so march me home. Sobbing, conspicuous and frightened, I came from
the enchanted garden to the steps of my father's house.
"That is as well as I can remember my vision of that
garden--the garden that haunts me still. Of course, I can convey
nothing of that indescribable quality of translucent unreality,
that difference from the common things of experience that hung
about it all; but that--that is what happened. If it was a dream,
I am sure it was a day-time and altogether extraordinary dream . .
. . . . H'm!--naturally there followed a terrible questioning, by
my aunt, my father, the nurse, the governess--everyone . . . . . .
"I tried to tell them, and my father gave me my first
thrashing for telling lies. When afterwards I tried to tell my
aunt, she punished me again for my wicked persistence. Then, as I
said, everyone was forbidden to listen to me, to hear a word about
it. Even my fairy tale books were taken away from me for a
time--because I was 'too imaginative.' Eh? Yes, they did that! My
father belonged to the old school . . . . . And my story was driven
back upon myself. I whispered it to my pillow--my pillow that was
often damp and salt to my whispering lips with childish tears. And
I added always to my official and less fervent prayers this one
heartfelt request: 'Please God I may dream of the garden. Oh! take
me back to my garden! Take me back to my garden!'
"I dreamt often of the garden. I may have added to it, I may
have changed it; I do not know . . . . . All this you understand
is an attempt to reconstruct from fragmentary memories a very early
experience. Between that and the other consecutive memories of my
boyhood there is a gulf. A time came when it seemed impossible I
should ever speak of that wonder glimpse again."
I asked an obvious question.
"No," he said. "I don't remember that I ever attempted to
find my way back to the garden in those early years. This seems
odd to me now, but I think that very probably a closer watch was
kept on my movements after this misadventure to prevent my going
astray. No, it wasn't until you knew me that I tried for the
garden again. And I believe there was a period --incredible as it
seems now--when I forgot the garden altogether--when I was about
eight or nine it may have been. Do you remember me as a kid at
"I didn't show any signs did I in those days of having a secret dream?"
He looked up with a sudden smile.
"Did you ever play North-West Passage with me? . . . . . No,
of course you didn't come my way!"
"It was the sort of game," he went on, "that every imaginative
child plays all day. The idea was the discovery of a North-West
Passage to school. The way to school was plain enough; the game
consisted in finding some way that wasn't plain, starting off ten
minutes early in some almost hopeless direction, and working one's
way round through unaccustomed streets to my goal. And one day I
got entangled among some rather low-class streets on the other side
of Campden Hill, and I began to think that for once the game would
be against me and that I should get to school late. I tried rather
desperately a street that seemed a cul de sac, and found a
passage at the end. I hurried through that with renewed hope. 'I
shall do it yet,' I said, and passed a row of frowsy little shops
that were inexplicably familiar to me, and behold! there was my
long white wall and the green door that led to the enchanted
"The thing whacked upon me suddenly. Then, after all, that garden,
that wonderful garden, wasn't a dream!" . . . .
"I suppose my second experience with the green door marks the
world of difference there is between the busy life of a schoolboy
and the infinite leisure of a child. Anyhow, this second time I
didn't for a moment think of going in straight away. You see . .
. For one thing my mind was full of the idea of getting to school
in time--set on not breaking my record for punctuality. I must
surely have felt SOME little desire at least to try the
door--yes, I must have felt that . . . . . But I seem to remember
the attraction of the door mainly as another obstacle to my
overmastering determination to get to school. I was immediately
interested by this discovery I had made, of course--I went on with
my mind full of it--but I went on. It didn't check me. I ran past
tugging out my watch, found I had ten minutes still to spare, and
then I was going downhill into familiar surroundings. I got to
school, breathless, it is true, and wet with perspiration, but in
time. I can remember hanging up my coat and hat . . . Went right
by it and left it behind me. Odd, eh?"
He looked at me thoughtfully. "Of course, I didn't know then
that it wouldn't always be there. School boys have limited
imaginations. I suppose I thought it was an awfully jolly thing to
have it there, to know my way back to it, but there was the school
tugging at me. I expect I was a good deal distraught and
inattentive that morning, recalling what I could of the beautiful
strange people I should presently see again. Oddly enough I had no
doubt in my mind that they would be glad to see me . . . Yes, I
must have thought of the garden that morning just as a jolly sort
of place to which one might resort in the interludes of a strenuous
"I didn't go that day at all. The next day was a half
holiday, and that may have weighed with me. Perhaps, too, my state
of inattention brought down impositions upon me and docked the
margin of time necessary for the detour. I don't know. What I do
know is that in the meantime the enchanted garden was so much upon
my mind that I could not keep it to myself.
"I told--What was his name?--a ferrety-looking youngster we
used to call Squiff."
"Young Hopkins," said I.
"Hopkins it was. I did not like telling him, I had a feeling
that in some way it was against the rules to tell him, but I did.
He was walking part of the way home with me; he was talkative, and
if we had not talked about the enchanted garden we should have
talked of something else, and it was intolerable to me to think
about any other subject. So I blabbed.
"Well, he told my secret. The next day in the play interval
I found myself surrounded by half a dozen bigger boys, half teasing
and wholly curious to hear more of the enchanted garden. There was
that big Fawcett--you remember him?--and Carnaby and Morley
Reynolds. You weren't there by any chance? No, I think I should
have remembered if you were . . . . .
"A boy is a creature of odd feelings. I was, I really
believe, in spite of my secret self-disgust, a little flattered to
have the attention of these big fellows. I remember particularly
a moment of pleasure caused by the praise of Crawshaw--you remember
Crawshaw major, the son of Crawshaw the composer?--who said it was
the best lie he had ever heard. But at the same time there was a
really painful undertow of shame at telling what I felt was indeed
a sacred secret. That beast Fawcett made a joke about the girl in
Wallace's voice sank with the keen memory of that shame. "I
pretended not to hear," he said. "Well, then Carnaby suddenly
called me a young liar and disputed with me when I said the thing
was true. I said I knew where to find the green door, could lead
them all there in ten minutes. Carnaby became outrageously
virtuous, and said I'd have to--and bear out my words or suffer.
Did you ever have Carnaby twist your arm? Then perhaps you'll
understand how it went with me. I swore my story was true. There
was nobody in the school then to save a chap from Carnaby though
Crawshaw put in a word or so. Carnaby had got his game. I grew
excited and red-eared, and a little frightened, I behaved
altogether like a silly little chap, and the outcome of it all was
that instead of starting alone for my enchanted garden, I led the
way presently--cheeks flushed, ears hot, eyes smarting, and my soul
one burning misery and shame--for a party of six mocking, curious
and threatening school-fellows.
"We never found the white wall and the green door . . ."
"I mean I couldn't find it. I would have found it if I could.
"And afterwards when I could go alone I couldn't find it. I
never found it. I seem now to have been always looking for it
through my school-boy days, but I've never come upon it again."
"Did the fellows--make it disagreeable?"
"Beastly . . . . . Carnaby held a council over me for wanton
lying. I remember how I sneaked home and upstairs to hide the
marks of my blubbering. But when I cried myself to sleep at last
it wasn't for Carnaby, but for the garden, for the beautiful
afternoon I had hoped for, for the sweet friendly women and the
waiting playfellows and the game I had hoped to learn again, that
beautiful forgotten game . . . . .
"I believed firmly that if I had not told-- . . . . . I had
bad times after that--crying at night and woolgathering by day.
For two terms I slackened and had bad reports. Do you remember?
Of course you would! It was YOU--your beating me in
mathematics that brought me back to the grind again."
For a time my friend stared silently into the red heart of the
fire. Then he said: "I never saw it again until I was seventeen.
"It leapt upon me for the third time--as I was driving to
Paddington on my way to Oxford and a scholarship. I had just one
momentary glimpse. I was leaning over the apron of my hansom
smoking a cigarette, and no doubt thinking myself no end of a man
of the world, and suddenly there was the door, the wall, the dear
sense of unforgettable and still attainable things.
"We clattered by--I too taken by surprise to stop my cab until
we were well past and round a corner. Then I had a queer moment,
a double and divergent movement of my will: I tapped the little
door in the roof of the cab, and brought my arm down to pull out my
watch. 'Yes, sir!' said the cabman, smartly. 'Er-- well--it's
nothing,' I cried. 'MY mistake! We haven't much time! Go
on!' and he went on . . .
"I got my scholarship. And the night after I was told of that
I sat over my fire in my little upper room, my study, in my
father's house, with his praise--his rare praise--and his sound
counsels ringing in my ears, and I smoked my favourite pipe--the
formidable bulldog of adolescence--and thought of that door in the
long white wall. 'If I had stopped,' I thought, 'I should have
missed my scholarship, I should have missed Oxford--muddled all the
fine career before me! I begin to see things better!' I fell
musing deeply, but I did not doubt then this career of mine was a
thing that merited sacrifice.
"Those dear friends and that clear atmosphere seemed very
sweet to me, very fine, but remote. My grip was fixing now upon
the world. I saw another door opening--the door of my career."
He stared again into the fire. Its red lights picked out a
stubborn strength in his face for just one flickering moment, and
then it vanished again.
"Well", he said and sighed, "I have served that career. I
have done--much work, much hard work. But I have dreamt of the
enchanted garden a thousand dreams, and seen its door, or at least
glimpsed its door, four times since then. Yes--four times. For a
while this world was so bright and interesting, seemed so full of
meaning and opportunity that the half-effaced charm of the garden
was by comparison gentle and remote. Who wants to pat panthers on
the way to dinner with pretty women and distinguished men? I came
down to London from Oxford, a man of bold promise that I have done
something to redeem. Something--and yet there have been
disappointments . . . . .
"Twice I have been in love--I will not dwell on that--but
once, as I went to someone who, I know, doubted whether I dared to
come, I took a short cut at a venture through an unfrequented road
near Earl's Court, and so happened on a white wall and a familiar
green door. 'Odd!' said I to myself, 'but I thought this place was
on Campden Hill. It's the place I never could find somehow--like
counting Stonehenge--the place of that queer day dream of mine.'
And I went by it intent upon my purpose. It had no appeal to me
"I had just a moment's impulse to try the door, three steps
aside were needed at the most--though I was sure enough in my heart
that it would open to me--and then I thought that doing so might
delay me on the way to that appointment in which I thought my
honour was involved. Afterwards I was sorry for my punctuality--I
might at least have peeped in I thought, and waved a hand to those
panthers, but I knew enough by this time not to seek again
belatedly that which is not found by seeking. Yes, that time made
me very sorry . . . . .
"Years of hard work after that and never a sight of the door.
It's only recently it has come back to me. With it there has come
a sense as though some thin tarnish had spread itself over my
world. I began to think of it as a sorrowful and bitter thing that
I should never see that door again. Perhaps I was suffering a
little from overwork--perhaps it was what I've heard spoken of as
the feeling of forty. I don't know. But certainly the keen
brightness that makes effort easy has gone out of things recently,
and that just at a time with all these new political developments
--when I ought to be working. Odd, isn't it? But I do begin to
find life toilsome, its rewards, as I come near them, cheap. I
began a little while ago to want the garden quite badly. Yes--and
I've seen it three times."
"No--the door! And I haven't gone in!"
He leaned over the table to me, with an enormous sorrow in his
voice as he spoke. "Thrice I have had my chance--THRICE!
If ever that door offers itself to me again, I swore, I will go in
out of this dust and heat, out of this dry glitter of vanity, out
of these toilsome futilities. I will go and never return. This
time I will stay . . . . . I swore it and when the time came--
I DIDN'T GO.
"Three times in one year have I passed that door and failed to
enter. Three times in the last year.
"The first time was on the night of the snatch division on the
Tenants' Redemption Bill, on which the Government was saved by a
majority of three. You remember? No one on our side--perhaps very
few on the opposite side--expected the end that night. Then the
debate collapsed like eggshells. I and Hotchkiss were dining with
his cousin at Brentford, we were both unpaired, and we were called
up by telephone, and set off at once in his cousin's motor. We got
in barely in time, and on the way we passed my wall and door--livid
in the moonlight, blotched with hot yellow as the glare of our
lamps lit it, but unmistakable. 'My God!' cried I. 'What?'said
Hotchkiss. 'Nothing!' I answered, and the moment passed.
"'I've made a great sacrifice,' I told the whip as I got in.
'They all have,' he said, and hurried by.
"I do not see how I could have done otherwise then. And the
next occasion was as I rushed to my father's bedside to bid that
stern old man farewell. Then, too, the claims of life were
imperative. But the third time was different; it happened a week
ago. It fills me with hot remorse to recall it. I was with Gurker
and Ralphs--it's no secret now you know that I've had my talk with
Gurker. We had been dining at Frobisher's, and the talk had become
intimate between us. The question of my place in the reconstructed
ministry lay always just over the boundary of the discussion. Yes
--yes. That's all settled. It needn't be talked about yet, but
there's no reason to keep a secret from you . . . . . Yes--thanks!
thanks! But let me tell you my story.
"Then, on that night things were very much in the air. My
position was a very delicate one. I was keenly anxious to get some
definite word from Gurker, but was hampered by Ralphs' presence.
I was using the best power of my brain to keep that light and
careless talk not too obviously directed to the point that concerns
me. I had to. Ralphs' behaviour since has more than justified my
caution . . . . . Ralphs, I knew, would leave us beyond the
Kensington High Street, and then I could surprise Gurker by a
sudden frankness. One has sometimes to resort to these little
devices. . . . . And then it was that in the margin of my field of
vision I became aware once more of the white wall, the green door
before us down the road.
"We passed it talking. I passed it. I can still see the
shadow of Gurker's marked profile, his opera hat tilted forward
over his prominent nose, the many folds of his neck wrap going
before my shadow and Ralphs' as we sauntered past.
"I passed within twenty inches of the door. 'If I say
good-night to them, and go in,' I asked myself, 'what will happen?'
And I was all a-tingle for that word with Gurker.
"I could not answer that question in the tangle of my other
problems. 'They will think me mad,' I thought. 'And suppose I
vanish now!--Amazing disappearance of a prominent politician!' That
weighed with me. A thousand inconceivably petty worldlinesses
weighed with me in that crisis."
Then he turned on me with a sorrowful smile, and, speaking
slowly; "Here I am!" he said.
"Here I am!" he repeated, "and my chance has gone from me.
Three times in one year the door has been offered me--the door that
goes into peace, into delight, into a beauty beyond dreaming, a
kindness no man on earth can know. And I have rejected it,
Redmond, and it has gone--"
"How do you know?"
"I know. I know. I am left now to work it out, to stick to
the tasks that held me so strongly when my moments came. You say,
I have success--this vulgar, tawdry, irksome, envied thing. I have
it." He had a walnut in his big hand. "If that was my success,"
he said, and crushed it, and held it out for me to see.
"Let me tell you something, Redmond. This loss is destroying
me. For two months, for ten weeks nearly now, I have done no work
at all, except the most necessary and urgent duties. My soul is
full of inappeasable regrets. At nights--when it is less likely I
shall be recognised--I go out. I wander. Yes. I wonder what
people would think of that if they knew. A Cabinet Minister, the
responsible head of that most vital of all departments, wandering
alone--grieving--sometimes near audibly lamenting--for a door, for
I can see now his rather pallid face, and the unfamiliar
sombre fire that had come into his eyes. I see him very vividly
to-night. I sit recalling his words, his tones, and last evening's
Westminster Gazette still lies on my sofa, containing the
notice of his death. At lunch to-day the club was busy with him
and the strange riddle of his fate.
They found his body very early yesterday morning in a deep
excavation near East Kensington Station. It is one of two shafts
that have been made in connection with an extension of the railway
southward. It is protected from the intrusion of the public by a
hoarding upon the high road, in which a small doorway has been cut
for the convenience of some of the workmen who live in that
direction. The doorway was left unfastened through a
misunderstanding between two gangers, and through it he made his
way . . . . .
My mind is darkened with questions and riddles.
It would seem he walked all the way from the House that
night--he has frequently walked home during the past Session--and
so it is I figure his dark form coming along the late and empty
streets, wrapped up, intent. And then did the pale electric lights
near the station cheat the rough planking into a semblance of
white? Did that fatal unfastened door awaken some memory?
Was there, after all, ever any green door in the wall at all?
I do not know. I have told his story as he told it to me.
There are times when I believe that Wallace was no more than the
victim of the coincidence between a rare but not unprecedented type
of hallucination and a careless trap, but that indeed is not my
profoundest belief. You may think me superstitious if you will,
and foolish; but, indeed, I am more than half convinced that he had
in truth, an abnormal gift, and a sense, something--I know not
what--that in the guise of wall and door offered him an outlet, a
secret and peculiar passage of escape into another and altogether
more beautiful world. At any rate, you will say, it betrayed him
in the end. But did it betray him? There you touch the inmost
mystery of these dreamers, these men of vision and the imagination.
We see our world fair and common, the hoarding and the pit. By our
daylight standard he walked out of security into darkness, danger
and death. But did he see like that?
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 unprecedented kind.
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 attain it.
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
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 wakening 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 passersby. "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 dead.
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 this--!
"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 the star.
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
little 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
phrasing. "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 us assume--"
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
civilised 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 toward 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 night, 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
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 thunderstorms 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
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
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 forever. 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
over the country side. Those were the days of darkness that
star and the heat. All through them, and for many weeks and
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 discoloration
(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.
A DREAM OF ARMAGEDDON
The man with the white face entered the carriage at Rugby. He
moved slowly in spite of the urgency of his porter, and even while
he was still on the platform I noted how ill he seemed. He dropped
into the corner over against me with a sigh, made an incomplete
attempt to arrange his travelling shawl, and became motionless,
with his eyes staring vacantly. Presently he was moved by a sense
of my observation, looked up at me, and put out a spiritless hand
for his newspaper. Then he glanced again in my direction.
I feigned to read. I feared I had unwittingly embarrassed
him, and in a moment I was surprised to find him speaking.
"I beg your pardon?" said I.
"That book," he repeated, pointing a lean finger, "is about
"Obviously," I answered, for it was Fortnum Roscoe's Dream
States, and the title was on the cover.
He hung silent for a space as if he sought words. "Yes," he
said at last, "but they tell you nothing."
I did not catch his meaning for a second.
"They don't know," he added.
I looked a little more attentively at his face.
"There are dreams," he said, "and dreams."
That sort of proposition I never dispute.
"I suppose--" he hesitated. "Do you ever dream? I mean
"I dream very little," I answered. "I doubt if I have three
vivid dreams in a year."
"Ah!" he said, and seemed for a moment to collect his
"Your dreams don't mix with your memories?" he asked abruptly.
"You don't find yourself in doubt; did this happen or did it not?"
"Hardly ever. Except just for a momentary hesitation now and
then. I suppose few people do."
"Does he say--?" He indicated the book.
"Says it happens at times and gives the usual explanation
about intensity of impression and the like to account for its not
happening as a rule. I suppose you know something of these
"Very little--except that they are wrong."
His emaciated hand played with the strap of the window for a
time. I prepared to resume reading, and that seemed to precipitate
his next remark. He leant forward almost as though he would touch
"Isn't there something called consecutive dreaming--that goes
on night after night?"
"I believe there is. There are cases given in most books on
"Mental trouble! Yes. I daresay there are. It's the right
place for them. But what I mean--" He looked at his bony
knuckles. "Is that sort of thing always dreaming? Is it dreaming?
Or is it something else? Mightn't it be something else?"
I should have snubbed his persistent conversation but for the
drawn anxiety of his face. I remember now the look of his faded
eyes and the lids red stained--perhaps you know that look.
"I'm not just arguing about a matter of opinion," he said.
"The thing's killing me."
"If you call them dreams. Night after night. Vivid!--so
vivid . . . . this--" (he indicated the landscape that went
streaming by the window) "seems unreal in comparison! I can
scarcely remember who I am, what business I am on . . . ."
He paused. "Even now--"
"The dream is always the same--do you mean?" I asked.
"Smashed and killed, and now, so much of me as that dream was,
is dead. Dead forever. I dreamt I was another man, you know,
living in a different part of the world and in a different time.
I dreamt that night after night. Night after night I woke into
that other life. Fresh scenes and fresh happenings--until I came
upon the last--"
"When you died?"
"When I died."
"And since then--"
"No," he said. "Thank God! That was the end of the dream .
. . "
It was clear I was in for this dream. And after all, I had an
hour before me, the light was fading fast, and Fortnum Roscoe has
a dreary way with him. "Living in a different time," I said: "do
you mean in some different age?"
"No, to come--to come."
"The year three thousand, for example?"
"I don't know what year it was. I did when I was asleep, when
I was dreaming, that is, but not now--not now that I am awake.
There's a lot of things I have forgotten since I woke out of these
dreams, though I knew them at the time when I was--I suppose it was
dreaming. They called the year differently from our way of calling
the year . . . What did they call it?" He put his hand to his
forehead. "No," said he, "I forget."
He sat smiling weakly. For a moment I feared he did not mean
to tell me his dream. As a rule I hate people who tell their
dreams, but this struck me differently. I proffered assistance
even. "It began--" I suggested.
"It was vivid from the first. I seemed to wake up in it
suddenly. And it's curious that in these dreams I am speaking of
I never remembered this life I am living now. It seemed as if the
dream life was enough while it lasted. Perhaps--But I will tell
you how I find myself when I do my best to recall it all. I don't
remember anything clearly until I found myself sitting in a sort of
loggia looking out over the sea. I had been dozing, and suddenly
I woke up--fresh and vivid--not a bit dreamlike--because the girl
had stopped fanning me."
"Yes, the girl. You must not interrupt or you will put me
He stopped abruptly. "You won't think I'm mad?" he said.
"No," I answered. "You've been dreaming. Tell me your
"I woke up, I say, because the girl had stopped fanning me.
I was not surprised to find myself there or anything of that sort,
you understand. I did not feel I had fallen into it suddenly. I
simply took it up at that point. Whatever memory I had of this
life, this nineteenth-century life, faded as I woke, vanished like
a dream. I knew all about myself, knew that my name was no longer
Cooper but Hedon, and all about my position in the world. I've
forgotten a lot since I woke--there's a want of connection--but it
was all quite clear and matter of fact then."
He hesitated again, gripping the window strap, putting his
face forward and looking up to me appealingly.
"This seems bosh to you?"
"No, no!" I cried. "Go on. Tell me what this loggia was
"It was not really a loggia--I don't know what to call it. It
faced south. It was small. It was all in shadow except the
semicircle above the balcony that showed the sky and sea and the
corner where the girl stood. I was on a couch--it was a metal
couch with light striped cushions--and the girl was leaning over
the balcony with her back to me. The light of the sunrise fell on
her ear and cheek. Her pretty white neck and the little curls
that nestled there, and her white shoulder were in the sun, and all
the grace of her body was in the cool blue shadow. She was dressed
--how can I describe it? It was easy and flowing. And altogether
there she stood, so that it came to me how beautiful and desirable
she was, as though I had never seen her before. And when at last
I sighed and raised myself upon my arm she turned her face to me--"
"I have lived three-and-fifty years in this world. I have had
mother, sisters, friends, wife and daughters--all their faces, the
play of their faces, I know. But the face of this girl--it is much
more real to me. I can bring it back into memory so that I see it
again--I could draw it or paint it. And after all--"
He stopped--but I said nothing.
"The face of a dream--the face of a dream. She was beautiful.
Not that beauty which is terrible, cold, and worshipful, like the
beauty of a saint; nor that beauty that stirs fierce passions; but
a sort of radiation, sweet lips that softened into smiles, and
grave gray eyes. And she moved gracefully, she seemed to have part
with all pleasant and gracious things--"
He stopped, and his face was downcast and hidden. Then he
looked up at me and went on, making no further attempt to disguise
his absolute belief in the reality of his story.
"You see, I had thrown up my plans and ambitions, thrown up
all I had ever worked for or desired for her sake. I had been a
master man away there in the north, with influence and property and
a great reputation, but none of it had seemed worth having beside
her. I had come to the place, this city of sunny pleasures with
her, and left all those things to wreck and ruin just to save a
remnant at least of my life. While I had been in love with her
before I knew that she had any care for me, before I had imagined
that she would dare--that we should dare, all my life had seemed
vain and hollow, dust and ashes. It was dust and ashes. Night
after night and through the long days I had longed and desired--my
soul had beaten against the thing forbidden!
"But it is impossible for one man to tell another just these
things. It's emotion, it's a tint, a light that comes and goes.
Only while it's there, everything changes, everything. The thing
is I came away and left them in their Crisis to do what they
"Left whom?" I asked, puzzled.
"The people up in the north there. You see--in this dream,
anyhow--I had been a big man, the sort of man men come to trust in,
to group themselves about. Millions of men who had never seen me
were ready to do things and risk things because of their confidence
in me. I had been playing that game for years, that big laborious
game, that vague, monstrous political game amidst intrigues and
betrayals, speech and agitation. It was a vast weltering world,
and at last I had a sort of leadership against the Gang--you know
it was called the Gang--a sort of compromise of scoundrelly
projects and base ambitions and vast public emotional stupidities
and catch-words--the Gang that kept the world noisy and blind year
by year, and all the while that it was drifting, drifting towards
infinite disaster. But I can't expect you to understand the shades
and complications of the year--the year something or other ahead.
I had it all--down to the smallest details--in my dream. I suppose
I had been dreaming of it before I awoke, and the fading outline of
some queer new development I had imagined still hung about me as I
rubbed my eyes. It was some grubby affair that made me thank God
for the sunlight. I sat up on the couch and remained looking at
the woman and rejoicing--rejoicing that I had come away out of all
that tumult and folly and violence before it was too late. After
all, I thought, this is life--love and beauty, desire and delight,
are they not worth all those dismal struggles for vague, gigantic
ends? And I blamed myself for having ever sought to be a leader
when I might have given my days to love. But then, thought I, if
I had not spent my early days sternly and austerely, I might have
wasted myself upon vain and worthless women, and at the thought all
my being went out in love and tenderness to my dear mistress, my
dear lady, who had come at last and compelled me--compelled me by
her invincible charm for me--to lay that life aside.
"'You are worth it,' I said, speaking without intending her to
hear; 'you are worth it, my dearest one; worth pride and praise and
all things. Love! to have you is worth them all together." And at
the murmur of my voice she turned about.
"'Come and see,' she cried--I can hear her now--'come and see
the sunrise upon Monte Solaro.'
"I remember how I sprang to my feet and joined her at the
balcony. She put a white hand upon my shoulder and pointed towards
great masses of limestone, flushing, as it were, into life. I
looked. But first I noted the sunlight on her face caressing the
lines of her cheeks and neck. How can I describe to you the scene
we had before us? We were at Capri--"
"I have been there," I said. "I have clambered up Monte
Solaro and drunk vero Capri--muddy stuff like cider--at the
"Ah!" said the man with the white face; "then perhaps you can
tell me--you will know if this is indeed Capri. For in this life
I have never been there. Let me describe it. We were in a little
room, one of a vast multitude of little rooms, very cool and sunny,
hollowed out of the limestone of a sort of cape, very high above
the sea. The whole island, you know, was one enormous hotel,
complex beyond explaining, and on the other side there were miles
of floating hotels, and huge floating stages to which the flying
machines came. They called it a pleasure city. Of course, there
was none of that in your time--rather, I should say, is none of
that now. Of course. Now!--yes.
"Well, this room of ours was at the extremity of the cape, so
that one could see east and west. Eastward was a great cliff--a
thousand feet high perhaps--coldly gray except for one bright edge
of gold, and beyond it the Isle of the Sirens, and a falling coast
that faded and passed into the hot sunrise. And when one turned to
the west, distinct and near was a little bay, a little beach still
in shadow. And out of that shadow rose Solaro straight and tall,
flushed and golden crested, like a beauty throned, and the white
moon was floating behind her in the sky. And before us from east
to west stretched the many-tinted sea all dotted with little
"To the eastward, of course, these little boats were gray and
very minute and clear, but to the westward they were little boats
of gold--shining gold--almost like little flames. And just below
us was a rock with an arch worn through it. The blue sea-water
broke to green and foam all round the rock, and a galley came
gliding out of the arch."
"I know that rock." I said. "I was nearly drowned there. It
is called the Faraglioni."
"I Faraglioni? Yes, she called it that," answered the man
with the white face. "There was some story--but that--"
He put his hand to his forehead again. " No," he said, "I
forget that story."
"Well, that is the first thing I remember, the first dream I
had, that little shaded room and the beautiful air and sky and that
dear lady of mine, with her shining arms and her graceful robe, and
how we sat and talked in half whispers to one another. We talked
in whispers not because there was any one to hear, but because
there was still such a freshness of mind between us that our
thoughts were a little frightened, I think, to find themselves at
last in words. And so they went softly.
"Presently we were hungry and we went from our apartment,
going by a strange passage with a moving floor, until we came to
the great breakfast room--there was a fountain and music. A
pleasant and joyful place it was, with its sunlight and splashing,
and the murmur of plucked strings. And we sat and ate and smiled
at one another, and I would not heed a man who was watching me from
a table near by.
"And afterwards we went on to the dancing-hall. But I cannot
describe that hall. The place was enormous--larger than any
building you have ever seen--and in one place there was the old
gate of Capri, caught into the wall of a gallery high overhead.
Light girders, stems and threads of gold, burst from the pillars
like fountains, streamed like an Aurora across the roof and
interlaced, like--like conjuring tricks. All about the great
circle for the dancers there were beautiful figures, strange
dragons, and intricate and wonderful grotesques bearing lights.
The place was inundated with artificial light that shamed the
newborn day. And as we went through the throng the people turned
about and looked at us, for all through the world my name and face
were known, and how I had suddenly thrown up pride and struggle to
come to this place. And they looked also at the lady beside me,
though half the story of how at last she had come to me was unknown
or mistold. And few of the men who were there, I know, but judged
me a happy man, in spite of all the shame and dishonour that had
come upon my name.
"The air was full of music, full of harmonious scents, full of
the rhythm of beautiful motions. Thousands of beautiful people
swarmed about the hall, crowded the galleries, sat in a myriad
recesses; they were dressed in splendid colours and crowned with
flowers; thousands danced about the great circle beneath the white
images of the ancient gods, and glorious processions of youths and
maidens came and went. We two danced, not the dreary monotonies of
your days--of this time, I mean--but dances that were beautiful,
intoxicating. And even now I can see my lady dancing--dancing
joyously. She danced, you know, with a serious face; she danced
with a serious dignity, and yet she was smiling at me and caressing
me--smiling and caressing with her eyes.
"The music was different," he murmured. "It went--I cannot
describe it; but it was infinitely richer and more varied than any
music that has ever come to me awake.
"And then--it was when we had done dancing--a man came to
speak to me. He was a lean, resolute man, very soberly clad for
that place, and already I had marked his face watching me in the
breakfasting hall, and afterwards as we went along the passage I
had avoided his eye. But now, as we sat in a little alcove,
smiling at the pleasure of all the people who went to and fro
across the shining floor, he came and touched me, and spoke to me
so that I was forced to listen. And he asked that he might speak
to me for a little time apart.
"'No,' I said. 'I have no secrets from this lady. What do
you want to tell me?'
"He said it was a trivial matter, or at least a dry matter,
for a lady to hear.
"'Perhaps for me to hear,' said I.
"He glanced at her, as though almost he would appeal to her.
Then he asked me suddenly if I had heard of a great and avenging
declaration that Evesham had made? Now, Evesham had always before
been the man next to myself in the leadership of that great party
in the north. He was a forcible, hard, and tactless man, and only
I had been able to control and soften him. It was on his account
even more than my own, I think, that the others had been so
dismayed at my retreat. So this question about what he had done
reawakened my old interest in the life I had put aside just for
"'I have taken no heed of any news for many days,' I said.
'What has Evesham been saying?'
"And with that the man began, nothing loth, and I must confess
even I was struck by Evesham's reckless folly in the wild and
threatening words he had used. And this messenger they had sent to
me not only told me of Evesham's speech, but went on to ask counsel
and to point out what need they had of me. While he talked, my
lady sat a little forward and watched his face and mine.
"My old habits of scheming and organising reasserted
themselves. I could even see myself suddenly returning to the
north, and all the dramatic effect of it. All that this man said
witnessed to the disorder of the party indeed, but not to its
damage. I should go back stronger than I had come. And then I
thought of my lady. You see--how can I tell you? There were
certain peculiarities of our relationship--as things are I need not
tell you about that--which would render her presence with me
impossible. I should have had to leave her; indeed, I should have
had to renounce her clearly and openly, if I was to do all that I
could do in the north. And the man knew that, even as he talked to
her and me, knew it as well as she did, that my steps to duty
were--first, separation, then abandonment. At the touch of that
thought my dream of a return was shattered. I turned on the man
suddenly, as he was imagining his eloquence was gaining ground with
"'What have I to do with these things now?' I said. 'I have
done with them. Do you think I am coquetting with your people in
"'No,' he said. 'But--'
"'Why cannot you leave me alone. I have done with these
things. I have ceased to be anything but a private man.'
"'Yes,' he answered. 'But have you thought?--this talk of
war, these reckless challenges, these wild aggressions--'
"I stood up.
"'No,' I cried. 'I won't hear you. I took count of all those
things, I weighed them--and I have come away.'
"He seemed to consider the possibility of persistence. He
looked from me to where the lady sat regarding us.
"'War,' he said, as if he were speaking to himself, and then
turned slowly from me and walked away.
"I stood, caught in the whirl of thoughts his appeal had set
"I heard my lady's voice.
"'Dear,' she said; 'but if they had need of you--'
"She did not finish her sentence, she let it rest there. I
turned to her sweet face, and the balance of my mood swayed and
"'They want me only to do the thing they dare not do
themselves,' I said. 'If they distrust Evesham they must settle
with him themselves.'
"She looked at me doubtfully.
"'But war--' she said.
"I saw a doubt on her face that I had seen before, a doubt of
herself and me, the first shadow of the discovery that, seen
strongly and completely, must drive us apart for ever.
"Now, I was an older mind than hers, and I could sway her to
this belief or that.
"'My dear one,' I said, 'you must not trouble over these
things. There will be no war. Certainly there will be no war.
The age of wars is past. Trust me to know the justice of this
case. They have no right upon me, dearest, and no one has a right
upon me. I have been free to choose my life, and I have chosen
"'But war--,' she said.
"I sat down beside her. I put an arm behind her and took her
hand in mine. I set myself to drive that doubt away--I set myself
to fill her mind with pleasant things again. I lied to her, and in
lying to her I lied also to myself. And she was only too ready to
believe me, only too ready to forget.
"Very soon the shadow had gone again, and we were hastening to
our bathing-place in the Grotta del Bovo Marino, where it was our
custom to bathe every day. We swam and splashed one another, and
in that buoyant water I seemed to become something lighter and
stronger than a man. And at last we came out dripping and
rejoicing and raced among the rocks. And then I put on a dry
bathing-dress, and we sat to bask in the sun, and presently I
nodded, resting my head against her knee, and she put her hand upon
my hair and stroked it softly and I dozed. And behold! as it
were with the snapping of the string of a violin, I was awakening,
and I was in my own bed in Liverpool, in the life of to-day.
"Only for a time I could not believe that all these vivid
moments had been no more than the substance of a dream.
"In truth, I could not believe it a dream for all the sobering
reality of things about me. I bathed and dressed as it were by
habit, and as I shaved I argued why I of all men should leave the
woman I loved to go back to fantastic politics in the hard and
strenuous north. Even if Evesham did force the world back to war,
what was that to me? I was a man with the heart of a man, and why
should I feel the responsibility of a deity for the way the world
"You know that is not quite the way I think about affairs,
about my real affairs. I am a solicitor, you know, with a point of
"The vision was so real, you must understand, so utterly
unlike a dream that I kept perpetually recalling little irrelevant
details; even the ornament of the book-cover that lay on my wife's
sewing-machine in the breakfast-room recalled with the utmost
vividness the gilt line that ran about the seat in the alcove where
I had talked with the messenger from my deserted party. Have you
ever heard of a dream that had a quality like that?"
"So that afterwards you remembered little details you had
I thought. I had never noticed the point before, but he was
"Never," I said. "That is what you never seem to do with
"No," he answered. "But that is just what I did. I am a
solicitor, you must understand, in Liverpool, and I could not help
wondering what the clients and business people I found myself
talking to in my office would think if I told them suddenly I was
in love with a girl who would be born a couple of hundred years or
so hence, and worried about the politics of my great-great-great-
grandchildren. I was chiefly busy that day negotiating a
ninety-nine-year building lease. It was a private builder in a
hurry, and we wanted to tie him in every possible way. I had an
interview with him, and he showed a certain want of temper that
sent me to bed still irritated. That night I had no dream. Nor
did I dream the next night, at least, to remember.
"Something of that intense reality of conviction vanished. I
began to feel sure it was a dream. And then it came again.
"When the dream came again, nearly four days later, it was
very different. I think it certain that four days had also elapsed
in the dream. Many things had happened in the north, and the
shadow of them was back again between us, and this time it was not
so easily dispelled. I began I know with moody musings. Why, in
spite of all, should I go back, go back for all the rest of my days
to toil and stress, insults and perpetual dissatisfaction, simply
to save hundreds of millions of common people, whom I did not love,
whom too often I could do no other than despise, from the stress
and anguish of war and infinite misrule? And after all I might
fail. They all sought their own narrow ends, and why should not
I--why should not I also live as a man? And out of such thoughts
her voice summoned me, and I lifted my eyes.
I found myself awake and walking. We had come out above the
Pleasure City, we were near the summit of Monte Solaro and looking
towards the bay. It was the late afternoon and very clear. Far
away to the left Ischia hung in a golden haze between sea and sky,
and Naples was coldly white against the hills, and before us was
Vesuvius with a tall and slender streamer feathering at last
towards the south, and the ruins of Torre dell' Annunziata and
Castellammare glittering and near."
I interrupted suddenly: "You have been to Capri, of course?"
"Only in this dream," he said, "only in this dream. All
across the bay beyond Sorrento were the floating palaces of the
Pleasure City moored and chained. And northward were the broad
floating stages that received the aeroplanes. Aeroplanes fell out
of the sky every afternoon, each bringing its thousands of
pleasure-seekers from the uttermost parts of the earth to Capri and
its delights. All these things, I say, stretched below.
"But we noticed them only incidentally because of an unusual
sight that evening had to show. Five war aeroplanes that had long
slumbered useless in the distant arsenals of the Rhinemouth were
manoeuvring now in the eastward sky. Evesham had astonished the
world by producing them and others, and sending them to circle here
and there. It was the threat material in the great game of bluff
he was playing, and it had taken even me by surprise. He was one
of those incredibly stupid energetic people who seem sent by heaven
to create disasters. His energy to the first glance seemed so
wonderfully like capacity! But he had no imagination, no
invention, only a stupid, vast, driving force of will, and a mad
faith in his stupid idiot 'luck' to pull him through. I remember
how we stood upon the headland watching the squadron circling far
away, and how I weighed the full meaning of the sight, seeing
clearly the way things must go. And then even it was not too late.
I might have gone back, I think, and saved the world. The people
of the north would follow me, I knew, granted only that in one
thing I respected their moral standards. The east and south would
trust me as they would trust no other northern man. And I knew
I had only to put it to her and she would have let me go . . . .
Not because she did not love me!
"Only I did not want to go; my will was all the other way
about. I had so newly thrown off the incubus of responsibility: I
was still so fresh a renegade from duty that the daylight clearness
of what I ought to do had no power at all to touch my will. My
will was to live, to gather pleasures and make my dear lady happy.
But though this sense of vast neglected duties had no power to draw
me, it could make me silent and preoccupied, it robbed the days I
had spent of half their brightness and roused me into dark
meditations in the silence of the night. And as I stood and
watched Evesham's aeroplanes sweep to and fro--those birds of
infinite ill omen--she stood beside me watching me, perceiving the
trouble indeed, but not perceiving it clearly--her eyes questioning
my face, her expression shaded with perplexity. Her face was gray
because the sunset was fading out of the sky. It was no fault of
hers that she held me. She had asked me to go from her, and again
in the night time and with tears she had asked me to go.
"At last it was the sense of her that roused me from my mood.
I turned upon her suddenly and challenged her to race down the
mountain slopes. 'No,' she said, as if I had jarred with her
gravity, but I was resolved to end that gravity, and make her
run--no one can be very gray and sad who is out of breath--and when
she stumbled I ran with my hand beneath her arm. We ran down past
a couple of men, who turned back staring in astonishment at my
behaviour--they must have recognised my face. And half way down
the slope came a tumult in the air, clang-clank, clang-clank, and
we stopped, and presently over the hill-crest those war things came
flying one behind the other."
The man seemed hesitating on the verge of a description.
"What were they like?" I asked.
"They had never fought," he said. "They were just like our
ironclads are nowadays; they had never fought. No one knew what
they might do, with excited men inside them; few even cared to
speculate. They were great driving things shaped like spear-heads
without a shaft, with a propeller in the place of the shaft."
"No, no, nothing of that sort. An alloy that was very
common--as common as brass, for example. It was called--let me
see--" He squeezed his forehead with the fingers of one hand. "I
am forgetting everything," he said.
"And they carried guns?"
"Little guns, firing high explosive shells. They fired the
guns backwards, out of the base of the leaf, so to speak, and
rammed with the beak. That was the theory, you know, but they had
never been fought. No one could tell exactly what was going to
happen. And meanwhile I suppose it was very fine to go whirling
through the air like a flight of young swallows, swift and easy.
I guess the captains tried not to think too clearly what the real
thing would be like. And these flying war machines, you know, were
only one sort of the endless war contrivances that had been
invented and had fallen into abeyance during the long peace. There
were all sorts of these things that people were routing out and
furbishing up; infernal things, silly things; things that had never
been tried; big engines, terrible explosives, great guns. You know
the silly way of these ingenious sort of men who make these things;
they turn 'em out as beavers build dams, and with no more sense of
the rivers they're going to divert and the lands they're going to
"As we went down the winding stepway to our hotel again, in
the twilight, I foresaw it all: I saw how clearly and inevitably
things were driving for war in Evesham's silly, violent hands, and
I had some inkling of what war was bound to be under these new
conditions. And even then, though I knew it was drawing near the
limit of my opportunity, I could find no will to go back."
"That was my last chance.
"We didn't go into the city until the sky was full of stars,
so we walked out upon the high terrace, to and fro, and--she
counselled me to go back.
"'My dearest,' she said, and her sweet face looked up to me,
'this is Death. This life you lead is Death. Go back to them, go
back to your duty--'
"She began to weep, saying, between her sobs, and clinging to
my arm as she said it, 'Go back--Go back.'
"Then suddenly she fell mute, and, glancing down at her face,
I read in an instant the thing she had thought to do. It was one
of those moments when one sees.
"'No!' I said.
"'No?' she asked, in surprise and I think a little fearful at
the answer to her thought.
"'Nothing,' I said, 'shall send me back. Nothing! I have
chosen. Love, I have chosen, and the world must go. Whatever
happens I will live this life--I will live for you! It--nothing
shall turn me aside; nothing, my dear one. Even if you died--even
if you died--'
"'Yes?' she murmured, softly.
"'Then--I also would die.'
"And before she could speak again I began to talk, talking
eloquently--as I could do in that life--talking to exalt love, to
make the life we were living seem heroic and glorious; and the
thing I was deserting something hard and enormously ignoble that it
was a fine thing to set aside. I bent all my mind to throw that
glamour upon it, seeking not only to convert her but myself to
that. We talked, and she clung to me, torn too between all that
she deemed noble and all that she knew was sweet. And at last I
did make it heroic, made all the thickening disaster of the world
only a sort of glorious setting to our unparalleled love, and we
two poor foolish souls strutted there at last, clad in that
splendid delusion, drunken rather with that glorious delusion,
under the still stars.
"And so my moment passed.
"It was my last chance. Even as we went to and fro there, the
leaders of the south and east were gathering their resolve, and the
hot answer that shattered Evesham's bluffing for ever, took shape
and waited. And, all over Asia, and the ocean, and the South, the
air and the wires were throbbing with their warnings to prepare
"No one living, you know, knew what war was; no one could
imagine, with all these new inventions, what horror war might
bring. I believe most people still believed it would be a matter
of bright uniforms and shouting charges and triumphs and flags and
bands--in a time when half the world drew its food supply from
regions ten thousand miles away--"
The man with the white face paused. I glanced at him, and his
face was intent on the floor of the carriage. A little railway
station, a string of loaded trucks, a signal-box, and the back of
a cottage, shot by the carriage window, and a bridge passed with a
clap of noise, echoing the tumult of the train.
"After that," he said, "I dreamt often. For three weeks of
nights that dream was my life. And the worst of it was there were
nights when I could not dream, when I lay tossing on a bed in this
accursed life; and there--somewhere lost to me--things were
happening--momentous, terrible things . . . I lived at nights--my
days, my waking days, this life I am living now, became a faded,
far-away dream, a drab setting, the cover of the book."
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