The Door in the Wall And Other Stories
H. G. Wells.
Part 2 out of 3
"I could tell you all, tell you every little thing in the
dream, but as to what I did in the daytime--no. I could not
tell--I do not remember. My memory--my memory has gone. The
business of life slips from me--"
He leant forward, and pressed his hands upon his eyes. For a
long time he said nothing.
"And then?" said I.
"The war burst like a hurricane."
He stared before him at unspeakable things.
"And then?" I urged again.
"One touch of unreality," he said, in the low tone of a man
who speaks to himself," and they would have been nightmares. But
they were not nightmares--they were not nightmares. No!"
He was silent for so long that it dawned upon me that there
was a danger of losing the rest of the story. But he went on
talking again in the same tone of questioning self-communion.
"What was there to do but flight? I had not thought the war
would touch Capri--I had seemed to see Capri as being out of it
all, as the contrast to it all; but two nights after the whole
place was shouting and bawling, every woman almost and every other
man wore a badge--Evesham's badge--and there was no music but a
jangling war-song over and over again, and everywhere men
enlisting, and in the dancing halls they were drilling. The whole
island was awhirl with rumours; it was said, again and again, that
fighting had begun. I had not expected this. I had seen so little
of the life of pleasure that I had failed to reckon with this
violence of the amateurs. And as for me, I was out of it. I was
like the man who might have prevented the firing of a magazine.
The time had gone. I was no one; the vainest stripling with a
badge counted for more than I. The crowd jostled us and bawled in
our ears; that accursed song deafened us; a woman shrieked at my
lady because no badge was on her, and we two went back to our own
place again, ruffled and insulted--my lady white and silent, and I
aquiver with rage. So furious was I, I could have quarrelled with
her if I could have found one shade of accusation in her eyes.
"All my magnificence had gone from me. I walked up and down
our rock cell, and outside was the darkling sea and a light to the
southward that flared and passed and came again.
"'We must get out of this place,' I said over and over. 'I
have made my choice, and I will have no hand in these troubles. I
will have nothing of this war. We have taken our lives out of all
these things. This is no refuge for us. Let us go.'
"And the next day we were already in flight from the war that
covered the world.
"And all the rest was Flight--all the rest was Flight."
He mused darkly.
"How much was there of it?"
He made no answer.
"How many days?"
His face was white and drawn and his hands were clenched. He
took no heed of my curiosity.
I tried to draw him back to his story with questions.
"Where did you go?" I said.
"When you left Capri."
"South-west," he said, and glanced at me for a second. "We
went in a boat."
"But I should have thought an aeroplane?"
"They had been seized."
I questioned him no more. Presently I thought he was beginning
again. He broke out in an argumentative monotone:
"But why should it be? If, indeed, this battle, this
slaughter and stress is life, why have we this craving for pleasure
and beauty? If there is no refuge, if there is no place of peace,
and if all our dreams of quiet places are a folly and a snare, why
have we such dreams? Surely it was no ignoble cravings, no base
intentions, had brought us to this; it was Love had isolated us.
Love had come to me with her eyes and robed in her beauty, more
glorious than all else in life, in the very shape and colour of
life, and summoned me away. I had silenced all the voices, I had
answered all the questions--I had come to her. And suddenly there
was nothing but War and Death!"
I had an inspiration. " After all," I said, "it could have
been only a dream."
"A dream!" he cried, flaming upon me, "a dream--when, even
For the first time he became animated. A faint flush crept
into his cheek. He raised his open hand and clenched it, and
dropped it to his knee. He spoke, looking away from me, and for
all the rest of the time he looked away. "We are but phantoms!" he
said, "and the phantoms of phantoms, desires like cloud-shadows and
wills of straw that eddy in the wind; the days pass, use and wont
carry us through as a train carries the shadow of its lights--so be
it! But one thing is real and certain, one thing is no dream-
stuff, but eternal and enduring. It is the centre of my life, and
all other things about it are subordinate or altogether vain. I
loved her, that woman of a dream. And she and I are dead together!
"A dream! How can it be a dream, when it drenched a living
life with unappeasable sorrow, when it makes all that I have lived
for and cared for, worthless and unmeaning?
"Until that very moment when she was killed I believed we had
still a chance of getting away," he said. "All through the night
and morning that we sailed across the sea from Capri to Salerno, we
talked of escape. We were full of hope, and it clung about us to
the end, hope for the life together we should lead, out of it all,
out of the battle and struggle, the wild and empty passions, the
empty arbitrary 'thou shalt' and 'thou shalt not' of the world. We
were uplifted, as though our quest was a holy thing, as though love
for another was a mission . . . .
"Even when from our boat we saw the fair face of that great
rock Capri--already scarred and gashed by the gun emplacements and
hiding-places that were to make it a fastness--we reckoned nothing
of the imminent slaughter, though the fury of preparation hung
about in the puffs and clouds of dust at a hundred points amidst
the gray; but, indeed, I made a text of that and talked. There,
you know, was the rock, still beautiful for all its scars, with its
countless windows and arches and ways, tier upon tier, for a
thousand feet, a vast carving of gray, broken by vine-clad
terraces, and lemon and orange groves, and masses of agave and
prickly pear, and puffs of almond blossom. And out under the
archway that is built over the Piccola Marina other boats were
coming; and as we came round the cape and within sight of the
mainland, another little string of boats came into view, driving
before the wind towards the south-west. In a little while a
multitude had come out, the remoter just little specks of
ultramarine in the shadow of the eastward cliff.
"'It is love and reason,' I said, 'fleeing from all this
madness of war.'
"And though we presently saw a squadron of aeroplanes flying
across the southern sky we did not heed it. There it was--a line
of little dots in the sky--and then more, dotting the south-eastern
horizon, and then still more, until all that quarter of the sky was
stippled with blue specks. Now they were all thin little strokes
of blue, and now one and now a multitude would heel and catch the
sun and become short flashes of light. They came, rising and
falling and growing larger, like some huge flight of gulls or rooks
or such-like birds, moving with a marvellous uniformity, and ever
as they drew nearer they spread over a greater width of sky. The
southward wind flung itself in an arrow-headed cloud athwart the
sun. And then suddenly they swept round to the eastward and
streamed eastward, growing smaller and smaller and clearer and
clearer again until they vanished from the sky. And after that we
noted to the northward and very high Evesham's fighting machines
hanging high over Naples like an evening swarm of gnats.
"It seemed to have no more to do with us than a flight of
"Even the mutter of guns far away in the south-east seemed to
us to signify nothing . . .
"Each day, each dream after that, we were still exalted, still
seeking that refuge where we might live and love. Fatigue had come
upon us, pain and many distresses. For though we were dusty and
stained by our toilsome tramping, and half starved and with the
horror of the dead men we had seen and the flight of the
peasants--for very soon a gust of fighting swept up the
peninsula--with these things haunting our minds it still resulted
only in a deepening resolution to escape. Oh, but she was brave
and patient! She who had never faced hardship and exposure had
courage for herself and me. We went to and fro seeking an outlet,
over a country all commandeered and ransacked by the gathering
hosts of war. Always we went on foot. At first there were other
fugitives, but we did not mingle with them. Some escaped
northward, some were caught in the torrent of peasantry that swept
along the main roads; many gave themselves into the hands of the
soldiery and were sent northward. Many of the men were impressed.
But we kept away from these things; we had brought no money to
bribe a passage north, and I feared for my lady at the hands of
these conscript crowds. We had landed at Salerno, and we had been
turned back from Cava, and we had tried to cross towards Taranto by
a pass over Mount Alburno, but we had been driven back for want of
food, and so we had come down among the marshes by Paestum, where
those great temples stand alone. I had some vague idea that by
Paestum it might be possible to find a boat or something, and take
once more to sea. And there it was the battle overtook us.
"A sort of soul-blindness had me. Plainly I could see that we
were being hemmed in; that the great net of that giant Warfare had
us in its toils. Many times we had seen the levies that had come
down from the north going to and fro, and had come upon them in the
distance amidst the mountains making ways for the ammunition and
preparing the mounting of the guns. Once we fancied they had fired
at us, taking us for spies--at any rate a shot had gone shuddering
over us. Several times we had hidden in woods from hovering
"But all these things do not matter now, these nights of
flight and pain . . . We were in an open place near those great
temples at Paestum, at last, on a blank stony place dotted with
spiky bushes, empty and desolate and so flat that a grove of
eucalyptus far away showed to the feet of its stems. How I can see
it! My lady was sitting down under a bush resting a little, for
she was very weak and weary, and I was standing up watching to see
if I could tell the distance of the firing that came and went.
They were still, you know, fighting far from each other, with those
terrible new weapons that had never before been used: guns that
would carry beyond sight, and aeroplanes that would do--What they
would do no man could foretell.
"I knew that we were between the two armies, and that they
drew together. I knew we were in danger, and that we could not
stop there and rest!
"Though all these things were in my mind, they were in the
background. They seemed to be affairs beyond our concern.
Chiefly, I was thinking of my lady. An aching distress filled me.
For the first time she had owned herself beaten and had fallen
a-weeping. Behind me I could hear her sobbing, but I would not
turn round to her because I knew she had need of weeping, and had
held herself so far and so long for me. It was well, I thought,
that she would weep and rest and then we would toil on again, for
I had no inkling of the thing that hung so near. Even now I can
see her as she sat there, her lovely hair upon her shoulder, can
mark again the deepening hollow of her cheek.
"'If we had parted,' she said, 'if I had let you go.'
"'No,' said I.' Even now, I do not repent. I will not repent;
I made my choice, and I will hold on to the end.'
"Overhead in the sky flashed something and burst, and all
about us I heard the bullets making a noise like a handful of peas
suddenly thrown. They chipped the stones about us, and whirled
fragments from the bricks and passed . . . ."
He put his hand to his mouth, and then moistened his lips.
"At the flash I had turned about . . .
"You know--she stood up--
"She stood up, you know, and moved a step towards me--as
though she wanted to reach me--
"And she had been shot through the heart."
He stopped and stared at me. I felt all that foolish
incapacity an Englishman feels on such occasions. I met his eyes
for a moment, and then stared out of the window. For a long space
we kept silence. When at last I looked at him he was sitting back
in his corner, his arms folded, and his teeth gnawing at his
He bit his nail suddenly, and stared at it.
"I carried her," he said, "towards the temples, in my arms--as
though it mattered. I don't know why. They seemed a sort of
sanctuary, you know, they had lasted so long, I suppose.
"She must have died almost instantly. Only--I talked to her
all the way."
"I have seen those temples," I said abruptly, and indeed he
had brought those still, sunlit arcades of worn sandstone very
vividly before me.
"It was the brown one, the big brown one. I sat down on a
fallen pillar and held her in my arms . . . Silent after the first
babble was over. And after a little while the lizards came out and
ran about again, as though nothing unusual was going on, as though
nothing had changed . . . It was tremendously still there, the sun
high and the shadows still; even the shadows of the weeds upon the
entablature were still--in spite of the thudding and banging that
went all about the sky.
"I seem to remember that the aeroplanes came up out of the
south, and that the battle went away to the west. One aeroplane
was struck, and overset and fell. I remember that--though it
didn't interest me in the least. It didn't seem to signify. It
was like a wounded gull, you know--flapping for a time in the
water. I could see it down the aisle of the temple--a black thing
in the bright blue water.
"Three or four times shells burst about the beach, and then
that ceased. Each time that happened all the lizards scuttled in
and hid for a space. That was all the mischief done, except that
once a stray bullet gashed the stone hard by--made just a fresh
"As the shadows grew longer, the stillness seemed greater.
"The curious thing," he remarked, with the manner of a man who
makes a trivial conversation, "is that I didn't THINK--at
all. I sat with her in my arms amidst the stones--in a sort of
"And I don't remember waking up. I don't remember dressing
that day. I know I found myself in my office, with my letters all
slit open in front of me, and how I was struck by the absurdity of
being there, seeing that in reality I was sitting, stunned, in that
Paestum Temple with a dead woman in my arms. I read my letters
like a machine. I have forgotten what they were about."
He stopped, and there was a long silence.
Suddenly I perceived that we were running down the incline
from Chalk Farm to Euston. I started at this passing of time. I
turned on him with a brutal question, with the tone of "Now or
"And did you dream again?"
He seemed to force himself to finish. His voice was very low.
"Once more, and as it were only for a few instants. I seemed
to have suddenly awakened out of a great apathy, to have risen into
a sitting position, and the body lay there on the stones beside me.
A gaunt body. Not her, you know. So soon--it was not her . . . .
"I may have heard voices. I do not know. Only I knew clearly
that men were coming into the solitude and that that was a last
"I stood up and walked through the temple, and then there came
into sight--first one man with a yellow face, dressed in a uniform
of dirty white, trimmed with blue, and then several, climbing to
the crest of the old wall of the vanished city, and crouching
there. They were little bright figures in the sunlight, and there
they hung, weapon in hand, peering cautiously before them.
"And further away I saw others and then more at another point
in the wall. It was a long lax line of men in open order.
"Presently the man I had first seen stood up and shouted a
command, and his men came tumbling down the wall and into the high
weeds towards the temple. He scrambled down with them and led
them. He came facing towards me, and when he saw me he stopped.
"At first I had watched these men with a mere curiosity, but
when I had seen they meant to come to the temple I was moved to
forbid them. I shouted to the officer.
"'You must not come here,' I cried, '_I_ am here. I am
here with my dead.'
"He stared, and then shouted a question back to me in some
"I repeated what I had said.
"He shouted again, and I folded my arms and stood still.
Presently he spoke to his men and came forward. He carried a drawn
"I signed to him to keep away, but he continued to advance.
I told him again very patiently and clearly: 'You must not come
here. These are old temples and I am here with my dead.'
"Presently he was so close I could see his face clearly. It
was a narrow face, with dull gray eyes, and a black moustache. He
had a scar on his upper lip, and he was dirty and unshaven. He
kept shouting unintelligible things, questions, perhaps, at me.
"I know now that he was afraid of me, but at the time that did
not occur to me. As I tried to explain to him, he interrupted me
in imperious tones, bidding me, I suppose, stand aside.
"He made to go past me, and I caught hold of him.
"I saw his face change at my grip.
"'You fool,' I cried. 'Don't you know? She is dead!'
"He started back. He looked at me with cruel eyes. I saw a
sort of exultant resolve leap into them--delight. Then, suddenly,
with a scowl, he swept his sword back--SO--and thrust."
He stopped abruptly.
I became aware of a change in the rhythm of the train. The
brakes lifted their voices and the carriage jarred and jerked.
This present world insisted upon itself, became clamourous. I saw
through the steamy window huge electric fights glaring down from
tall masts upon a fog, saw rows of stationary empty carriages
passing by, and then a signal-box hoisting its constellation of
green and red into the murky London twilight, marched after them.
I looked again at his drawn features.
"He ran me through the heart. It was with a sort of
astonishment--no fear, no pain--but just amazement, that I felt it
pierce me, felt the sword drive home into my body. It didn't hurt,
you know. It didn't hurt at all."
The yellow platform lights came into the field of view,
passing first rapidly, then slowly, and at last stopping with a
jerk. Dim shapes of men passed to and fro without.
"Euston!" cried a voice.
"Do you mean--?"
"There was no pain, no sting or smart. Amazement and then
darkness sweeping over everything. The hot, brutal face before me,
the face of the man who had killed me, seemed to recede. It swept
out of existence--"
"Euston!" clamoured the voices outside; "Euston!"
The carriage door opened admitting a flood of sound, and a
porter stood regarding us. The sounds of doors slamming, and the
hoof-clatter of cab-horses, and behind these things the featureless
remote roar of the London cobble-stones, came to my ears. A
truckload of lighted lamps blazed along the platform.
"A darkness, a flood of darkness that opened and spread and
blotted out all things."
"Any luggage, sir?" said the porter.
"And that was the end?" I asked.
He seemed to hesitate. Then, almost inaudibly, he answered, "NO."
"I couldn't get to her. She was there on the other side of the temple--
"Yes," I insisted. "Yes?"
"Nightmares," he cried; "nightmares indeed! My God! Great
birds that fought and tore."
The night was hot and overcast, the sky red, rimmed with the
lingering sunset of mid-summer. They sat at the open window,
trying to fancy the air was fresher there. The trees and shrubs of
the garden stood stiff and dark; beyond in the roadway a gas-
lamp burnt, bright orange against the hazy blue of the evening.
Farther were the three lights of the railway signal against the
lowering sky. The man and woman spoke to one another in low tones.
"He does not suspect?" said the man, a little nervously.
"Not he," she said peevishly, as though that too irritated
her. "He thinks of nothing but the works and the prices of fuel.
He has no imagination, no poetry."
"None of these men of iron have," he said sententiously.
"They have no hearts."
"HE has not," she said. She turned her discontented
face towards the window. The distant sound of a roaring and
rushing drew nearer and grew in volume; the house quivered; one
heard the metallic rattle of the tender. As the train passed,
there was a glare of light above the cutting and a driving tumult
of smoke; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight black
oblongs--eight trucks--passed across the dim grey of the
embankment, and were suddenly extinguished one by one in the throat
of the tunnel, which, with the last, seemed to swallow down train,
smoke, and sound in one abrupt gulp.
"This country was all fresh and beautiful once," he said; "and
now--it is Gehenna. Down that way--nothing but pot-banks and
chimneys belching fire and dust into the face of heaven . . . . .
But what does it matter? An end comes, an end to all this cruelty
. . . . . TO-MORROW." He spoke the last word in a whisper.
"TO-MORROW," she said, speaking in a whisper too, and
still staring out of the window.
"Dear!" he said, putting his hand on hers.
She turned with a start, and their eyes searched one
another's. Hers softened to his gaze. "My dear one!" she said,
and then: "It seems so strange --that you should have come into my
life like this--to open--" She paused.
"To open?" he said.
"All this wonderful world--" she hesitated, and spoke still
more softly--"this world of LOVE to me."
Then suddenly the door clicked and closed. They turned their
heads, and he started violently back. In the shadow of the room
stood a great shadowy figure--silent. They saw the face dimly in
the half-light, with unexpressive dark patches under the penthouse
brows. Every muscle in Raut's body suddenly became tense. When
could the door have opened? What had he heard? Had he heard all?
What had he seen? A tumult of questions.
The new-comer's voice came at last, after a pause that seemed
interminable. "Well?" he said.
"I was afraid I had missed you, Horrocks," said the man at the
window, gripping the window-ledge with his hand. His voice was
The clumsy figure of Horrocks came forward out of the shadow.
He made no answer to Raut's remark. For a moment he stood above
The woman's heart was cold within her. "I told Mr. Raut it
was just possible you might come back," she said, in a voice that
Horrocks, still silent, sat down abruptly in the chair by her
little work-table. His big hands were clenched; one saw now the
fire of his eyes under the shadow of his brows. He was trying to
get his breath. His eyes went from the woman he had trusted to the
friend he had trusted, and then back to the woman.
By this time and for the moment all three half understood one
another. Yet none dared say a word to ease the pent-up things that
It was the husband's voice that broke the silence at last.
"You wanted to see me?" he said to Raut.
Raut started as he spoke. "I came to see you," he said,
resolved to lie to the last.
"Yes," said Horrocks.
"You promised," said Raut, "to show me some fine effects of
moonlight and smoke."
"I promised to show you some fine effects of moonlight and
smoke," repeated Horrocks in a colourless voice.
"And I thought I might catch you to-night before you went down
to the works," proceeded Raut, "and come with you."
There was another pause. Did the man mean to take the thing
coolly? Did he after all know? How long had he been in the room?
Yet even at the moment when they heard the door, their attitudes .
. . . Horrocks glanced at the profile of the woman, shadowy pallid
in the half-light. Then he glanced at Raut, and seemed to recover
himself suddenly. "Of course," he said, "I promised to show you
the works under their proper dramatic conditions. It's odd how I
could have forgotten."
"If I am troubling you--" began Raut.
Horrocks started again. A new light had suddenly come into
the sultry gloom of his eyes. "Not in the least," he said.
"Have you been telling Mr. Raut of all these contrasts of
flame and shadow you think so splendid?" said the woman, turning
now to her husband for the first time, her confidence creeping back
again, her voice just one half-note too high. "That dreadful
theory of yours that machinery is beautiful, and everything else in
the world ugly. I thought he would not spare you, Mr. Raut. It's
his great theory, his one discovery in art."
"I am slow to make discoveries," said Horrocks grimly, damping
her suddenly. "But what I discover . . . . ." He stopped.
"Well?" she said.
"Nothing;" and suddenly he rose to his feet.
"I promised to show you the works," he said to Raut, and put
his big, clumsy hand on his friend's shoulder. "And you are ready
"Quite," said Raut, and stood up also.
There was another pause. Each of them peered through the
indistinctness of the dusk at the other two. Horrocks' hand still
rested on Raut's shoulder. Raut half fancied still that the
incident was trivial after all. But Mrs. Horrocks knew her husband
better, knew that grim quiet in his voice, and the confusion in her
mind took a vague shape of physical evil. "Very well", said
Horrocks, and, dropping his hand, turned towards the door.
"My hat?" Raut looked round in the half-light.
"That's my work-basket," said Mrs. Horrocks, with a gust of
hysterical laughter. Their hands came together on the back of the
chair. "Here it is!" he said. She had an impulse to warn him in
an undertone, but she could not frame a word. "Don't go!" and
"Beware of him!" struggled in her mind, and the swift moment
"Got it?" said Horrocks, standing with the door half open.
Raut stepped towards him. "Better say good-bye to Mrs.
Horrocks," said the ironmaster, even more grimly quiet in his tone
Raut started and turned. "Good-evening, Mrs. Horrocks," he
said, and their hands touched.
Horrocks held the door open with a ceremonial politeness
unusual in him towards men. Raut went out, and then, after a
wordless look at her, her husband followed. She stood motionless
while Raut's light footfall and her husband's heavy tread, like
bass and treble, passed down the passage together. The front door
slammed heavily. She went to the window, moving slowly, and stood
watching--leaning forward. The two men appeared for a moment at
the gateway in the road, passed under the street lamp, and were
hidden by the black masses of the shrubbery. The lamp-light fell
for a moment on their faces, showing only unmeaning pale patches,
telling nothing of what she still feared, and doubted, and craved
vainly to know. Then she sank down into a crouching attitude in
the big arm-chair, her eyes wide open and staring out at the red
lights from the furnaces that flickered in the sky. An hour after
she was still there, her attitude scarcely changed.
The oppressive stillness of the evening weighed heavily upon
Raut. They went side by side down the road in silence, and in
silence turned into the cinder-made by-way that presently opened
out the prospect of the valley.
A blue haze, half dust, half mist, touched the long valley
with mystery. Beyond were Hanley and Etruria, grey and dark
masses, outlined thinly by the rare golden dots of the street
lamps, and here and there a gaslit window, or the yellow glare of
some late-working factory or crowded public-house. Out of the
masses, clear and slender against the evening sky, rose a multitude
of tall chimneys, many of them reeking, a few smokeless during a
season of "play." Here and there a pallid patch and ghostly
stunted beehive shapes showed the position of a pot-bank, or a
wheel, black and sharp against the hot lower sky, marked some
colliery where they raise the iridescent coal of the place. Nearer
at hand was the broad stretch of railway, and half invisible trains
shunted--a steady puffing and rumbling, with every run a ringing
concussion and a rhythmic series of impacts, and a passage of
intermittent puffs of white steam across the further view. And
to the left, between the railway and the dark mass of the low hill
beyond, dominating the whole view, colossal, inky-black, and
crowned with smoke and fitful flames, stood the great cylinders of
the Jeddah Company Blast Furnaces, the central edifices of the big
ironworks of which Horrocks was the manager. They stood heavy and
threatening, full of an incessant turmoil of flames and seething
molten iron, and about the feet of them rattled the rolling-mills,
and the steam hammer beat heavily and splashed the white iron
sparks hither and thither. Even as they looked, a truckful of fuel
was shot into one of the giants, and the red flames gleamed out,
and a confusion of smoke and black dust came boiling upwards
towards the sky.
"Certainly you get some fine effects of colour with your
furnaces," said Raut, breaking a silence that had become
Horrocks grunted. He stood with his hands in his pockets,
frowning down at the dim steaming railway and the busy ironworks
beyond, frowning as if he were thinking out some knotty problem.
Raut glanced at him and away again. "At present your
moonlight effect is hardly ripe," he continued, looking upward.
"The moon is still smothered by the vestiges of daylight."
Horrocks stared at him with the expression of a man who has
suddenly awakened. "Vestiges of daylight? . . . . Of course, of
course." He too looked up at the moon, pale still in the midsummer
sky. "Come along," he said suddenly, and, gripping Raut's arm in
his hand, made a move towards the path that dropped from them to
Raut hung back. Their eyes met and saw a thousand things in
a moment that their eyes came near to say. Horrocks' hand
tightened and then relaxed. He let go, and before Raut was aware
of it, they were arm in arm, and walking, one unwillingly enough,
down the path.
"You see the fine effect of the railway signals towards
Burslem," said Horrocks, suddenly breaking into loquacity, striding
fast, and tightening the grip of his elbow the while. " Little
green lights and red and white lights, all against the haze. You
have an eye for effect, Raut. It's a fine effect. And look at
those furnaces of mine, how they rise upon us as we come down the
hill. That to the right is my pet--seventy feet of him. I packed
him myself, and he's boiled away cheerfully with iron in his guts
for five long years. I've a particular fancy for HIM. That
line of red there--a lovely bit of warm orange you'd call it,
Raut--that's the puddlers' furnaces, and there, in the hot light,
three black figures--did you see the white splash of the
steam-hammer then?--that's the rolling mills. Come along! Clang,
clatter, how it goes rattling across the floor! Sheet tin, Raut,
--amazing stuff. Glass mirrors are not in it when that stuff comes
from the mill. And, squelch!--there goes the hammer again. Come
He had to stop talking to catch at his breath. His arm
twisted into Raut's with benumbing tightness. He had come striding
down the black path towards the railway as though he was possessed.
Raut had not spoken a word, had simply hung back against Horrocks'
pull with all his strength.
"I say," he said now, laughing nervously, but with an
undernote of snarl in his voice, "why on earth are you nipping my
arm off, Horrocks, and dragging me along like this?"
At length Horrocks released him. His manner changed again.
"Nipping your arm off?" he said. "Sorry. But it's you taught me
the trick of walking in that friendly way."
"You haven't learnt the refinements of it yet then," said
Raut, laughing artificially again. "By Jove! I'm black and blue."
Horrocks offered no apology. They stood now near the bottom of the
hill, close to the fence that bordered the railway. The ironworks
had grown larger and spread out with their approach. They looked
up to the blast furnaces now instead of down; the further view of
Etruria and Hanley had dropped out of sight with their descent.
Before them, by the stile rose a notice-board, bearing still dimly
visible, the words, "BEWARE OF THE TRAINS," half hidden by splashes
of coaly mud.
"Fine effects," said Horrocks, waving his arm. "Here comes a
train. The puffs of smoke, the orange glare, the round eye of
light in front of it, the melodious rattle. Fine effects! But
these furnaces of mine used to be finer, before we shoved cones in
their throats, and saved the gas."
"How?" said Raut. "Cones?"
"Cones, my man, cones. I'll show you one nearer. The flames
used to flare out of the open throats, great--what is it?--pillars
of cloud by day, red and black smoke, and pillars of fire by night.
Now we run it off in pipes, and burn it to heat the blast, and the
top is shut by a cone. You'll be interested in that cone."
"But every now and then," said Raut, "you get a burst of fire
and smoke up there."
"The cone's not fixed, it's hung by a chain from a lever, and
balanced by an equipoise. You shall see it nearer. Else, of
course, there'd be no way of getting fuel into the thing. Every
now and then the cone dips, and out comes the flare."
"I see," said Raut. He looked over his shoulder. "The moon
gets brighter," he said.
"Come along," said Horrocks abruptly, gripping his shoulder
again, and moving him suddenly towards the railway crossing. And
then came one of those swift incidents, vivid, but so rapid that
they leave one doubtful and reeling. Halfway across, Horrocks'
hand suddenly clenched upon him like a vice, and swung him backward
and through a half-turn, so that he looked up the line. And there
a chain of lamp-lit carriage-windows telescoped swiftly as it came
towards them, and the red and yellow lights of an engine grew
larger and larger, rushing down upon them. As he grasped what this
meant, he turned his face to Horrocks, and pushed with all
his strength against the arm that held him back between the rails.
The struggle did not last a moment. Just as certain as it was that
Horrocks held him there, so certain was it that he had been
violently lugged out of danger.
"Out of the way," said Horrocks, with a gasp, as the train
came rattling by, and they stood panting by the gate into the
"I did not see it coming," said Raut, still, even in spite of
his own apprehensions, trying to keep up an appearance of ordinary
Horrocks answered with a grunt. "The cone," he said, and
then, as one who recovers himself, "I thought you did not hear."
"I didn't," said Raut.
"I wouldn't have had you run over then for the world," said
"For a moment I lost my nerve," said Raut.
Horrocks stood for half a minute, then turned abruptly towards
the ironworks again. "See how fine these great mounds of mine,
these clinker-heaps, look in the night! That truck yonder, up
above there! Up it goes, and out-tilts the slag. See the
palpitating red stuff go sliding down the slope. As we get nearer,
the heap rises up and cuts the blast furnaces. See the quiver up
above the big one. Not that way! This way, between the heaps.
That goes to the puddling furnaces, but I want to show you the
canal first." He came and took Raut by the elbow, and so they went
along side by side. Raut answered Horrocks vaguely. What, he
asked himself, had really happened on the line? Was he deluding
himself with his own fancies, or had Horrocks actually held him
back in the way of the train? Had he just been within an ace of
Suppose this slouching, scowling monster DID know
anything? For a minute or two then Raut was really afraid for his
life, but the mood passed as he reasoned with himself. After all,
Horrocks might have heard nothing. At any rate, he had pulled him
out of the way in time. His odd manner might be due to the mere
vague jealousy he had shown once before. He was talking now of the
ash-heaps and the canal. "Eigh?" said Horrocks.
"What?" said Raut. "Rather! The haze in the moonlight.
"Our canal," said Horrocks, stopping suddenly. "Our canal by
moonlight and firelight is an immense effect. You've never seen
it? Fancy that! You've spent too many of your evenings
philandering up in Newcastle there. I tell you, for real florid
effects--But you shall see. Boiling water . . . "
As they came out of the labyrinth of clinker-heaps and mounds
of coal and ore, the noises of the rolling-mill sprang upon them
suddenly, loud, near, and distinct. Three shadowy workmen went by
and touched their caps to Horrocks. Their faces were vague in the
darkness. Raut felt a futile impulse to address them, and before
he could frame his words, they passed into the shadows. Horrocks
pointed to the canal close before them now: a weird-looking place
it seemed, in the blood-red reflections of the furnaces. The hot
water that cooled the tuyeres came into it, some fifty yards up--
a tumultuous, almost boiling affluent, and the steam rose up from
the water in silent white wisps and streaks, wrapping damply about
them, an incessant succession of ghosts coming up from the black
and red eddies, a white uprising that made the head swim. The
shining black tower of the larger blast-furnace rose overhead out
of the mist, and its tumultuous riot filled their ears. Raut kept
away from the edge of the water, and watched Horrocks.
"Here it is red," said Horrocks, "blood-red vapour as red and
hot as sin; but yonder there, where the moonlight falls on it, and
it drives across the clinker-heaps, it is as white as death."
Raut turned his head for a moment, and then came back hastily
to his watch on Horrocks. "Come along to the rolling-mills," said
Horrocks. The threatening hold was not so evident that time, and
Raut felt a little reassured. But all the same, what on earth did
Horrocks mean about "white as death" and "red as sin?"
They went and stood behind the puddlers for a little while,
and then through the rolling-mills, where amidst an incessant din
the deliberate steam-hammer beat the juice out of the succulent
iron, and black, half-naked Titans rushed the plastic bars, like
hot sealing-wax, between the wheels. "Come on," said Horrocks in
Raut's ear, and they went and peeped through the little glass hole
behind the tuyeres, and saw the tumbled fire writhing in the pit of
the blast-furnace. It left one eye blinded for a while. Then,
with green and blue patches dancing across the dark, they went to
the lift by which the trucks of ore and fuel and lime were raised
to the top of the big cylinder.
And out upon the narrow rail that overhung the furnace, Raut's
doubts came upon him again. Was it wise to be here? If Horrocks
did know--everything! Do what he would, he could not resist a
violent trembling. Right under foot was a sheer depth of seventy
feet. It was a dangerous place. They pushed by a truck of fuel to
get to the railing that crowned the place. The reek of the
furnace, a sulphurous vapor streaked with pungent bitterness,
seemed to make the distant hillside of Hanley quiver. The moon was
riding out now from among a drift of clouds, halfway up the sky
above the undulating wooded outlines of Newcastle. The steaming
canal ran away from below them under an indistinct bridge, and
vanished into the dim haze of the flat fields towards Burslem.
"That's the cone I've been telling you of," shouted Horrocks;
"and, below that, sixty feet of fire and molten metal, with the air
of the blast frothing through it like gas in soda-water."
Raut gripped the hand-rail tightly, and stared down at the
cone. The heat was intense. The boiling of the iron and the
tumult of the blast made a thunderous accompaniment to Horrocks'
voice. But the thing had to be gone through now. Perhaps, after
all . . .
"In the middle," bawled Horrocks, "temperature near a thousand
degrees. If YOU were dropped into it . . . . flash into
flame like a pinch of gunpowder in a candle. Put your hand out and
feel the heat of his breath. Why, even up here I've seen the
rain-water boiling off the trucks. And that cone there. It's a
damned sight too hot for roasting cakes. The top side of it's
three hundred degrees."
"Three hundred degrees!" said Raut.
"Three hundred centigrade, mind!" said Horrocks. "It will
boil the blood out of you in no time."
"Eigh?" said Raut, and turned.
"Boil the blood out of you in . . . No, you don't!"
"Let me go!" screamed Raut. "Let go my arm!"
With one hand he clutched at the hand-rail, then with both.
For a moment the two men stood swaying. Then suddenly, with a
violent jerk, Horrocks had twisted him from his hold. He clutched
at Horrocks and missed, his foot went back into empty air; in
mid-air he twisted himself, and then cheek and shoulder and knee
struck the hot cone together.
He clutched the chain by which the cone hung, and the thing
sank an infinitesimal amount as he struck it. A circle of glowing
red appeared about him, and a tongue of flame, released from the
chaos within, flickered up towards him. An intense pain assailed
him at the knees, and he could smell the singeing of his hands. He
raised himself to his feet, and tried to climb up the chain, and
then something struck his head. Black and shining with the
moonlight, the throat of the furnace rose about him.
Horrocks, he saw, stood above him by one of the trucks of fuel
on the rail. The gesticulating figure was bright and white in the
moonlight, and shouting, "Fizzle, you fool! Fizzle, you hunter of
women! You hot-blooded hound! Boil! boil! boil!"
Suddenly he caught up a handful of coal out of the truck, and
flung it deliberately, lump after lump, at Raut.
"Horrocks!" cried Raut. "Horrocks!"
He clung crying to the chain, pulling himself up from the
burning of the cone. Each missile Horrocks flung hit him. His
clothes charred and glowed, and as he struggled the cone dropped,
and a rush of hot suffocating gas whooped out and burned round him
in a swift breath of flame.
His human likeness departed from him. When the momentary red
had passed, Horrocks saw a charred, blackened figure, its head
streaked with blood, still clutching and fumbling with the chain,
and writhing in agony--a cindery animal, an inhuman, monstrous
creature that began a sobbing intermittent shriek.
Abruptly, at the sight, the ironmaster's anger passed. A
deadly sickness came upon him. The heavy odour of burning flesh
came drifting up to his nostrils. His sanity returned to him.
"God have mercy upon me!" he cried. "O God! what have I
He knew the thing below him, save that it still moved and
felt, was already a dead man--that the blood of the poor wretch
must be boiling in his veins. An intense realisation of that agony
came to his mind, and overcame every other feeling. For a moment
he stood irresolute, and then, turning to the truck, he hastily
tilted its contents upon the struggling thing that had once been a
man. The mass fell with a thud, and went radiating over the cone.
With the thud the shriek ended, and a boiling confusion of smoke,
dust, and flame came rushing up towards him. As it passed, he saw
the cone clear again.
Then he staggered back, and stood trembling, clinging to the
rail with both hands. His lips moved, but no words came to them.
Down below was the sound of voices and running steps. The
clangour of rolling in the shed ceased abruptly.
A MOONLIGHT FABLE
There was once a little man whose mother made him a beautiful suit
of clothes. It was green and gold and woven so that I cannot
describe how delicate and fine it was, and there was a tie of
orange fluffiness that tied up under his chin. And the buttons
in their newness shone like stars. He was proud and pleased by his
suit beyond measure, and stood before the long looking-glass when
first he put it on, so astonished and delighted with it that he
could hardly turn himself away.
He wanted to wear it everywhere and show it to all sorts of
people. He thought over all the places he had ever visited and all
the scenes he had ever heard described, and tried to imagine what
the feel of it would be if he were to go now to those scenes and
places wearing his shining suit, and he wanted to go out forthwith
into the long grass and the hot sunshine of the meadow wearing it.
Just to wear it! But his mother told him, "No." She told him he
must take great care of his suit, for never would he have another
nearly so fine; he must save it and save it and only wear it on
rare and great occasions. It was his wedding suit, she said. And
she took his buttons and twisted them up with tissue paper for fear
their bright newness should be tarnished, and she tacked little
guards over the cuffs and elbows and wherever the suit was most
likely to come to harm. He hated and resisted these things, but
what could he do? And at last her warnings and persuasions had
effect and he consented to take off his beautiful suit and fold it
into its proper creases and put it away. It was almost as though
he gave it up again. But he was always thinking of wearing it
and of the supreme occasion when some day it might be worn without
the guards, without the tissue paper on the buttons, utterly and
delightfully, never caring, beautiful beyond measure.
One night when he was dreaming of it, after his habit, he
dreamed he took the tissue paper from one of the buttons and found
its brightness a little faded, and that distressed him mightily in
his dream. He polished the poor faded button and polished it, and
if anything it grew duller. He woke up and lay awake thinking of
the brightness a little dulled and wondering how he would feel if
perhaps when the great occasion (whatever it might be) should
arrive, one button should chance to be ever so little short of its
first glittering freshness, and for days and days that thought
remained with him, distressingly. And when next his mother let him
wear his suit, he was tempted and nearly gave way to the temptation
just to fumble off one little bit of tissue paper and see if indeed
the buttons were keeping as bright as ever.
He went trimly along on his way to church full of this wild
desire. For you must know his mother did, with repeated and
careful warnings, let him wear his suit at times, on Sundays, for
example, to and fro from church, when there was no threatening of
rain, no dust nor anything to injure it, with its buttons covered
and its protections tacked upon it and a sunshade in his hand to
shadow it if there seemed too strong a sunlight for its colours.
And always, after such occasions, he brushed it over and folded it
exquisitely as she had taught him, and put it away again.
Now all these restrictions his mother set to the wearing of
his suit he obeyed, always he obeyed them, until one strange night
he woke up and saw the moonlight shining outside his window. It
seemed to him the moonlight was not common moonlight, nor the night
a common night, and for a while he lay quite drowsily with this odd
persuasion in his mind. Thought joined on to thought like things
that whisper warmly in the shadows. Then he sat up in his little
bed suddenly, very alert, with his heart beating very fast and a
quiver in his body from top to toe. He had made up his mind. He
knew now that he was going to wear his suit as it should be worn.
He had no doubt in the matter. He was afraid, terribly afraid, but
He got out of his bed and stood a moment by the window looking
at the moonshine-flooded garden and trembling at the thing he meant
to do. The air was full of a minute clamor of crickets and
murmurings, of the infinitesimal shouting of little living things.
He went very gently across the creaking boards, for fear that he
might wake the sleeping house, to the big dark clothes-press
wherein his beautiful suit lay folded, and he took it out garment
by garment and softly and very eagerly tore off its tissue-paper
covering and its tacked protections, until there it was, perfect
and delightful as he had seen it when first his mother had given it
to him--a long time it seemed ago. Not a button had tarnished, not
a thread had faded on this dear suit of his; he was glad enough for
weeping as in a noiseless hurry he put it on. And then back he
went, soft and quick, to the window and looked out upon the garden
and stood there for a minute, shining in the moonlight, with his
buttons twinkling like stars, before he got out on the sill and,
making as little of a rustling as he could, clambered down to the
garden path below. He stood before his mother's house, and it was
white and nearly as plain as by day, with every window-blind but
his own shut like an eye that sleeps. The trees cast still shadows
like intricate black lace upon the wall.
The garden in the moonlight was very different from the garden
by day; moonshine was tangled in the hedges and stretched in
phantom cobwebs from spray to spray. Every flower was gleaming
white or crimson black, and the air was aquiver with the thridding
of small crickets and nightingales singing unseen in the depths of
There was no darkness in the world, but only warm, mysterious
shadows; and all the leaves and spikes were edged and lined with
iridescent jewels of dew. The night was warmer than any night had
ever been, the heavens by some miracle at once vaster and nearer,
and spite of the great ivory-tinted moon that ruled the world, the
sky was full of stars.
The little man did not shout nor sing for all his infinite
gladness. He stood for a time like one awe-stricken, and then,
with a queer small cry and holding out his arms, he ran out as if
he would embrace at once the whole warm round immensity of the
world. He did not follow the neat set paths that cut the garden
squarely, but thrust across the beds and through the wet, tall,
scented herbs, through the night stock and the nicotine and the
clusters of phantom white mallow flowers and through the thickets
of southern-wood and lavender, and knee-deep across a wide space of
mignonette. He came to the great hedge and he thrust his way
through it, and though the thorns of the brambles scored him deeply
and tore threads from his wonderful suit, and though burs and
goosegrass and havers caught and clung to him, he did not care. He
did not care, for he knew it was all part of the wearing for which
he had longed. "I am glad I put on my suit," he said; "I am glad
I wore my suit."
Beyond the hedge he came to the duck-pond, or at least to what
was the duck-pond by day. But by night it was a great bowl of
silver moonshine all noisy with singing frogs, of wonderful silver
moonshine twisted and clotted with strange patternings, and the
little man ran down into its waters between the thin black rushes,
knee-deep and waist-deep and to his shoulders, smiting the water to
black and shining wavelets with either hand, swaying and shivering
wavelets, amid which the stars were netted in the tangled
reflections of the brooding trees upon the bank. He waded until he
swam, and so he crossed the pond and came out upon the other side,
trailing, as it seemed to him, not duckweed, but very silver in
long, clinging, dripping masses. And up he went through the
transfigured tangles of the willow-herb and the uncut seeding grass
of the farther bank. And so he came glad and breathless into the
highroad. "I am glad," he said, "beyond measure, that I had
clothes that fitted this occasion."
The highroad ran straight as an arrow flies, straight into the
deep blue pit of sky beneath the moon, a white and shining road
between the singing nightingales, and along it he went, running now
and leaping, and now walking and rejoicing, in the clothes his
mother had made for him with tireless, loving hands. The road was
deep in dust, but that for him was only soft whiteness, and as he
went a great dim moth came fluttering round his wet and shimmering
and hastening figure. At first he did not heed the moth, and then
he waved his hands at it and made a sort of dance with it as it
circled round his head. "Soft moth!" he cried, "dear moth! And
wonderful night, wonderful night of the world! Do you think my
clothes are beautiful, dear moth? As beautiful as your scales and
all this silver vesture of the earth and sky?"
And the moth circled closer and closer until at last its
velvet wings just brushed his lips . . . . .
And next morning they found him dead with his neck broken in
the bottom of the stone pit, with his beautiful clothes a little
bloody and foul and stained with the duckweed from the pond. But
his face was a face of such happiness that, had you seen it, you
would have understood indeed how that he had died happy, never
knowing the cool and streaming silver for the duckweed in the pond.
THE DIAMOND MAKER
Some business had detained me in Chancery Lane nine in the
evening, and thereafter, having some inkling of a headache, I was
disinclined either for entertainment or further work. So much of
the sky as the high cliffs of that narrow canon of traffic left
visible spoke of a serene night, and I determined to make my way
down to the Embankment, and rest my eyes and cool my head by
watching the variegated lights upon the river. Beyond comparison
the night is the best time for this place; a merciful darkness
hides the dirt of the waters, and the lights of this transitional
age, red glaring orange, gas-yellow, and electric white, are set in
shadowy outlines of every possible shade between grey and deep
purple. Through the arches of Waterloo Bridge a hundred points of
light mark the sweep of the Embankment, and above its parapet rise
the towers of Westminster,warm grey against the starlight. The
black river goes by with only a rare ripple breaking its silence,
and disturbing the reflections of the lights that swim upon its
"A warm night," said a voice at my side.
I turned my head, and saw the profile of a man who was leaning
over the parapet beside me. It was a refined face, not unhandsome,
though pinched and pale enough, and the coat collar turned up and
pinned round the throat marked his status in life as sharply as a
uniform. I felt I was committed to the price of a bed and
breakfast if I answered him.
I looked at him curiously. Would he have anything to tell me
worth the money, or was he the common incapable--incapable even of
telling his own story? There was a quality of intelligence in his
forehead and eyes, and a certain tremulousness in his nether lip
that decided me.
"Very warm," said I; "but not too warm for us here."
"No," he said, still looking across the water, "it is pleasant
enough here . . . . just now."
"It is good," he continued after a pause, "to find anything so
restful as this in London. After one has been fretting about
business all day, about getting on, meeting obligations, and
parrying dangers, I do not know what one would do if it were not
for such pacific corners." He spoke with long pauses between the
sentences. "You must know a little of the irksome labour of the
world, or you would not be here. But I doubt if you can be so
brain-weary and footsore as I am . . . . Bah! Sometimes I doubt if
the game is worth the candle. I feel inclined to throw the whole
thing over--name, wealth and position--and take to some modest
trade. But I know if I abandoned my ambition--hardly as she uses
me--I should have nothing but remorse left for the rest of my
He became silent. I looked at him in astonishment. If ever
I saw a man hopelessly hard-up it was the man in front of me. He
was ragged and he was dirty, unshaven and unkempt; he looked as
though he had been left in a dust-bin for a week. And he was
talking to ME of the irksome worries of a large business.
I almost laughed outright. Either he was mad or playing a sorry
jest on his own poverty.
"If high aims and high positions," said I, "have their
drawbacks of hard work and anxiety, they have their compensations.
Influence, the power of doing good, of assisting those weaker and
poorer than ourselves; and there is even a certain gratification in
display . . . . . "
My banter under the circumstances was in very vile taste. I
spoke on the spur of the contrast of his appearance and speech. I
was sorry even while I was speaking.
He turned a haggard but very composed face upon me. Said he:
"I forgot myself. Of course you would not understand."
He measured me for a moment. "No doubt it is very absurd.
You will not believe me even when I tell you, so that it is fairly
safe to tell you. And it will be a comfort to tell someone. I
really have a big business in hand, a very big business. But there
are troubles just now. The fact is . . . . I make diamonds."
"I suppose," said I, "you are out of work just at present?"
"I am sick of being disbelieved," he said impatiently, and
suddenly unbuttoning his wretched coat he pulled out a little
canvas bag that was hanging by a cord round his neck. From this he
produced a brown pebble. "I wonder if you know enough to know what
that is?" He handed it to me.
Now, a year or so ago, I had occupied my leisure in taking a
London science degree, so that I have a smattering of physics and
mineralogy. The thing was not unlike an uncut diamond of the
darker sort, though far too large, being almost as big as the top
of my thumb. I took it, and saw it had the form of a regular
octahedron, with the curved faces peculiar to the most precious of
minerals. I took out my penknife and tried to scratch it--vainly.
Leaning forward towards the gas-lamp, I tried the thing on my
watch-glass, and scored a white line across that with the greatest
I looked at my interlocutor with rising curiosity. "It
certainly is rather like a diamond. But, if so, it is a Behemoth
of diamonds. Where did you get it?"
"I tell you I made it," he said. "Give it back to me."
He replaced it hastily and buttoned his jacket. "I will sell
it you for one hundred pounds," he suddenly whispered eagerly.
With that my suspicions returned. The thing might, after all, be
merely a lump of that almost equally hard substance, corundum, with
an accidental resemblance in shape to the diamond. Or if it was a
diamond, how came he by it, and why should he offer it at a hundred
We looked into one another's eyes. He seemed eager, but
honestly eager. At that moment I believed it was a diamond he was
trying to sell. Yet I am a poor man, a hundred pounds would leave
a visible gap in my fortunes and no sane man would buy a diamond by
gaslight from a ragged tramp on his personal warranty only. Still,
a diamond that size conjured up a vision of many thousands of
pounds. Then, thought I, such a stone could scarcely exist without
being mentioned in every book on gems, and again I called to mind
the stories of contraband and light-fingered Kaffirs at the Cape.
I put the question of purchase on one side.
"How did you get it?" said I.
"I made it."
I had heard something of Moissan, but I knew his artificial
diamonds were very small. I shook my head.
"You seem to know something of this kind of thing. I will
tell you a little about myself. Perhaps then you may think better
of the purchase." He turned round with his back to the river, and
put his hands in his pockets. He sighed. "I know you will not
"Diamonds," he began--and as he spoke his voice lost its faint
flavour of the tramp and assumed something of the easy tone of an
educated man--are to be made by throwing carbon out of combination
in a suitable flux and under a suitable pressure; the carbon
crystallises out, not as black-lead or charcoal-powder, but as
small diamonds. So much has been known to chemists for years, but
no one yet had hit upon exactly the right flux in which to melt up
the carbon, or exactly the right pressure for the best results.
Consequently the diamonds made by chemists are small and dark,
and worthless as jewels. Now I, you know, have given up my life to
this problem--given my life to it.
"I began to work at the conditions of diamond making when I
was seventeen, and now I am thirty-two. It seemed to me that it
might take all the thought and energies of a man for ten years, or
twenty years, but, even if it did, the game was still worth the
candle. Suppose one to have at last just hit the right trick
before the secret got out and diamonds became as common as coal,
one might realize millions. Millions!"
He paused and looked for my sympathy. His eyes shone
hungrily. "To think," said he, "that I am on the verge of it all,
"I had," he proceeded, "about a thousand pounds when I was
twenty-one, and this, I thought, eked out by a little teaching,
would keep my researches going. A year or two was spent in study,
at Berlin chiefly, and then I continued on my own account. The
trouble was the secrecy. You see, if once I had let out what I was
doing, other men might have been spurred on by my belief in the
practicability of the idea; and I do not pretend to be such a
genius as to have been sure of coming in first, in the case of a
race for the discovery. And you see it was important that if I
really meant to make a pile, people should not know it was an
artificial process and capable of turning out diamonds by the ton.
So I had to work all alone. At first I had a little laboratory,
but as my resources began to run out I had to conduct my
experiments in a wretched unfurnished room in Kentish Town, where
I slept at last on a straw mattress on the floor among all my
apparatus. The money simply flowed away. I grudged myself
everything except scientific appliances. I tried to keep things
going by a little teaching, but I am not a very good teacher, and
I have no university degree, nor very much education except in
chemistry, and I found I had to give a lot of time and labour for
precious little money. But I got nearer and nearer the thing.
Three years ago I settled the problem of the composition of the
flux, and got near the pressure by putting this flux of mine and a
certain carbon composition into a closed-up gun-barrel, filling up
with water, sealing tightly, and heating."
"Rather risky," said I.
"Yes. It burst, and smashed all my windows and a lot of my
apparatus; but I got a kind of diamond powder nevertheless.
Following out the problem of getting a big pressure upon the molten
mixture from which the things were to crystallise, I hit upon some
researches of Daubree's at the Paris Laboratorie des Poudres et
Salpetres. He exploded dynamite in a tightly screwed steel
cylinder, too strong to burst, and I found he could crush rocks
into a muck not unlike the South African bed in which diamonds are
found. It was a tremendous strain on my resources, but I got a
steel cylinder made for my purpose after his pattern. I put in all
my stuff and my explosives, built up a fire in my furnace, put the
whole concern in, and--went out for a walk."
I could not help laughing at his matter-of-fact manner. "Did
you not think it would blow up the house? Were there other people
in the place?"
"It was in the interest of science," he said, ultimately.
"There was a costermonger family on the floor below, a
begging-letter writer in the room behind mine, and two flower-women
were upstairs. Perhaps it was a bit thoughtless. But possibly
some of them were out.
"When I came back the thing was just where I left it, among
the white-hot coals. The explosive hadn't burst the case. And
then I had a problem to face. You know time is an important
element in crystallisation. If you hurry the process the crystals
are small--it is only by prolonged standing that they grow to any
size. I resolved to let this apparatus cool for two years, letting
the temperature go down slowly during the time. And I was now
quite out of money; and with a big fire and the rent of my room, as
well as my hunger to satisfy, I had scarcely a penny in the world.
"I can hardly tell you all the shifts I was put to while I was
making the diamonds. I have sold newspapers, held horses, opened
cab-doors. For many weeks I addressed envelopes. I had a place as
assistant to a man who owned a barrow, and used to call down one
side of the road while he called down the other.
"Once for a week I had absolutely nothing to do, and I begged.
What a week that was! One day the fire was going out and I had
eaten nothing all day, and a little chap taking his girl out, gave
me sixpence--to show off. Thank heaven for vanity! How the
fish-shops smelt! But I went and spent it all on coals, and had
the furnace bright red again, and then--Well, hunger makes a fool
of a man.
"At last, three weeks ago, I let the fire out. I took my
cylinder and unscrewed it while it was still so hot that it
punished my hands, and I scraped out the crumbling lava-like mass
with a chisel, and hammered it into a powder upon an iron plate.
And I found three big diamonds and five small ones. As I sat on
the floor hammering, my door opened, and my neighbour, the
begging-letter writer came in. He was drunk--as he usually is.
"'Nerchist,' said he. 'You're drunk,' said I. ''Structive
scoundrel,' said he. 'Go to your father,' said I, meaning the
Father of Lies. 'Never you mind,' said he, and gave me a cunning
wink, and hiccuped, and leaning up against the door, with his other
eye against the door-post, began to babble of how he had been
prying in my room, and how he had gone to the police that morning,
and how they had taken down everything he had to say--''siffiwas
a ge'm,' said he. Then I suddenly realised I was in a hole.
Either I should have to tell these police my little secret, and get
the whole thing blown upon, or be lagged as an Anarchist. So I
went up to my neighbour and took him by the collar, and rolled him
about a bit, and then I gathered up my diamonds and cleared out.
The evening newspapers called my den the Kentish Town Bomb Factory.
And now I cannot part with the things for love or money.
"If I go in to respectable jewellers they ask me to wait, and
go and whisper to a clerk to fetch a policeman, and then I say I
cannot wait. And I found out a receiver of stolen goods, and he
simply stuck to the one I gave him and told me to prosecute if I
wanted it back. I am going about now with several hundred thousand
pounds-worth of diamonds round my neck, and without either food or
shelter. You are the first person I have taken into my confidence.
But I like your face and I am hard-driven."
He looked into my eyes.
"It would be madness," said I, "for me to buy a diamond under
the circumstances. Besides, I do not carry hundreds of pounds
about in my pocket. Yet I more than half believe your story. I
will, if you like, do this: come to my office to-morrow . . . . "
"You think I am a thief!" said he keenly. "You will tell the
police. I am not coming into a trap."
"Somehow I am assured you are no thief. Here is my card.
Take that, anyhow. You need not come to any appointment. Come
when you will."
He took the card, and an earnest of my good-will.
"Think better of it and come," said I.
He shook his head doubtfully. "I will pay back your
half-crown with interest some day--such interest as will amaze
you," said he. "Anyhow, you will keep the secret? . . . . Don't
He crossed the road and went into the darkness towards the
little steps under the archway leading into Essex Street, and I let
him go. And that was the last I ever saw of him.
Afterwards I had two letters from him asking me to send
bank-notes--not cheques--to certain addresses. I weighed the
matter over and took what I conceived to be the wisest course.
Once he called upon me when I was out. My urchin described him as
a very thin, dirty, and ragged man, with a dreadful cough. He left
no message. That was the finish of him so far as my story goes.
I wonder sometimes what has become of him. Was he an ingenious
monomaniac, or a fraudulent dealer in pebbles, or has he really
made diamonds as he asserted? The latter is just sufficiently
credible to make me think at times that I have missed the most
brilliant opportunity of my life. He may of course be dead, and
his diamonds carelessly thrown aside--one, I repeat, was almost as
big as my thumb. Or he may be still wandering about trying to sell
the things. It is just possible he may yet emerge upon society,
and, passing athwart my heavens in the serene altitude sacred to
the wealthy and the well-advertised, reproach me silently for my
want of enterprise. I sometimes think I might at least have risked
THE LORD OF THE DYNAMOS
The chief attendant of the three dynamos that buzzed and rattled at
Camberwell, and kept the electric railway going, came out of
Yorkshire, and his name was James Holroyd. He was a practical
electrician, but fond of whisky, a heavy red-haired brute with
irregular teeth. He doubted the existence of the deity, but
accepted Carnot's cycle, and he had read Shakespeare and found him
weak in chemistry. His helper came out of the mysterious East, and
his name was Azuma-zi. But Holroyd called him Pooh-bah. Holroyd
liked a nigger because he would stand kicking--a habit with
Holroyd--and did not pry into the machinery and try to learn the
ways of it. Certain odd possibilities of the negro mind brought
into abrupt contact with the crown of our civilisation Holroyd
never fully realised, though just at the end he got some inkling of
To define Azuma-zi was beyond ethnology. He was, perhaps,
more negroid than anything else, though his hair was curly rather
than frizzy, and his nose had a bridge. Moreover, his skin was
brown rather than black, and the whites of his eyes were yellow.
His broad cheekbones and narrow chin gave his face something of the
viperine V. His head, too, was broad behind, and low and narrow at
the forehead, as if his brain had been twisted round in the reverse
way to a European's. He was short of stature and still shorter of
English. In conversation he made numerous odd noises of no known
marketable value, and his infrequent words were carved and wrought
into heraldic grotesqueness. Holroyd tried to elucidate his
religious beliefs, and--especially after whisky--lectured to him
against superstition and missionaries. Azuma-zi, however, shirked
the discussion of his gods, even though he was kicked for it.
Azuma-zi had come, clad in white but insufficient raiment, out
of the stokehole of the Lord Clive, from the Straits
Settlements, and beyond, into London. He had heard even in his
youth of the greatness and riches of London, where all the women
are white and fair, and even the beggars in the streets are white,
and he arrived, with newly earned gold coins in his pocket, to
worship at the shrine of civilisation. The day of his landing was
a dismal one; the sky was dun, and a wind-worried drizzle filtered
down to the greasy streets, but he plunged boldly into the delights
of Shadwell, and was presently cast up, shattered in health,
civilised in costume, penniless and, except in matters of the
direst necessity, practically a dumb animal, to toil for James
Holroyd and to be bullied by him in the dynamo shed at Camberwell.
And to James Holroyd bullying was a labour of love.
There were three dynamos with their engines at Camberwell.
The two that had been there since the beginning were small
machines; the larger one was new. The smaller machines made a
reasonable noise; their straps hummed over the drums, every now and
then the brushes buzzed and fizzled, and the air churned steadily,
whoo! whoo! whoo! between their poles. One was loose in its
foundations and kept the shed vibrating. But the big dynamo
drowned these little noises altogether with the sustained drone of
its iron core, which somehow set part of the ironwork humming. The
place made the visitor's head reel with the throb, throb, throb of
the engines, the rotation of the big wheels, the spinning
ball-valves, the occasional spittings of the steam, and over all
the deep, unceasing, surging note of the big dynamo. This last
noise was from an engineering point of view a defect, but Azuma-zi
accounted it unto the monster for mightiness and pride.
If it were possible we would have the noises of that shed
always about the reader as he reads, we would tell all our story to
such an accompaniment. It was a steady stream of din, from which
the ear picked out first one thread and then another; there was the
intermittent snorting, panting, and seething of the steam engines,
the suck and thud of their pistons, the dull beat on the air as the
spokes of the great driving-wheels came round, a note the leather
straps made as they ran tighter and looser, and a fretful tumult
from the dynamos; and over all, sometimes inaudible, as the ear
tired of it, and then creeping back upon the senses again, was this
trombone note of the big machine. The floor never felt steady and
quiet beneath one's feet, but quivered and jarred. It was a
confusing, unsteady place, and enough to send anyone's thoughts
jerking into odd zigzags. And for three months, while the big
strike of the engineers was in progress, Holroyd, who was a
blackleg, and Azuma-zi, who was a mere black, were never out of the
stir and eddy of it, but slept and fed in the little wooden shanty
between the shed and the gates.
Holroyd delivered a theological lecture on the text of his big
machine soon after Azuma-zi came. He had to shout to be heard in
the din. "Look at that," said Holroyd; "where's your 'eathen idol
to match 'im?" And Azuma-zi looked. For a moment Holroyd was
inaudible, and then Azuma-zi heard: "Kill a hundred men. Twelve
per cent. on the ordinary shares," said Holroyd, "and that's
something like a Gord!"
Holroyd was proud of his big dynamo, and expatiated upon its
size and power to Azuma-zi until heaven knows what odd currents of
thought that and the incessant whirling and shindy set up within
the curly black cranium. He would explain in the most graphic
manner the dozen or so ways in which a man might be killed by it,
and once he gave Azuma-zi a shock as a sample of its quality.
After that, in the breathing-times of his labour--it was heavy
labour, being not only his own, but most of Holroyd's--Azuma-zi
would sit and watch the big machine. Now and then the brushes
would sparkle and spit blue flashes, at which Holroyd would swear,
but all the rest was as smooth and rhythmic as breathing. The band
ran shouting over the shaft, and ever behind one as one watched was
the complacent thud of the piston. So it lived all day in this big
airy shed, with him and Holroyd to wait upon it; not prisoned up
and slaving to drive a ship as the other engines he knew--mere
captive devils of the British Solomon--had been, but a machine
enthroned. Those two smaller dynamos, Azuma-zi by force of
contrast despised; the large one he privately christened the Lord
of the Dynamos. They were fretful and irregular, but the big
dynamo was steady. How great it was! How serene and easy in its
working! Greater and calmer even than the Buddhas he had seen at
Rangoon, and yet not motionless, but living! The great black coils
spun, spun, spun, the rings ran round under the brushes, and the
deep note of its coil steadied the whole. It affected Azuma-zi
Azuma-zi was not fond of labour. He would sit about and watch
the Lord of the Dynamos while Holroyd went away to persuade the
yard porter to get whisky, although his proper place was not in the
dynamo shed but behind the engines, and, moreover, if Holroyd
caught him skulking he got hit for it with a rod of stout copper
wire. He would go and stand close to the colossus and look up at
the great leather band running overhead. There was a black patch
on the band that came round, and it pleased him somehow among all
the clatter to watch this return again and again. Odd thoughts
spun with the whirl of it. Scientific people tell us that savages
give souls to rocks and trees--and a machine is a thousand times
more alive than a rock or a tree. And Azuma-zi was practically a
savage still; the veneer of civilisation lay no deeper than his
slop suit, his bruises, and the coal grime on his face and hands.
His father before him had worshipped a meteoric stone, kindred
blood it may be had splashed the broad wheels of Juggernaut.
He took every opportunity Holroyd gave him of touching and
hand, ling the great dynamo that was fascinating him. He polished
and cleaned it until the metal parts were blinding in the sun. He
felt a mysterious sense of service in doing this. He would go up
to it and touch its spinning coils gently. The gods he had
worshipped were all far away. The people in London hid their gods.
At last his dim feelings grew more distinct, and took shape in
thoughts and at last in acts. When he came into the roaring shed
one morning he salaamed to the Lord of the Dynamos, and then when
Holroyd was away, he went and whispered to the thundering machine
that he was its servant, and prayed it to have pity on him and save
him from Holroyd. As he did so a rare gleam of light came in
through the open archway of the throbbing machine-shed, and the
Lord of the Dynamos, as he whirled and roared, was radiant with
pale gold. Then Azuma-zi knew that his service was acceptable to
his Lord. After that he did not feel so lonely as he had done, and
he had indeed been very much alone in London. And even when his
work time was over, which was rare, he loitered about the shed.
Then, the next time Holroyd maltreated him, Azuma-zi went
presently to the Lord of the Dynamos and whispered, "Thou seest, O
my Lord!" and the angry whir of the machinery seemed to answer him.
Thereafter it appeared to him that whenever Holroyd came into the
shed a different note came into the sounds of the dynamo. "My Lord
bides his time," said Azuma-zi to himself. "The iniquity of the
fool is not yet ripe." And he waited and watched for the day of
reckoning. One day there was evidence of short circuiting, and
Holroyd, making an unwary examination--it was in the afternoon--got
a rather severe shock. Azuma-zi from behind the engine saw him
jump off and curse at the peccant coil.
"He is warned," said Azuma-zi to himself. "Surely my Lord is
Holroyd had at first initiated his "nigger" into such
elementary conceptions of the dynamo's working as would enable him
to take temporary charge of the shed in his absence. But when he
noticed the manner in which Azuma-zi hung about the monster he
became suspicious. He dimly perceived his assistant was "up to
something," and connecting him with the anointing of the coils with
oil that had rotted the varnish in one place, he issued an edict,
shouted above the confusion of the machinery, "Don't 'ee go nigh
that big dynamo any more, Pooh-bah, or a'll take thy skin off!"
Besides, if it pleased Azuma-zi to be near the big machine, it was
plain sense and decency to keep him away from it.
Azuma-zi obeyed at the time, but later he was caught bowing
before the Lord of the Dynamos. At which Holroyd twisted his arm
and kicked him as he turned to go away. As Azuma-zi presently
stood behind the engine and glared at the back of the hated
Holroyd, the noises of the machinery took a new rhythm, and sounded
like four words in his native tongue.
It is hard to say exactly what madness is. I fancy Azuma-zi
was mad. The incessant din and whirl of the dynamo shed may have
churned up his little store of knowledge and his big store of
superstitious fancy, at last, into something akin to frenzy. At
any rate, when the idea of making Holroyd a sacrifice to the Dynamo
Fetich was thus suggested to him, it filled him with a strange
tumult of exultant emotion.
That night the two men and their black shadows were alone in
the shed together. The shed was lit with one big arc light that
winked and flickered purple. The shadows lay black behind the
dynamos, the ball governors of the engines whirled from light to
darkness, and their pistons beat loud and steady. The world
outside seen through the open end of the shed seemed incredibly dim
and remote. It seemed absolutely silent, too, since the riot of
the machinery drowned every external sound. Far away was the black
fence of the yard with grey shadowy houses behind, and above was
the deep blue sky and the pale little stars. Azuma-zi suddenly
walked across the centre of the shed above which the leather bands
were running, and went into the shadow by the big dynamo. Holroyd
heard a click, and the spin of the armature changed.
"What are you dewin' with that switch?" he bawled in surprise.
"Han't I told you--"
Then he saw the set expression of Azuma-zi's eyes as the
Asiatic came out of the shadow towards him.
In another moment the two men were grappling fiercely in front
of the great dynamo.
"You coffee-headed fool!" gasped Holroyd, with a brown hand at
his throat. "Keep off those contact rings." In another moment he
was tripped and reeling back upon the Lord of the Dynamos. He
instinctively loosened his grip upon his antagonist to save himself
from the machine.
The messenger, sent in furious haste from the station to find
out what had happened in the dynamo shed, met Azuma-zi at the
porter's lodge by the gate. Azuma-zi tried to explain something,
but the messenger could make nothing of the black's incoherent
English, and hurried on to the shed. The machines were all noisily
at work, and nothing seemed to be disarranged. There was, however,
a queer smell of singed hair. Then he saw an odd-looking crumpled
mass clinging to the front of the big dynamo, and, approaching,
recognised the distorted remains of Holroyd.
The man stared and hesitated a moment. Then he saw the face,
and shut his eyes convulsively. He turned on his heel before he
opened them, so that he should not see Holroyd again, and went out
of the shed to get advice and help.
When Azuma-zi saw Holroyd die in the grip of the Great Dynamo
he had been a little scared about the consequences of his act. Yet
he felt strangely elated, and knew that the favour of the Lord
Dynamo was upon him. His plan was already settled when he met the
man coming from the station, and the scientific manager who
speedily arrived on the scene jumped at the obvious conclusion of
suicide. This expert scarcely noticed Azuma-zi, except to ask a
few questions. Did he see Holroyd kill himself? Azuma-zi
explained that he had been out of sight at the engine furnace until
he heard a difference in the noise from the dynamo. It was not a
difficult examination, being untinctured by suspicion.
The distorted remains of Holroyd, which the electrician
removed from the machine, were hastily covered by the porter with
a coffee-stained tablecloth. Somebody, by a happy inspiration,
fetched a medical man. The expert was chiefly anxious to get the
machine at work again, for seven or eight trains had stopped midway
in the stuffy tunnels of the electric railway. Azuma-zi, answering
or misunderstanding the questions of the people who had by
authority or impudence come into the shed, was presently sent back
to the stoke-hole by the scientific manager. Of course a crowd
collected outside the gates of the yard--a crowd, for no known
reason, always hovers for a day or two near the scene of a sudden
death in London; two or three reporters percolated somehow into the
engine-shed, and one even got to Azuma-zi; but the scientific
expert cleared them out again, being himself an amateur journalist.
Presently the body was carried away, and public interest
departed with it. Azuma-zi remained very quietly at his furnace,
seeing over and over again in the coals a figure that wriggled
violently and became still. An hour after the murder, to anyone
coming into the shed it would have looked exactly as if nothing had
ever happened there. Peeping presently from his engine-room the
black saw the Lord Dynamo spin and whirl beside his little
brothers, and the driving wheels were beating round, and the steam
in the pistons went thud, thud, exactly as it had been earlier in
the evening. After all, from the mechanical point of view, it had
been a most insignificant incident--the mere temporary deflection
of a current. But now the slender form and slender shadow of the
scientific manager replaced the sturdy outline of Holroyd
travelling up and down the lane of light upon the vibrating floor
under the straps between the engines and the dynamos.
"Have I not served my Lord?" said Azuma-zi inaudibly, from his
shadow, and the note of the great dynamo rang out full and clear.
As he looked at the big whirling mechanism the strange fascination
of it that had been a little in abeyance since Holroyd's death,
resumed its sway.
Never had Azuma-zi seen a man killed so swiftly and
pitilessly. The big humming machine had slain its victim without
wavering for a second from its steady beating. It was indeed a
The unconscious scientific manager stood with his back to him,
scribbling on a piece of paper. His shadow lay at the foot of the
"Was the Lord Dynamo still hungry? His servant was ready."
Azuma-zi made a stealthy step forward; then stopped. The
scientific manager suddenly stopped writing, and walked down the
shed to the endmost of the dynamos, and began to examine the
Azuma-zi hesitated, and then slipped across noiselessly into
shadow by the switch. There he waited. Presently the manager's
footsteps could be heard returning. He stopped in his old
position, unconscious of the stoker crouching ten feet away from
him. Then the big dynamo suddenly fizzled, and in another moment
Azuma-zi had sprung out of the darkness upon him.
First, the scientific manager was gripped round the body and
swung towards the big dynamo, then, kicking with his knee and
forcing his antagonist's head down with his hands, he loosened the
grip on his waist and swung round away from the machine. Then the
black grasped him again, putting a curly head against his chest,
and they swayed and panted as it seemed for an age or so. Then the
scientific manager was impelled to catch a black ear in his teeth
and bite furiously. The black yelled hideously.
They rolled over on the floor, and the black, who had
apparently slipped from the vice of the teeth or parted with some
ear--the scientific manager wondered which at the time--tried to
throttle him. The scientific manager was making some ineffectual
attempts to claw something with his hands and to kick, when the
welcome sound of quick footsteps sounded on the floor. The next
moment Azuma-zi had left him and darted towards the big dynamo.
There was a splutter amid the roar.
The officer of the company who had entered, stood staring as
Azuma-zi caught the naked terminals in his hands, gave one horrible
convulsion, and then hung motionless from the machine, his face
"I'm jolly glad you came in when you did," said the scientific
manager, still sitting on the floor.
He looked at the still quivering figure.
"It's not a nice death to die, apparently--but it is quick."
The official was still staring at the body. He was a man of
There was a pause.
The scientific manager got up on his feet rather awkwardly.
He ran his fingers along his collar thoughtfully, and moved his
head to and fro several times.
"Poor Holroyd! I see now." Then almost mechanically he went
towards the switch in the shadow and turned the current into the
railway circuit again. As he did so the singed body loosened its
grip upon the machine and fell forward on its face. The core of
the dynamo roared out loud and clear, and the armature beat the
So ended prematurely the Worship of the Dynamo Deity, perhaps
the most short-lived of all religions. Yet withal it could at
least boast a Martyrdom and a Human Sacrifice.
THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND
Three hundred miles and more from Chimborazo, one hundred from the
snows of Cotopaxi, in the wildest wastes of Ecuador's Andes, there
lies that mysterious mountain valley, cut off from all the world of
men, the Country of the Blind. Long years ago that valley lay so
far open to the world that men might come at last through frightful
gorges and over an icy pass into its equable meadows, and thither
indeed men came, a family or so of Peruvian half-breeds fleeing
from the lust and tyranny of an evil Spanish ruler. Then came the
stupendous outbreak of Mindobamba, when it was night in Quito for
seventeen days, and the water was boiling at Yaguachi and all the
fish floating dying even as far as Guayaquil; everywhere along the
Pacific slopes there were land-slips and swift thawings and sudden
floods, and one whole side of the old Arauca crest slipped and came
down in thunder, and cut off the Country of the Blind for ever from
the exploring feet of men. But one of these early settlers had
chanced to be on the hither side of the gorges when the world had
so terribly shaken itself, and he perforce had to forget his wife
and his child and all the friends and possessions he had left up
there, and start life over again in the lower world. He started it
again but ill, blindness overtook him, and he died of punishment in
the mines; but the story he told begot a legend that lingers along
the length of the Cordilleras of the Andes to this day.
He told of his reason for venturing back from that fastness,
into which he had first been carried lashed to a llama, beside a
vast bale of gear, when he was a child. The valley, he said, had
in it all that the heart of man could desire--sweet water, pasture,
an even climate, slopes of rich brown soil with tangles of a shrub
that bore an excellent fruit, and on one side great hanging forests
of pine that held the avalanches high. Far overhead, on three
sides, vast cliffs of grey-green rock were capped by cliffs of ice;
but the glacier stream came not to them, but flowed away by the
farther slopes, and only now and then huge ice masses fell on the
valley side. In this valley it neither rained nor snowed, but the
abundant springs gave a rich green pasture, that irrigation would
spread over all the valley space. The settlers did well indeed
there. Their beasts did well and multiplied, and but one thing
marred their happiness. Yet it was enough to mar it greatly. A
strange disease had come upon them and had made all the children
born to them there--and, indeed, several older children
also--blind. It was to seek some charm or antidote against this
plague of blindness that he had with fatigue and danger and
difficulty returned down the gorge. In those days, in such cases,
men did not think of germs and infections, but of sins, and it
seemed to him that the reason of this affliction must he in the
negligence of these priestless immigrants to set up a shrine so
soon as they entered the valley. He wanted a shrine--a handsome,
cheap, effectual shrine--to be erected in the valley; he wanted
relics and such-like potent things of faith, blessed objects and
mysterious medals and prayers. In his wallet he had a bar of
native silver for which he would not account; he insisted there was
none in the valley with something of the insistence of an inexpert
liar. They had all clubbed their money and ornaments together,
having little need for such treasure up there, he said, to buy them
holy help against their ill. I figure this dim-eyed young
mountaineer, sunburnt, gaunt, and anxious, hat brim clutched
feverishly, a man all unused to the ways of the lower world,
telling this story to some keen-eyed, attentive priest before the
great convulsion; I can picture him presently seeking to return
with pious and infallible remedies against that trouble, and the
infinite dismay with which he must have faced the tumbled vastness
where the gorge had once come out. But the rest of his story of
mischances is lost to me, save that I know of his evil death after
several years. Poor stray from that remoteness! The stream that
had once made the gorge now bursts from the mouth of a rocky cave,
and the legend his poor, ill-told story set going developed into
the legend of a race of blind men somewhere "over there" one may
still hear to-day.
And amidst the little population of that now isolated and
forgotten valley the disease ran its course. The old became
groping, the young saw but dimly, and the children that were born
to them never saw at all. But life was very easy in that
snow-rimmed basin, lost to all the world, with neither thorns nor
briers, with no evil insects nor any beasts save the gentle breed
of llamas they had lugged and thrust and followed up the beds of
the shrunken rivers in the gorges up which they had come. The
seeing had become purblind so gradually that they scarcely noticed
their loss. They guided the sightless youngsters hither and
thither until they knew the whole valley marvellously, and when at
last sight died out among them the race lived on. They had even
time to adapt themselves to the blind control of fire, which they
made carefully in stoves of stone. They were a simple strain of
people at the first, unlettered, only slightly touched with the
Spanish civilisation, but with something of a tradition of the arts
of old Peru and of its lost philosophy. Generation followed
generation. They forgot many things; they devised many things.
Their tradition of the greater world they came from became mythical
in colour and uncertain. In all things save sight they were strong
and able, and presently chance sent one who had an original mind
and who could talk and persuade among them, and then afterwards
another. These two passed, leaving their effects, and the little
community grew in numbers and in understanding, and met and settled
social and economic problems that arose. Generation followed
generation. Generation followed generation. There came a time
when a child was born who was fifteen generations from that
ancestor who went out of the valley with a bar of silver to seek
God's aid, and who never returned. Thereabout it chanced that a
man came into this community from the outer world. And this is the
story of that man.
He was a mountaineer from the country near Quito, a man who
had been down to the sea and had seen the world, a reader of books
in an original way, an acute and enterprising man, and he was taken
on by a party of Englishmen who had come out to Ecuador to climb
mountains, to replace one of their three Swiss guides who had
fallen ill. He climbed here and he climbed there, and then came
the attempt on Parascotopetl, the Matterhorn of the Andes, in which
he was lost to the outer world. The story of that accident has
been written a dozen times. Pointer's narrative is the best. He
tells how the little party worked their difficult and almost
vertical way up to the very foot of the last and greatest
precipice, and how they built a night shelter amidst the snow upon
a little shelf of rock, and, with a touch of real dramatic power,
how presently they found Nunez had gone from them. They shouted,
and there was no reply; shouted and whistled, and for the rest of
that night they slept no more.
As the morning broke they saw the traces of his fall. It
seems impossible he could have uttered a sound. He had slipped
eastward towards the unknown side of the mountain; far below he had
struck a steep slope of snow, and ploughed his way down it in the
midst of a snow avalanche. His track went straight to the edge of
a frightful precipice, and beyond that everything was hidden. Far,
far below, and hazy with distance, they could see trees rising out
of a narrow, shut-in valley--the lost Country of the Blind. But
they did not know it was the lost Country of the Blind, nor
distinguish it in any way from any other narrow streak of upland
valley. Unnerved by this disaster, they abandoned their attempt in
the afternoon, and Pointer was called away to the war before he
could make another attack. To this day Parascotopetl lifts an
unconquered crest, and Pointer's shelter crumbles unvisited amidst
And the man who fell survived.
At the end of the slope he fell a thousand feet, and came down
in the midst of a cloud of snow upon a snow-slope even steeper than
the one above. Down this he was whirled, stunned and insensible,
but without a bone broken in his body; and then at last came to
gentler slopes, and at last rolled out and lay still, buried amidst
a softening heap of the white masses that had accompanied and saved
him. He came to himself with a dim fancy that he was ill in bed;
then realized his position with a mountaineer's intelligence and
worked himself loose and, after a rest or so, out until he saw the
stars. He rested flat upon his chest for a space, wondering where
he was and what had happened to him. He explored his limbs, and
discovered that several of his buttons were gone and his coat
turned over his head. His knife had gone from his pocket and his
hat was lost, though he had tied it under his chin. He recalled
that he had been looking for loose stones to raise his piece of the
shelter wall. His ice-axe had disappeared.
He decided he must have fallen, and looked up to see,
exaggerated by the ghastly light of the rising moon, the tremendous
flight he had taken. For a while he lay, gazing blankly at the
vast, pale cliff towering above, rising moment by moment out of a
subsiding tide of darkness. Its phantasmal, mysterious beauty held
him for a space, and then he was seized with a paroxysm of sobbing
laughter . . . .
After a great interval of time he became aware that he was
near the lower edge of the snow. Below, down what was now a
moon-lit and practicable slope, he saw the dark and broken
appearance of rock-strewn turf He struggled to his feet, aching in
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