The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents
H. G. (Herbert George) Wells
Part 2 out of 4
"So ended the battle--ingloriously. Glancing back, I saw the valley
dotted with the victors, shouting and firing at us. But no one was
hit. These Chins and their guns are very little good except at a
sitting shot. They will sit and finick over a boulder for hours taking
aim, and when they fire running it is chiefly for stage effect.
Hooker, one of the Derbyshire men, fancied himself rather with the
rifle, and stopped behind for half a minute to try his luck as we
turned the bend. But he got nothing.
"I'm not a Xenophon to spin much of a yarn about my retreating army.
We had to pull the enemy up twice in the next two miles when he became
a bit pressing, by exchanging shots with him, but it was a fairly
monotonous affair--hard breathing chiefly--until we got near the place
where the hills run in towards the river and pinch the valley into
a gorge. And there we very luckily caught a glimpse of half a dozen
round black heads coming slanting-ways over the hill to the left of
us--the east that is--and almost parallel with us.
"At that I called a halt. 'Look here,' says I to Hooker and the other
Englishmen; 'what are we to do now?' and I pointed to the heads.
"'Headed orf, or I'm a nigger,' said one of the men.
"'We shall be,' said another. 'You know the Chin way, George?'
"'They can pot every one of us at fifty yards,' says Hooker, 'in the
place where the river is narrow. It's just suicide to go on down.'
"I looked at the hill to the right of us. It grew steeper lower down
the valley, but it still seemed climbable. And all the Chins we had
seen hitherto had been on the other side of the stream.
"'It's that or stopping,' says one of the Sepoys.
"So we started slanting up the hill. There was something faintly
suggestive of a road running obliquely up the face of it, and that we
followed. Some Chins presently came into view up the valley, and I
heard some shots. Then I saw one of the Sepoys was sitting down
about thirty yards below us. He had simply sat down without a word,
apparently not wishing to give trouble. At that I called a halt again;
I told Hooker to try another shot, and went back and found the man was
hit in the leg. I took him up, carried him along to put him on the
mule--already pretty well laden with the tent and other things which
we had no time to take off. When I got up to the rest with him, Hooker
had his empty Martini in his hand, and was grinning and pointing to a
motionless black spot up the valley. All the rest of the Chins were
behind boulders or back round the bend. 'Five hundred yards,' says
Hooker, 'if an inch. And I'll swear I hit him in the head.'
"I told him to go and do it again, and with that we went on again.
"Now the hillside kept getting steeper as we pushed on, and the road
we were following more and more of a shelf. At last it was mere cliff
above and below us. 'It's the best road I have seen yet in Chin Lushai
land,' said I to encourage the men, though I had a fear of what was
"And in a few minutes the way bent round a corner of the cliff. Then,
finis! the ledge came to an end.
"As soon as he grasped the position one of the Derbyshire men fell
a-swearing at the trap we had fallen into. The Sepoys halted quietly.
Hooker grunted and reloaded, and went back to the bend.
"Then two of the Sepoy chaps helped their comrade down and began to
unload the mule.
"Now, when I came to look about me, I began to think we had not been
so very unfortunate after all. We were on a shelf perhaps ten yards
across it at widest. Above it the cliff projected so that we could not
be shot down upon, and below was an almost sheer precipice of perhaps
two or three hundred feet. Lying down we were invisible to anyone
across the ravine. The only approach was along the ledge, and on that
one man was as good as a host. We were in a natural stronghold, with
only one disadvantage, our sole provision against hunger and thirst
was one live mule. Still we were at most eight or nine miles from the
main expedition, and no doubt, after a day or so, they would send up
after us if we did not return.
"After a day or so ..."
The lieutenant paused. "Ever been thirsty, Graham?"
"Not that kind," said the Ethnologist.
"H'm. We had the whole of that day, the night, and the next day of it,
and only a trifle of dew we wrung out of our clothes and the tent.
And below us was the river going giggle, giggle, round a rock in mid
stream. I never knew such a barrenness of incident, or such a quantity
of sensation. The sun might have had Joshua's command still upon it
for all the motion one could see; and it blazed like a near furnace.
Towards the evening of the first day one of the Derbyshire men said
something--nobody heard what--and went off round the bend of the
cliff. We heard shots, and when Hooker looked round the corner he was
gone. And in the morning the Sepoy whose leg was shot was in delirium,
and jumped or fell over the cliff. Then we took the mule and shot
it, and that must needs go over the cliff too in its last struggles,
leaving eight of us.
"We could see the body of the Sepoy down below, with the head in the
water. He was lying face downwards, and so far as I could make out was
scarcely smashed at all. Badly as the Chins might covet his head, they
had the sense to leave it alone until the darkness came.
"At first we talked of all the chances there were of the main body
hearing the firing, and reckoned whether they would begin to miss us,
and all that kind of thing, but we dried up as the evening came on.
The Sepoys played games with bits of stone among themselves, and
afterwards told stories. The night was rather chilly. The second day
nobody spoke. Our lips were black and our throats afire, and we lay
about on the ledge and glared at one another. Perhaps it's as well
we kept our thoughts to ourselves. One of the British soldiers began
writing some blasphemous rot on the rock with a bit of pipeclay, about
his last dying will, until I stopped it. As I looked over the edge
down into the valley and saw the river rippling I was nearly tempted
to go after the Sepoy. It seemed a pleasant and desirable thing to
go rushing down through the air with something to drink--or no more
thirst at any rate--at the bottom. I remembered in time, though, that
I was the officer in command, and my duty to set a good example, and
that kept me from any such foolishness.
"Yet, thinking of that, put an idea into my head. I got up and looked
at the tent and tent ropes, and wondered why I had not thought of it
before. Then I came and peered over the cliff again. This time the
height seemed greater and the pose of the Sepoy rather more painful.
But it was that or nothing. And to cut it short, I parachuted.
"I got a big circle of canvas out of the tent, about three times the
size of that table-cover, and plugged the hole in the centre, and I
tied eight ropes round it to meet in the middle and make a parachute.
The other chaps lay about and watched me as though they thought it was
a new kind of delirium. Then I explained my notion to the two British
soldiers and how I meant to do it, and as soon as the short dusk had
darkened into night, I risked it. They held the thing high up, and I
took a run the whole length of the ledge. The thing filled with air
like a sail, but at the edge I will confess I funked and pulled up.
"As soon as I stopped I was ashamed of myself--as well I might be in
front of privates--and went back and started again. Off I jumped this
time--with a kind of sob, I remember--clean into the air, with the big
white sail bellying out above me.
"I must have thought at a frightful pace. It seemed a long time before
I was sure that the thing meant to keep steady. At first it heeled
sideways. Then I noticed the face of the rock which seemed to be
streaming up past me, and me motionless. Then I looked down and saw in
the darkness the river and the dead Sepoy rushing up towards me. But
in the indistinct light I also saw three Chins, seemingly aghast at
the sight of me, and that the Sepoy was decapitated. At that I wanted
to go back again.
"Then my boot was in the mouth of one, and in a moment he and I were
in a heap with the canvas fluttering down on the top of us. I fancy I
dashed out his brains with my foot. I expected nothing more than to be
brained myself by the other two, but the poor heathen had never heard
of Baldwin, and incontinently bolted.
"I struggled out of the tangle of dead Chin and canvas, and looked
round. About ten paces off lay the head of the Sepoy staring in the
moonlight. Then I saw the water and went and drank. There wasn't a
sound in the world but the footsteps of the departing Chins, a faint
shout from above, and the gluck of the water. So soon as I had drunk
my full I started off down the river.
"That about ends the explanation of the flying man story. I never met
a soul the whole eight miles of the way. I got to Walters' camp by ten
o'clock, and a born idiot of a sentinel had the cheek to fire at me
as I came trotting out of the darkness. So soon as I had hammered my
story into Winter's thick skull, about fifty men started up the valley
to clear the Chins out and get our men down. But for my own part I had
too good a thirst to provoke it by going with them.
"You have heard what kind of a yarn the Chins made of it. Wings as
long as a mule, eh?--And black feathers! The gay lieutenant bird!
The lieutenant meditated cheerfully for a moment. Then he added, "You
would scarcely credit it, but when they got to the ridge at last, they
found two more of the Sepoys had jumped over."
"The rest were all right?" asked the Ethnologist.
"Yes," said the lieutenant; "the rest were all right, barring a
certain thirst, you know."
And at the memory he helped himself to soda and whisky again.
THE DIAMOND MAKER
Some business had detained me in Chancery Lane until 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 transition 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 surface.
"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
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 forget
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 ease.
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 pounds?
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
"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 believe me."
"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 has 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 realise 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, and here!
"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
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
"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 that 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
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 follow me."
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 five pounds.
The man with the scarred face leant over the table and looked at my
"Orchids?" he asked.
"A few," I said.
"Cypripediums," he said.
"Chiefly," said I.
"Anything new? I thought not. _I_ did these islands
twenty-five--twenty-seven years ago. If you find anything new
here--well it's brand new. I didn't leave much."
"I'm not a collector," said I.
"I was young then," he went on. "Lord! how I used to fly round." He
seemed to take my measure. "I was in the East Indies two years, and in
Brazil seven. Then I went to Madagascar."
"I know a few explorers by name," I Said, anticipating a yarn. "Whom
did you collect for?"
"Dawsons. I wonder if you've heard the name of Butcher ever?"
"Butcher--Butcher?" The name seemed vaguely present in my memory; then I
recalled _Butcher_ v. _Dawson_. "Why!" said I, "you are the man who sued
them for four years' salary--got cast away on a desert island ..."
"Your servant," said the man with the scar, bowing. "Funny case,
wasn't it? Here was me, making a little fortune on that island, doing
nothing for it neither, and them quite unable to give me notice. It
often used to amuse me thinking over it while I was there. I did
calculations of it--big--all over the blessed atoll in ornamental
"How did it happen?" said I. "I don't rightly remember the case."
"Well.... You've heard of the Aepyornis?"
"Rather. Andrews was telling me of a new species he was working on
only a month or so ago. Just before I sailed. They've got a thigh
bone, it seems, nearly a yard long. Monster the thing must have been!"
"I believe you," said the man with the scar. "It _was_ a monster.
Sinbad's roc was just a legend of 'em. But when did they find these
"Three or four years ago--'91, I fancy. Why?"
"Why? Because _I_ found 'em--Lord!--it's nearly twenty years ago. If
Dawsons hadn't been silly about that salary they might have made a
perfect ring in 'em.... _I_ couldn't help the infernal boat going
He paused, "I suppose it's the same place. A kind of swamp about
ninety miles north of Antananarivo. Do you happen to know? You have
to go to it along the coast by boats. You don't happen to remember,
"I don't. I fancy Andrews said something about a swamp."
"It must be the same. It's on the east coast. And somehow there's
something in the water that keeps things from decaying. Like creosote
it smells. It reminded me of Trinidad. Did they get any more eggs?
Some of the eggs I found were a foot-and-a-half long. The swamp goes
circling round, you know, and cuts off this bit. It's mostly salt,
too. Well.... What a time I had of it! I found the things quite by
accident. We went for eggs, me and two native chaps, in one of those
rum canoes all tied together, and found the bones at the same time. We
had a tent and provisions for four days, and we pitched on one of the
firmer places. To think of it brings that odd tarry smell back even
now. It's funny work. You go probing into the mud with iron rods, you
know. Usually the egg gets smashed. I wonder how long it is since
these Aepyornises really lived. The missionaries say the natives have
legends about when they were alive, but I never heard any such stories
myself.[A] But certainly those eggs we got were as fresh as if they
had been new laid. Fresh! Carrying them down to the boat one of my
nigger chaps dropped one on a rock and it smashed. How I lammed into
the beggar! But sweet it was, as if it was new laid, not even smelly,
and its mother dead these four hundred years, perhaps. Said a
centipede had bit him. However, I'm getting off the straight with the
story. It had taken us all day to dig into the slush and get these
eggs out unbroken, and we were all covered with beastly black mud, and
naturally I was cross. So far as I knew they were the only eggs that
have ever been got out not even cracked. I went afterwards to see the
ones they have at the Natural History Museum in London; all of them
were cracked and just stuck together like a mosaic, and bits missing.
Mine were perfect, and I meant to blow them when I got back. Naturally
I was annoyed at the silly duffer dropping three hours' work just on
account of a centipede. I hit him about rather."
[Footnote A: No European is known to have seen a live Aepyornis,
with the doubtful exception of MacAndrew, who visited Madagascar in
The man with the scar took out a clay pipe. I placed my pouch before
him. He filled up absent-mindedly.
"How about the others? Did you get those home? I don't remember--"
"That's the queer part of the story. I had three others. Perfectly
fresh eggs. Well, we put 'em in the boat, and then I went up to
the tent to make some coffee, leaving my two heathens down by the
beach--the one fooling about with his sting and the other helping him.
It never occurred to me that the beggars would take advantage of
the peculiar position I was in to pick a quarrel. But I suppose the
centipede poison and the kicking I had given him had upset the one--he
was always a cantankerous sort--and he persuaded the other.
"I remember I was sitting and smoking and boiling up the water over a
spirit-lamp business I used to take on these expeditions. Incidentally
I was admiring the swamp under the sunset. All black and blood-red it
was, in streaks--a beautiful sight. And up beyond the land rose grey
and hazy to the hills, and the sky behind them red, like a furnace
mouth. And fifty yards behind the back of me was these blessed
heathen--quite regardless of the tranquil air of things--plotting
to cut off with the boat and leave me all alone with three days'
provisions and a canvas tent, and nothing to drink whatsoever, beyond
a little keg of water. I heard a kind of yelp behind me, and there
they were in this canoe affair--it wasn't properly a boat--and,
perhaps, twenty yards from land. I realised what was up in a moment.
My gun was in the tent, and, besides, I had no bullets--only duck
shot. They knew that. But I had a little revolver in my pocket, and I
pulled that out as I ran down to the beach.
"'Come back!' says I, flourishing it.
"They jabbered something at me, and the man that broke the egg jeered.
I aimed at the other--because he was unwounded and had the paddle, and
I missed. They laughed. However, I wasn't beat. I knew I had to keep
cool, and I tried him again and made him jump with the whang of it.
He didn't laugh that time. The third time I got his head, and over
he went, and the paddle with him. It was a precious lucky shot for a
revolver. I reckon it was fifty yards. He went right under. I don't
know if he was shot, or simply stunned and drowned. Then I began to
shout to the other chap to come back, but he huddled up in the canoe
and refused to answer. So I fired out my revolver at him and never got
"I felt a precious fool, I can tell you. There I was on this rotten,
black beach, flat swamp all behind me, and the flat sea, cold after
the sunset, and just this black canoe drifting steadily out to sea. I
tell you I damned Dawsons and Jamrachs and Museums and all the rest
of it just to rights. I bawled to this nigger to come back, until my
voice went up into a scream.
"There was nothing for it but to swim after him and take my luck with
the sharks. So I opened my clasp-knife and put it in my mouth, and
took off my clothes and waded in. As soon as I was in the water I lost
sight of the canoe, but I aimed, as I judged, to head it off. I hoped
the man in it was too bad to navigate it, and that it would keep on
drifting in the same direction. Presently it came up over the horizon
again to the south-westward about. The afterglow of sunset was well
over now and the dim of night creeping up. The stars were coming
through the blue. I swum like a champion, though my legs and arms were
"However, I came up to him by the time the stars were fairly out.
As it got darker I began to see all manner of glowing things in the
water--phosphorescence, you know. At times it made me giddy. I hardly
knew which was stars and which was phosphorescence, and whether I was
swimming on my head or my heels. The canoe was as black as sin, and
the ripple under the bows like liquid fire. I was naturally chary of
clambering up into it. I was anxious to see what he was up to first.
He seemed to be lying cuddled up in a lump in the bows, and the stern
was all out of water. The thing kept turning round slowly as it
drifted--kind of waltzing, don't you know. I went to the stern, and
pulled it down, expecting him to wake up. Then I began to clamber in
with my knife in my hand, and ready for a rush. But he never stirred.
So there I sat in the stern of the little canoe, drifting away over
the calm phosphorescent sea, and with all the host of the stars above
me, waiting for something to happen.
"After a long time I called him by name, but he never answered. I was
too tired to take any risks by going along to him. So we sat there. I
fancy I dozed once or twice. When the dawn came I saw he was as dead
as a doornail and all puffed up and purple. My three eggs and the
bones were lying in the middle of the canoe, and the keg of water and
some coffee and biscuits wrapped in a Cape _Argus_ by his feet, and a
tin of methylated spirit underneath him. There was no paddle, nor, in
fact, anything except the spirit-tin that one could use as one, so
I settled to drift until I was picked up. I held an inquest on him,
brought in a verdict against some snake, scorpion, or centipede
unknown, and sent him overboard.
"After that I had a drink of water and a few biscuits, and took a
look round. I suppose a man low down as I was don't see very far;
leastways, Madagascar was clean out of sight, and any trace of land at
all. I saw a sail going south-westward--looked like a schooner, but
her hull never came up. Presently the sun got high in the sky and
began to beat down upon me. Lord! It pretty near made my brains boil.
I tried dipping my head in the sea, but after a while my eye fell on
the Cape _Argus_, and I lay down flat in the canoe and spread this
over me. Wonderful things these newspapers! I never read one through
thoroughly before, but it's odd what you get up to when you're alone,
as I was. I suppose I read that blessed old Cape _Argus_ twenty times.
The pitch in the canoe simply reeked with the heat and rose up into
"I drifted ten days," said the man with the scar. "It's a little thing
in the telling, isn't it? Every day was like the last. Except in the
morning and the evening I never kept a look-out even--the blaze was so
infernal. I didn't see a sail after the first three days, and those
I saw took no notice of me. About the sixth night a ship went by
scarcely half a mile away from me, with all its lights ablaze and its
ports open, looking like a big firefly. There was music aboard. I
stood up and shouted and screamed at it. The second day I broached one
of the Aepyornis eggs, scraped the shell away at the end bit by bit,
and tried it, and I was glad to find it was good enough to eat. A bit
flavoury--not bad, I mean--but with something of the taste of a duck's
egg. There was a kind of circular patch, about six inches across, on
one side of the yolk, and with streaks of blood and a white mark like
a ladder in it that I thought queer, but I did not understand what
this meant at the time, and I wasn't inclined to be particular. The
egg lasted me three days, with biscuits and a drink of water. I chewed
coffee berries too--invigorating stuff. The second egg I opened about
the eighth day, and it scared me."
The man with the scar paused. "Yes," he said, "developing."
"I dare say you find it hard to believe. _I_ did, with the thing
before me. There the egg had been, sunk in that cold black mud,
perhaps three hundred years. But there was no mistaking it. There was
the--what is it?--embryo, with its big head and curved back, and its
heart beating under its throat, and the yolk shrivelled up and great
membranes spreading inside of the shell and all over the yolk. Here
was I hatching out the eggs of the biggest of all extinct birds, in a
little canoe in the midst of the Indian Ocean. If old Dawson had known
that! It was worth four years' salary. What do _you_ think?
"However, I had to eat that precious thing up, every bit of it, before
I sighted the reef, and some of the mouthfuls were beastly unpleasant.
I left the third one alone. I held it up to the light, but the shell
was too thick for me to get any notion of what might be happening
inside; and though I fancied I heard blood pulsing, it might have been
the rustle in my own ears, like what you listen to in a seashell.
"Then came the atoll. Came out of the sunrise, as it were, suddenly,
close up to me. I drifted straight towards it until I was about half a
mile from shore, not more, and then the current took a turn, and I had
to paddle as hard as I could with my hands and bits of the Aepyornis
shell to make the place. However, I got there. It was just a common
atoll about four miles round, with a few trees growing and a spring in
one place, and the lagoon full of parrot-fish. I took the egg ashore
and put it in a good place well above the tide lines and in the sun,
to give it all the chance I could, and pulled the canoe up safe, and
loafed about prospecting. It's rum how dull an atoll is. As soon as I
had found a spring all the interest seemed to vanish. When I was a kid
I thought nothing could be finer or more adventurous than the Robinson
Crusoe business, but that place was as monotonous as a book of
sermons. I went round finding eatable things and generally thinking;
but I tell you I was bored to death before the first day was out.
It shows my luck--the very day I landed the weather changed. A
thunderstorm went by to the north and flicked its wing over the
island, and in the night there came a drencher and a howling wind slap
over us. It wouldn't have taken much, you know, to upset that canoe.
"I was sleeping under the canoe, and the egg was luckily among the
sand higher up the beach, and the first thing I remember was a sound
like a hundred pebbles hitting the boat at once, and a rush of water
over my body. I'd been dreaming of Antananarivo, and I sat up and
holloaed to Intoshi to ask her what the devil was up, and clawed out
at the chair where the matches used to be. Then I remembered where I
was. There were phosphorescent waves rolling up as if they meant to
eat me, and all the rest of the night as black as pitch. The air was
simply yelling. The clouds seemed down on your head almost, and the
rain fell as if heaven was sinking and they were baling out the waters
above the firmament. One great roller came writhing at me, like a
fiery serpent, and I bolted. Then I thought of the canoe, and ran down
to it as the water went hissing back again; but the thing had gone. I
wondered about the egg then, and felt my way to it. It was all right
and well out of reach of the maddest waves, so I sat down beside it
and cuddled it for company. Lord! what a night that was!
"The storm was over before the morning. There wasn't a rag of cloud
left in the sky when the dawn came, and all along the beach there were
bits of plank scattered--which was the disarticulated skeleton, so to
speak, of my canoe. However, that gave me something to do, for, taking
advantage of two of the trees being together, I rigged up a kind of
storm-shelter with these vestiges. And that day the egg hatched.
"Hatched, sir, when my head was pillowed on it and I was asleep. I
heard a whack and felt a jar and sat up, and there was the end of the
egg pecked out and a rum little brown head looking out at me. 'Lord!'
I said, 'you're welcome'; and with a little difficulty he came out.
"He was a nice friendly little chap, at first, about the size of a
small hen--very much like most other young birds, only bigger. His
plumage was a dirty brown to begin with, with a sort of grey scab that
fell off it very soon, and scarcely feathers--a kind of downy hair. I
can hardly express how pleased I was to see him. I tell you, Robinson
Crusoe don't make near enough of his loneliness. But here was
interesting company. He looked at me and winked his eye from the front
backwards, like a hen, and gave a chirp and began to peck about at
once, as though being hatched three hundred years too late was just
nothing. 'Glad to see you, Man Friday!' says I, for I had naturally
settled he was to be called Man Friday if ever he was hatched, as
soon as ever I found the egg in the canoe had developed. I was a bit
anxious about his feed, so I gave him a lump of raw parrot-fish at
once. He took it, and opened his beak for more. I was glad of that,
for, under the circumstances, if he'd been at all fanciful, I should
have had to eat him after all. You'd be surprised what an interesting
bird that Aepyornis chick was. He followed me about from the very
beginning. He used to stand by me and watch while I fished in the
lagoon, and go shares in anything I caught. And he was sensible, too.
There were nasty green warty things, like pickled gherkins, used to
lie about on the beach, and he tried one of these and it upset him. He
never even looked at any of them again.
"And he grew. You could almost see him grow. And as I was never much
of a society man his quiet, friendly ways suited me to a T. For nearly
two years we were as happy as we could be on that island. I had no
business worries, for I knew my salary was mounting up at Dawsons'. We
would see a sail now and then, but nothing ever came near us. I
amused myself, too, by decorating the island with designs worked in
sea-urchins and fancy shells of various kinds. I put AEPYORNIS ISLAND
all round the place very nearly, in big letters, like what you see
done with coloured stones at railway stations in the old country, and
mathematical calculations and drawings of various sorts. And I used to
lie watching the blessed bird stalking round and growing, growing; and
think how I could make a living out of him by showing him about if I
ever got taken off. After his first moult he began to get handsome,
with a crest and a blue wattle, and a lot of green feathers at the
behind of him. And then I used to puzzle whether Dawsons had any right
to claim him or not. Stormy weather and in the rainy season we lay
snug under the shelter I had made out of the old canoe, and I used to
tell him lies about my friends at home. And after a storm we would go
round the island together to see if there was any drift. It was a kind
of idyll, you might say. If only I had had some tobacco it would have
been simply just like Heaven.
"It was about the end of the second year our little paradise went
wrong. Friday was then about fourteen feet high to the bill of him,
with a big, broad head like the end of a pickaxe, and two huge brown
eyes with yellow rims, set together like a man's--not out of sight
of each other like a hen's. His plumage was fine--none of the
half-mourning style of your ostrich--more like a cassowary as far as
colour and texture go. And then it was he began to cock his comb at me
and give himself airs, and show signs of a nasty temper....
"At last came a time when my fishing had been rather unlucky, and he
began to hang about me in a queer, meditative way. I thought he might
have been eating sea-cucumbers or something, but it was really just
discontent on his part. I was hungry too, and when at last I landed a
fish I wanted it for myself. Tempers were short that morning on both
sides. He pecked at it and grabbed it, and I gave him a whack on the
head to make him leave go. And at that he went for me. Lord!...
"He gave me this in the face." The man indicated his scar. "Then he
kicked me. It was like a cart-horse. I got up, and seeing he hadn't
finished, I started off full tilt with my arms doubled up over my
face. But he ran on those gawky legs of his faster than a racehorse,
and kept landing out at me with sledge hammer kicks, and bringing his
pickaxe down on the back of my head. I made for the lagoon, and went
in up to my neck. He stopped at the water, for he hated getting his
feet wet, and began to make a shindy, something like a peacock's, only
hoarser. He started strutting up and down the beach. I'll admit I felt
small to see this blessed fossil lording it there. And my head and
face were all bleeding, and--well, my body just one jelly of bruises.
"I decided to swim across the lagoon and leave him alone for a bit,
until the affair blew over. I shinned up the tallest palm-tree, and
sat there thinking of it all. I don't suppose I ever felt so hurt
by anything before or since. It was the brutal ingratitude of the
creature. I'd been more than a brother to him. I'd hatched him,
educated him. A great gawky, out-of-date bird! And me a human
being--heir of the ages and all that.
"I thought after a time he'd begin to see things in that light
himself, and feel a little sorry for his behaviour. I thought if I
was to catch some nice little bits of fish, perhaps, and go to him
presently in a casual kind of way, and offer them to him, he might do
the sensible thing. It took me some time to learn how unforgiving and
cantankerous an extinct bird can be. Malice!
"I won't tell you all the little devices I tried to get that bird
round again. I simply can't. It makes my cheek burn with shame even
now to think of the snubs and buffets I had from this infernal
curiosity. I tried violence. I chucked lumps of coral at him from a
safe distance, but he only swallowed them. I shied my open knife at
him and almost lost it, though it was too big for him to swallow. I
tried starving him out and struck fishing, but he took to picking
along the beach at low water after worms, and rubbed along on that.
Half my time I spent up to my neck in the lagoon, and the rest up the
palm-trees. One of them was scarcely high enough, and when he caught
me up it he had a regular Bank Holiday with the calves of my legs.
It got unbearable. I don't know if you have ever tried sleeping up a
palm-tree. It gave me the most horrible nightmares. Think of the shame
of it, too! Here was this extinct animal mooning about my island like
a sulky duke, and me not allowed to rest the sole of my foot on the
place. I used to cry with weariness and vexation. I told him straight
that I didn't mean to be chased about a desert island by any damned
anachronisms. I told him to go and peck a navigator of his own age.
But he only snapped his beak at me. Great ugly bird--all legs and
"I shouldn't like to say how long that went on altogether. I'd have
killed him sooner if I'd known how. However, I hit on a way of
settling him at last. It is a South American dodge. I joined all my
fishing-lines together with stems of seaweed and things and made
a stoutish string, perhaps twelve yards in length or more, and I
fastened two lumps of coral rock to the ends of this. It took me some
time to do, because every now and then I had to go into the lagoon or
up a tree as the fancy took me. This I whirled rapidly round my head,
and then let it go at him. The first time I missed, but the next time
the string caught his legs beautifully, and wrapped round them again
and again. Over he went. I threw it standing waist-deep in the lagoon,
and as soon as he went down I was out of the water and sawing at his
neck with my knife ...
"I don't like to think of that even now. I felt like a murderer while
I did it, though my anger was hot against him. When I stood over him
and saw him bleeding on the white sand, and his beautiful great legs
and neck writhing in his last agony ... Pah!
"With that tragedy loneliness came upon me like a curse. Good Lord!
you can't imagine how I missed that bird. I sat by his corpse and
sorrowed over him, and shivered as I looked round the desolate, silent
reef. I thought of what a jolly little bird he had been when he was
hatched, and of a thousand pleasant tricks he had played before he
went wrong. I thought if I'd only wounded him I might have nursed him
round into a better understanding. If I'd had any means of digging
into the coral rock I'd have buried him. I felt exactly as if he was
human. As it was, I couldn't think of eating him, so I put him in the
lagoon, and the little fishes picked him clean. I didn't even save the
feathers. Then one day a chap cruising about in a yacht had a fancy to
see if my atoll still existed.
"He didn't come a moment too soon, for I was about sick enough of the
desolation of it, and only hesitating whether I should walk out into
the sea and finish up the business that way, or fall back on the green
"I sold the bones to a man named Winslow--a dealer near the British
Museum, and he says he sold them to old Havers. It seems Havers didn't
understand they were extra large, and it was only after his death they
attracted attention. They called 'em Aepyornis--what was it?"
"_Aepyornis vastus_," said I. "It's funny, the very thing was
mentioned to me by a friend of mine. When they found an Aepyornis,
with a thigh a yard long, they thought they had reached the top of
the scale, and called him _Aepyornis maximus_. Then someone turned
up another thighbone four feet six or more, and that they called
_Aepyornis Titan_. Then your _vastus_ was found after old Havers died,
in his collection, and then a _vastissimus_ turned up."
"Winslow was telling me as much," said the man with the scar. "If they
get any more Aepyornises, he reckons some scientific swell will go
and burst a bloodvessel. But it was a queer thing to happen to a man;
THE REMARKABLE CASE OF DAVIDSON'S EYES
The transitory mental aberration of Sidney Davidson, remarkable enough
in itself, is still more remarkable if Wade's explanation is to
be credited. It sets one dreaming of the oddest possibilities of
intercommunication in the future, of spending an intercalary five
minutes on the other side of the world, or being watched in our most
secret operations by unsuspected eyes. It happened that I was the
immediate witness of Davidson's seizure, and so it falls naturally to
me to put the story upon paper.
When I say that I was the immediate witness of his seizure, I mean
that I was the first on the scene. The thing happened at the Harlow
Technical College, just beyond the Highgate Archway. He was alone in
the larger laboratory when the thing happened. I was in a smaller
room, where the balances are, writing up some notes. The thunderstorm
had completely upset my work, of course. It was just after one of the
louder peals that I thought I heard some glass smash in the other
room. I stopped writing, and turned round to listen. For a moment
I heard nothing; the hail was playing the devil's tattoo on the
corrugated zinc of the roof. Then came another sound, a smash--no
doubt of it this time. Something heavy had been knocked off the bench.
I jumped up at once and went and opened the door leading into the big
I was surprised to hear a queer sort of laugh, and saw Davidson
standing unsteadily in the middle of the room, with a dazzled look on
his face. My first impression was that he was drunk. He did not notice
me. He was clawing out at something invisible a yard in front of his
face. He put out his hand, slowly, rather hesitatingly, and then
clutched nothing. "What's come to it?" he said. He held up his hands
to his face, fingers spread out. "Great Scot!" he said. The thing
happened three or four years ago, when everyone swore by that
personage. Then he began raising his feet clumsily, as though he had
expected to find them glued to the floor.
"Davidson!" cried I. "What's the matter with you?" He turned round in
my direction and looked about for me. He looked over me and at me
and on either side of me, without the slightest sign of seeing me.
"Waves," he said; "and a remarkably neat schooner. I'd swear that was
Bellows' voice. _Hullo_!" He shouted suddenly at the top of his voice.
I thought he was up to some foolery. Then I saw littered about his
feet the shattered remains of the best of our electrometers. "What's
up, man?" said I. "You've smashed the electrometer!"
"Bellows again!" said he. "Friends left, if my hands are gone.
Something about electrometers. Which way _are_ you, Bellows?" He
suddenly came staggering towards me. "The damned stuff cuts like
butter," he said. He walked straight into the bench and recoiled.
"None so buttery that!" he said, and stood swaying.
I felt scared. "Davidson," said I, "what on earth's come over you?"
He looked round him in every direction. "I could swear that was
Bellows. Why don't you show yourself like a man, Bellows?"
It occurred to me that he must be suddenly struck blind. I walked
round the table and laid my hand upon his arm. I never saw a man more
startled in my life. He jumped away from me, and came round into an
attitude of self-defence, his face fairly distorted with terror. "Good
God!" he cried. "What was that?"
"It's I--Bellows. Confound it, Davidson!"
He jumped when I answered him and stared--how can I express it?--right
through me. He began talking, not to me, but to himself. "Here in
broad daylight on a clear beach. Not a place to hide in." He looked
about him wildly. "Here! I'm _off_." He suddenly turned and ran
headlong into the big electro-magnet--so violently that, as we found
afterwards, he bruised his shoulder and jawbone cruelly. At that he
stepped back a pace, and cried out with almost a whimper, "What, in
heaven's name, has come over me?" He stood, blanched with terror and
trembling violently, with his right arm clutching his left, where that
had collided with the magnet.
By that time I was excited and fairly scared. "Davidson," said I,
"don't be afraid."
He was startled at my voice, but not so excessively as before. I
repeated my words in as clear and firm a tone as I could assume.
"Bellows," he said, "is that you?"
"Can't you see it's me?"
He laughed. "I can't even see it's myself. Where the devil are we?"
"Here," said I, "in the laboratory."
"The laboratory!" he answered, in a puzzled tone, and put his hand to
his forehead. "I _was_ in the laboratory--till that flash came, but
I'm hanged if I'm there now. What ship is that?"
"There's no ship," said I. "Do be sensible, old chap."
"No ship!" he repeated, and seemed to forget my denial forthwith. "I
suppose," said he, slowly, "we're both dead. But the rummy part is I
feel just as though I still had a body. Don't get used to it all at
once, I suppose. The old shop was struck by lightning, I suppose.
Jolly quick thing, Bellows--eigh?"
"Don't talk nonsense. You're very much alive. You are in the
laboratory, blundering about. You've just smashed a new electrometer.
I don't envy you when Boyce arrives."
He stared away from me towards the diagrams of cryohydrates. "I must
be deaf," said he. "They've fired a gun, for there goes the puff of
smoke, and I never heard a sound."
I put my hand on his arm again, and this time he was less alarmed. "We
seem to have a sort of invisible bodies," said he. "By Jove! there's a
boat coming round the headland. It's very much like the old life after
all--in a different climate."
I shook his arm. "Davidson," I cried, "wake up!"
It was just then that Boyce came in. So soon as he spoke Davidson
exclaimed: "Old Boyce! Dead too! What a lark!" I hastened to explain
that Davidson was in a kind of somnambulistic trance. Boyce was
interested at once. We both did all we could to rouse the fellow out
of his extraordinary state. He answered our questions, and asked
us some of his own, but his attention seemed distracted by his
hallucination about a beach and a ship. He kept interpolating
observations concerning some boat and the davits and sails filling
with the wind. It made one feel queer, in the dusky laboratory, to
hear him saying such things.
He was blind and helpless. We had to walk him down the passage, one
at each elbow, to Boyce's private room, and while Boyce talked to
him there, and humoured him about this ship idea, I went along the
corridor and asked old Wade to come and look at him. The voice of our
Dean sobered him a little, but not very much. He asked where his hands
were, and why he had to walk about up to his waist in the ground. Wade
thought over him a long time--you know how he knits his brows--and
then made him feel the couch, guiding his hands to it. "That's a
couch," said Wade. "The couch in the private room of Professor Boyce.
Davidson felt about, and puzzled over it, and answered presently that
he could feel it all right, but he couldn't see it.
"What _do_ you see?" asked Wade. Davidson said he could see nothing
but a lot of sand and broken-up shells. Wade gave him some other
things to feel, telling him what they were, and watching him keenly.
"The ship is almost hull down," said Davidson, presently, _apropos_ of
"Never mind the ship," said Wade. "Listen to me, Davidson. Do you know
what hallucination means?"
"Rather," said Davidson.
"Well, everything you see is hallucinatory."
"Bishop Berkeley," said Davidson.
"Don't mistake me," said Wade. "You are alive and in this room of
Boyce's. But something has happened to your eyes. You cannot see; you
can feel and hear, but not see. Do you follow me?"
"It seems to me that I see too much." Davidson rubbed his knuckles
into his eyes. "Well?" he said.
"That's all. Don't let it perplex you. Bellows, here, and I will take
you home in a cab."
"Wait a bit." Davidson thought. "Help me to sit down," said he,
presently; "and now--I'm sorry to trouble you--but will you tell me
all that over again?"
Wade repeated it very patiently. Davidson shut his eyes, and pressed
his hands upon his forehead. "Yes," said he. "It's quite right. Now my
eyes are shut I know you're right. That's you, Bellows, sitting by me
on the couch. I'm in England again. And we're in the dark."
Then he opened his eyes, "And there," said he, "is the sun just
rising, and the yards of the ship, and a tumbled sea, and a couple of
birds flying. I never saw anything so real. And I'm sitting up to my
neck in a bank of sand."
He bent forward and covered his face with his hands. Then he opened
his eyes again. "Dark sea and sunrise! And yet I'm sitting on a sofa
in old Boyce's room! ... God help me!"
That was the beginning. For three weeks this strange affection of
Davidson's eyes continued unabated. It was far worse than being blind.
He was absolutely helpless, and had to be fed like a newly-hatched
bird, and led about and undressed. If he attempted to move he fell
over things or stuck himself against walls or doors. After a day or
so he got used to hearing our voices without seeing us, and willingly
admitted he was at home, and that Wade was right in what he told him.
My sister, to whom he was engaged, insisted on coming to see him, and
would sit for hours every day while he talked about this beach of his.
Holding her hand seemed to comfort him immensely. He explained that
when we left the College and drove home--he lived in Hampstead
village--it appeared to him as if we drove right through a
sandhill--it was perfectly black until he emerged again--and through
rocks and trees and solid obstacles, and when he was taken to his own
room it made him giddy and almost frantic with the fear of falling,
because going upstairs seemed to lift him thirty or forty feet above
the rocks of his imaginary island. He kept saying he should smash all
the eggs. The end was that he had to be taken down into his father's
consulting room and laid upon a couch that stood there.
He described the island as being a bleak kind of place on the whole,
with very little vegetation, except some peaty stuff, and a lot of
bare rock. There were multitudes of penguins, and they made the rocks
white and disagreeable to see. The sea was often rough, and once there
was a thunderstorm, and he lay and shouted at the silent flashes. Once
or twice seals pulled up on the beach, but only on the first two or
three days. He said it was very funny the way in which the penguins
used to waddle right through him, and how he seemed to lie among them
without disturbing them.
I remember one odd thing, and that was when he wanted very badly to
smoke. We put a pipe in his hands--he almost poked his eye out with
it--and lit it. But he couldn't taste anything. I've since found it's
the same with me--I don't know if it's the usual case--that I cannot
enjoy tobacco at all unless I can see the smoke.
But the queerest part of his vision came when Wade sent him out in a
bath-chair to get fresh air. The Davidsons hired a chair, and got that
deaf and obstinate dependent of theirs, Widgery, to attend to it.
Widgery's ideas of healthy expeditions were peculiar. My sister, who
had been to the Dogs' Home, met them in Camden Town, towards King's
Cross, Widgery trotting along complacently, and Davidson evidently
most distressed, trying in his feeble, blind way to attract Widgery's
He positively wept when my sister spoke to him. "Oh, get me out of
this horrible darkness!" he said, feeling for her hand. "I must get
out of it, or I shall die." He was quite incapable of explaining what
was the matter, but my sister decided he must go home, and presently,
as they went up hill towards Hampstead, the horror seemed to drop from
him. He said it was good to see the stars again, though it was then
about noon and a blazing day.
"It seemed," he told me afterwards, "as if I was being carried
irresistibly towards the water. I was not very much alarmed at first.
Of course it was night there--a lovely night."
"Of course?" I asked, for that struck me as odd.
"Of course," said he. "It's always night there when it is day here....
Well, we went right into the water, which was calm and shining under
the moonlight--just a broad swell that seemed to grow broader and
flatter as I came down into it. The surface glistened just like a
skin--it might have been empty space underneath for all I could tell
to the contrary. Very slowly, for I rode slanting into it, the water
crept up to my eyes. Then I went under and the skin seemed to break
and heal again about my eyes. The moon gave a jump up in the sky and
grew green and dim, and fish, faintly glowing, came darting round
me--and things that seemed made of luminous glass, and I passed
through a tangle of seaweeds that shone with an oily lustre. And so I
drove down into the sea, and the stars went out one by one, and the
moon grew greener and darker, and the seaweed became a luminous
purple-red. It was all very faint and mysterious, and everything
seemed to quiver. And all the while I could hear the wheels of the
bath-chair creaking, and the footsteps of people going by, and a man
in the distance selling the special _Pall Mall_.
"I kept sinking down deeper and deeper into the water. It became inky
black about me, not a ray from above came down into that darkness,
and the phosphorescent things grew brighter and brighter. The snaky
branches of the deeper weeds flickered like the flames of spirit
lamps; but, after a time, there were no more weeds. The fishes came
staring and gaping towards me, and into me and through me. I never
imagined such fishes before. They had lines of fire along the sides
of them as though they had been outlined with a luminous pencil. And
there was a ghastly thing swimming backwards with a lot of twining
arms. And then I saw, coming very slowly towards me through the gloom,
a hazy mass of light that resolved itself as it drew nearer into
multitudes of fishes, struggling and darting round something that
drifted. I drove on straight towards it, and presently I saw in the
midst of the tumult, and by the light of the fish, a bit of splintered
spar looming over me, and a dark hull tilting over, and some glowing
phosphorescent forms that were shaken and writhed as the fish bit at
them. Then it was I began to try to attract Widgery's attention.
A horror came upon me. Ugh! I should have driven right into those
half-eaten--things. If your sister had not come! They had great holes
in them, Bellows, and ... Never mind. But it was ghastly!"
For three weeks Davidson remained in this singular state, seeing what
at the time we imagined was an altogether phantasmal world, and stone
blind to the world around him. Then, one Tuesday, when I called I met
old Davidson in the passage. "He can see his thumb!" the old gentleman
said, in a perfect transport. He was struggling into his overcoat. "He
can see his thumb, Bellows!" he said, with the tears in his eyes. "The
lad will be all right yet."
I rushed in to Davidson. He was holding up a little book before his
face, and looking at it and laughing in a weak kind of way.
"It's amazing," said he. "There's a kind of patch come there." He
pointed with his finger. "I'm on the rocks as usual, and the penguins
are staggering and flapping about as usual, and there's been a whale
showing every now and then, but it's got too dark now to make him out.
But put something _there_, and I see it--I do see it. It's very dim
and broken in places, but I see it all the same, like a faint spectre
of itself. I found it out this morning while they were dressing me.
It's like a hole in this infernal phantom world. Just put your hand by
mine. No--not there. Ah! Yes! I see it. The base of your thumb and a
bit of cuff! It looks like the ghost of a bit of your hand sticking
out of the darkling sky. Just by it there's a group of stars like a
cross coming out."
From that time Davidson began to mend. His account of the change, like
his account of the vision, was oddly convincing. Over patches of his
field of vision, the phantom world grew fainter, grew transparent, as
it were, and through these translucent gaps he began to see dimly
the real world about him. The patches grew in size and number, ran
together and spread until only here and there were blind spots left
upon his eyes. He was able to get up and steer himself about, feed
himself once more, read, smoke, and behave like an ordinary citizen
again. At first it was very confusing to him to have these two
pictures overlapping each other like the changing views of a lantern,
but in a little while he began to distinguish the real from the
At first he was unfeignedly glad, and seemed only too anxious to
complete his cure by taking exercise and tonics. But as that odd
island of his began to fade away from him, he became queerly
interested in it. He wanted particularly to go down into the deep sea
again, and would spend half his time wandering about the low lying
parts of London, trying to find the water-logged wreck he had seen
drifting. The glare of real daylight very soon impressed him so
vividly as to blot out everything of his shadowy world, but of a night
time, in a darkened room, he could still see the white-splashed rocks
of the island, and the clumsy penguins staggering to and fro. But even
these grew fainter and fainter, and, at last, soon after he married my
sister, he saw them for the last time.
And now to tell of the queerest thing of all. About two years after
his cure I dined with the Davidsons, and after dinner a man named
Atkins called in. He is a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and
a pleasant, talkative man. He was on friendly terms with my
brother-in-law, and was soon on friendly terms with me. It came out
that he was engaged to Davidson's cousin, and incidentally he took
out a kind of pocket photograph case to show us a new rendering of
_fiancee_. "And, by-the-by," said he, "here's the old _Fulmar_."
Davidson looked at it casually. Then suddenly his face lit up. "Good
heavens!" said he. "I could almost swear--"
"What?" said Atkins.
"That I had seen that ship before."
"Don't see how you can have. She hasn't been out of the South Seas for
six years, and before then--"
"But," began Davidson, and then, "Yes--that's the ship I dreamt of,
I'm sure that's the ship I dreamt of. She was standing off an island
that swarmed with penguins, and she fired a gun."
"Good Lord!" said Atkins, who had now heard the particulars of the
seizure. "How the deuce could you dream that?"
And then, bit by bit, it came out that on the very day Davidson was
seized, H.M.S. _Fulmar_ had actually been off a little rock to
the south of Antipodes Island. A boat had landed overnight to get
penguins' eggs, had been delayed, and a thunderstorm drifting up, the
boat's crew had waited until the morning before rejoining the ship.
Atkins had been one of them, and he corroborated, word for word, the
descriptions Davidson had given of the island and the boat. There is
not the slightest doubt in any of our minds that Davidson has really
seen the place. In some unaccountable way, while he moved hither and
thither in London, his sight moved hither and thither in a manner
that corresponded, about this distant island. _How_ is absolutely a
That completes the remarkable story of Davidson's eyes. It's perhaps
the best authenticated case in existence of a real vision at a
distance. Explanation there is none forthcoming, except what Professor
Wade has thrown out. But his explanation invokes the Fourth Dimension,
and a dissertation on theoretical kinds of space. To talk of there
being "a kink in space" seems mere nonsense to me; it may be because
I am no mathematician. When I said that nothing would alter the fact
that the place is eight thousand miles away, he answered that two
points might be a yard away on a sheet of paper and yet be brought
together by bending the paper round. The reader may grasp his
argument, but I certainly do not. His idea seems to be that Davidson,
stooping between the poles of the big electro-magnet, had some
extraordinary twist given to his retinal elements through the sudden
change in the field of force due to the lightning.
He thinks, as a consequence of this, that it may be possible to live
visually in one part of the world, while one lives bodily in another.
He has even made some experiments in support of his views; but, so
far, he has simply succeeded in blinding a few dogs. I believe that is
the net result of his work, though I have not seen him for some weeks.
Latterly I have been so busy with my work in connection with the Saint
Pancras installation that I have had little opportunity of calling to
see him. But the whole of his theory seems fantastic to me. The facts
concerning Davidson stand on an altogether different footing, and I
can testify personally to the accuracy of every detail I have given.
THE LORD OF THE DYNAMOS
The chief attendant of the three dynamos that buzzed and rattled
at Camberwell, and kept the electric railway going, came out of
Yorkshire, and his name was James Holroyd. He was a practical
electrician, but fond of whisky, a heavy, red-haired brute with
irregular teeth. He doubted the existence of the deity, but accepted
Carnot's cycle, and he had read Shakespeare and found him weak in
chemistry. His helper came out of the mysterious East, and his name
was Azuma-zi. But Holroyd called him Pooh-bah. Holroyd liked a nigger
help because he would stand kicking--a habit with Holroyd--and did not
pry into the machinery and try to learn the ways of it. Certain odd
possibilities of the negro mind brought into abrupt contact with the
crown of our civilisation Holroyd never fully realised, though just at
the end he got some inkling of them.
To define Azuma-zi was beyond ethnology. He was, perhaps, more negroid
than anything else, though his hair was curly rather than frizzy, and
his nose had a bridge. Moreover, his skin was brown rather than black,
and the whites of his eyes were yellow. His broad cheek-bones and
narrow chin gave his face something of the viperine V. His head, too,
was broad behind, and low and narrow at the forehead, as if his brain
had been twisted round in the reverse way to a European's. He was
short of stature and still shorter of English. In conversation he made
numerous odd noises of no known marketable value, and his infrequent
words were carved and wrought into heraldic grotesqueness. Holroyd
tried to elucidate his religious beliefs, and--especially after
whiskey--lectured to him against superstition and missionaries.
Azuma-zi, however, shirked the discussion of his gods, even though he
was kicked for it.
Azuma-zi had come, clad in white but insufficient raiment, out of the
stoke-hole of the _Lord Clive_, from the Straits Settlements, and
beyond, into London. He had heard even in his youth of the greatness
and riches of London, where all the women are white and fair, and
even the beggars in the streets are white, and he had arrived, with
newly-earned gold coins in his pocket, to worship at the shrine of
civilisation. The day of his landing was a dismal one; the sky was
dun, and a wind-worried drizzle filtered down to the greasy streets,
but he plunged boldly into the delights of Shadwell, and was presently
cast up, shattered in health, civilised in costume, penniless, and,
except in matters of the direst necessity, practically a dumb animal,
to toil for James Holroyd and to be bullied by him in the dynamo shed
at Camberwell. And to James Holroyd bullying was a labour of love.
There were three dynamos with their engines at Camberwell. The two
that have been there since the beginning are small machines; the
larger one was new. The smaller machines made a reasonable noise;
their straps hummed over the drums, every now and then the brushes
buzzed and fizzled, and the air churned steadily, whoo! whoo! whoo!
between their poles. One was loose in its foundations and kept the
shed vibrating. But the big dynamo drowned these little noises
altogether with the sustained drone of its iron core, which somehow
set part of the ironwork humming. The place made the visitor's head
reel with the throb, throb, throb of the engines, the rotation of the
big wheels, the spinning ball-valves, the occasional spittings of
the steam, and over all the deep, unceasing, surging note of the
big dynamo. This last noise was from an engineering point of view a
defect, but Azuma-zi accounted it unto the monster for mightiness and
If it were possible we would have the noises of that shed always
about the reader as he reads, we would tell all our story to such
an accompaniment. It was a steady stream of din, from which the
ear picked out first one thread and then another; there was the
intermittent snorting, panting, and seething of the steam engines, the
suck and thud of their pistons, the dull beat on the air as the spokes
of the great driving-wheels came round, a note the leather straps made
as they ran tighter and looser, and a fretful tumult from the dynamos;
and over all, sometimes inaudible, as the ear tired of it, and then
creeping back upon the senses again, was this trombone note of the big
machine. The floor never felt steady and quiet beneath one's feet, but
quivered and jarred. It was a confusing, unsteady place, and enough to
send anyone's thoughts jerking into odd zigzags. And for three months,
while the big strike of the engineers was in progress, Holroyd, who
was a blackleg, and Azuma-zi, who was a mere black, were never out of
the stir and eddy of it, but slept and fed in the little wooden shanty
between the shed and the gates.
Holroyd delivered a theological lecture on the text of his big machine
soon after Azuma-zi came. He had to shout to be heard in the din.
"Look at that," said Holroyd; "where's your 'eathen idol to match
'im?" And Azuma-zi looked. For a moment Holroyd was inaudible, and
then Azuma-zi heard: "Kill a hundred men. Twelve per cent, on the
ordinary shares," said Holroyd, "and that's something like a Gord!"
Holroyd was proud of his big dynamo, and expatiated upon its size and
power to Azuma-zi until heaven knows what odd currents of thought that
and the incessant whirling and shindy set up within the curly black
cranium. He would explain in the most graphic manner the dozen or so
ways in which a man might be killed by it, and once he gave Azuma-zi a
shock as a sample of its quality. After that, in the breathing-times
of his labour--it was heavy labour, being not only his own, but most
of Holroyd's--Azuma-zi would sit and watch the big machine. Now and
then the brushes would sparkle and spit blue flashes, at which Holroyd
would swear, but all the rest was as smooth and rhythmic as breathing.
The band ran shouting over the shaft, and ever behind one as one
watched was the complacent thud of the piston. So it lived all day in
this big airy shed, with him and Holroyd to wait upon it; not prisoned
up and slaving to drive a ship as the other engines he knew--mere
captive devils of the British Solomon--had been, but a machine
enthroned. Those two smaller dynamos, Azuma-zi by force of contrast
despised; the large one he privately christened the Lord of the
Dynamos. They were fretful and irregular, but the big dynamo was
steady. How great it was! How serene and easy in its working! Greater
and calmer even than the Buddahs he had seen at Rangoon, and yet not
motionless, but living! The great black coils spun, spun, spun, the
rings ran round under the brushes, and the deep note of its coil
steadied the whole. It affected Azuma-zi queerly.
Azuma-zi was not fond of labour. He would sit about and watch the Lord
of the Dynamos while Holroyd went away to persuade the yard porter to
get whiskey, although his proper place was not in the dynamo shed but
behind the engines, and, moreover, if Holroyd caught him skulking he
got hit for it with a rod of stout copper wire. He would go and stand
close to the colossus and look up at the great leather band running
overhead. There was a black patch on the band that came round, and it
pleased him somehow among all the clatter to watch this return again
and again. Odd thoughts spun with the whirl of it. Scientific people
tell us that savages give souls to rocks and trees--and a machine is
a thousand times more alive than a rock or a tree. And Azuma-zi was
practically a savage still; the veneer of civilisation lay no deeper
than his slop suit, his bruises, and the coal grime on his face and
hands. His father before him had worshipped a meteoric stone, kindred
blood it may be had splashed the broad wheels of Juggernaut.
He took every opportunity Holroyd gave him of touching and handling
the great dynamo that was fascinating him. He polished and cleaned it
until the metal parts were blinding in the sun. He felt a mysterious
sense of service in doing this. He would go up to it and touch its
spinning coils gently. The gods he had worshipped were all far away.
The people in London hid their gods.
At last his dim feelings grew more distinct, and took shape in
thoughts and at last in acts. When he came into the roaring shed one
morning he salaamed to the Lord of the Dynamos, and then, when Holroyd
was away, he went and whispered to the thundering machine that he
was its servant, and prayed it to have pity on him and save him from
Holroyd. As he did so a rare gleam of light came in through the open
archway of the throbbing machine-shed, and the Lord of the Dynamos, as
he whirled and roared, was radiant with pale gold. Then Azuma-zi knew
that his service was acceptable to his Lord. After that he did not
feel so lonely as he had done, and he had indeed been very much alone
in London. And even when his work time was over, which was rare, he
loitered about the shed.
Then, the next time Holroyd maltreated him, Azuma-zi went presently to
the Lord of the Dynamos and whispered, "Thou seest, O my Lord!" and
the angry whirr of the machinery seemed to answer him. Thereafter it
appeared to him that whenever Holroyd came into the shed a different
note came into the sounds of the dynamo. "My Lord bides his time,"
said Azuma-zi to himself. "The iniquity of the fool is not yet ripe."
And he waited and watched for the day of reckoning. One day there
was evidence of short circuiting, and Holroyd, making an unwary
examination--it was in the afternoon--got a rather severe shock.
Azuma-zi from behind the engine saw him jump off and curse at the
"He is warned," said Azuma-zi to himself. "Surely my Lord is very
Holroyd had at first initiated his "nigger" into such elementary
conceptions of the dynamo's working as would enable him to take
temporary charge of the shed in his absence. But when he noticed the
manner in which Azuma-zi hung about the monster he became suspicious.
He dimly perceived his assistant was "up to something," and connecting
him with the anointing of the coils with oil that had rotted the
varnish in one place, he issued an edict, shouted above the confusion
of the machinery, "Don't 'ee go nigh that big dynamo any more,
Pooh-bah, or a'll take thy skin off!" Besides, if it pleased Azuma-zi
to be near the big machine, it was plain sense and decency to keep him
away from it.
Azuma-zi obeyed at the time, but later he was caught bowing before the
Lord of the Dynamos. At which Holroyd twisted his arm and kicked him
as he turned to go away. As Azuma-zi presently stood behind the
engine and glared at the back of the hated Holroyd, the noises of the
machinery took a new rhythm, and sounded like four words in his native
It is hard to say exactly what madness is. I fancy Azuma-zi was mad.
The incessant din and whirl of the dynamo shed may have churned up his
little store of knowledge and big store of superstitious fancy, at
last, into something akin to frenzy. At any rate, when the idea of
making Holroyd a sacrifice to the Dynamo Fetich was thus suggested to
him, it filled him with a strange tumult of exultant emotion.
That night the two men and their black shadows were alone in the shed
together. The shed was lit with one big arc light that winked and
flickered purple. The shadows lay black behind the dynamos, the ball
governors of the engines whirled from light to darkness, and their
pistons beat loud and steady. The world outside seen through the open
end of the shed seemed incredibly dim and remote. It seemed absolutely
silent, too, since the riot of the machinery drowned every external
sound. Far away was the black fence of the yard with grey shadowy
houses behind, and above was the deep blue sky and the pale little
stars. Azuma-zi suddenly walked across the centre of the shed above
which the leather bands were running, and went into the shadow by
the big dynamo. Holroyd heard a click, and the spin of the armature
"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
"You coffee-headed fool!" gasped Holroyd, with a brown hand at his
throat. "Keep off those contact rings." In another moment he
was tripped and reeling back upon the Lord of the Dynamos. He
instinctively loosened his grip upon his antagonist to save himself
from the machine.
The messenger, sent in furious haste from the station to find out what
had happened in the dynamo shed, met Azuma-zi at the porter's lodge by
the gate. Azuma-zi tried to explain something, but the messenger could
make nothing of the black's incoherent English, and hurried on to the
shed. The machines were all noisily at work, and nothing seemed to be
disarranged. There was, however, a queer smell of singed hair. Then
he saw an odd-looking crumpled mass clinging to the front of the big
dynamo, and, approaching, recognised the distorted remains of Holroyd.
The man stared and hesitated a moment. Then he saw the face, and shut
his eyes convulsively. He turned on his heel before he opened them, so
that he should not see Holroyd again, and went out of the shed to get
advice and help.
When Azuma-zi saw Holroyd die in the grip of the Great Dynamo he had
been a little scared about the consequences of his act. Yet he felt
strangely elated, and knew that the favour of the Lord Dynamo was upon
him. His plan was already settled when he met the man coming from the
station, and the scientific manager who speedily arrived on the scene
jumped at the obvious conclusion of suicide. This expert scarcely
noticed Azuma-zi, except to ask a few questions. Did he see Holroyd
kill himself? Azuma-zi explained he had been out of sight at the
engine furnace until he heard a difference in the noise from the
dynamo. It was not a difficult examination, being untinctured by
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
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 remarkable had ever happened
there. Peeping presently from his engine-room the black saw the Lord
Dynamo spin and whirl beside his little brothers, and the driving
wheels were beating round, and the steam in the pistons went thud,
thud, exactly as it had been earlier in the evening. After all,
from the mechanical point of view, it had been a most insignificant
incident--the mere temporary deflection of a current. But now the
slender form and slender shadow of the scientific manager replaced the
sturdy outline of Holroyd travelling up and down the lane of light
upon the vibrating floor under the straps between the engines and the
"Have I not served my Lord?" said Azuma-zi inaudibly, from his shadow,
and the note of the great dynamo rang out full and clear. As he looked
at the big whirling mechanism the strange fascination of it that had
been a little in abeyance since Holroyd's death resumed its sway.
Never had Azuma-zi seen a man killed so swiftly and pitilessly. The
big humming machine had slain its victim without wavering for a second
from its steady beating. It was indeed a mighty god.
The unconscious scientific manager stood with his back to him,
scribbling on a piece of paper. His shadow lay at the foot of the
"Was the Lord Dynamo still hungry? His servant was ready."
Azuma-zi made a stealthy step forward; then stopped. The scientific
manager suddenly stopped writing, and walked down the shed to the
endmost of the dynamos, and began to examine the brushes.
Azuma-zi hesitated, and then slipped across noiselessly into the
shadow by the switch. There he waited. Presently the manager's
footsteps could be heard returning. He stopped in his old position,
unconscious of the stoker crouching ten feet away from him. Then the
big dynamo suddenly fizzled, and in another moment Azuma-zi had sprung
out of the darkness upon him.
First, the scientific manager was gripped round the body and swung
towards the big dynamo, then, kicking with his knee and forcing his
antagonist's head down with his hands, he loosened the grip on his
waist and swung round away from the machine. Then the black grasped
him again, putting a curly head against his chest, and they swayed and
panted as it seemed for an age or so. Then the scientific manager was
impelled to catch a black ear in his teeth and bite furiously. The
black yelled hideously.
They rolled over on the floor, and the black, who had apparently
slipped from the vice of the teeth or parted with some ear--the
scientific manager wondered which at the time--tried to throttle him.
The scientific manager was making some ineffectual efforts to claw
something with his hands and to kick, when the welcome sound of quick
footsteps sounded on the floor. The next moment Azuma-zi had left him
and darted towards the big dynamo. There was a splutter amid the roar.
The officer of the company who had entered, stood staring as Azuma-zi
caught the naked terminals in his hands, gave one horrible convulsion,
and then hung motionless from the machine, his face violently
"I'm jolly glad you came in when you did," said the scientific
manager, still sitting on the floor.
He looked at the still quivering figure. "It is not a nice death to
die, apparently--but it is quick."
The official was still staring at the body. He was a man of slow
There was a pause.
The scientific manager got up on his feet rather awkwardly. He ran his
fingers along his collar thoughtfully, and moved his head to and fro
"Poor Holroyd! I see now." Then almost mechanically he went towards
the switch in the shadow and turned the current into the railway
circuit again. As he did so the singed body loosened its grip upon the
machine and fell forward on its face. The core of the dynamo roared
out loud and clear, and the armature beat the air.
So ended prematurely the Worship of the Dynamo Deity, perhaps the most
short-lived of all religions. Yet withal it could at least boast a
Martyrdom and a Human Sacrifice.
THE HAMMERPOND PARK BURGLARY
It is a moot point whether burglary is to be considered as a sport, a
trade, or an art. For a trade, the technique is scarcely rigid enough,
and its claims to be considered an art are vitiated by the mercenary
element that qualifies its triumphs. On the whole it seems to be most
justly ranked as sport, a sport for which no rules are at present
formulated, and of which the prizes are distributed in an extremely
informal manner. It was this informality of burglary that led to the
regrettable extinction of two promising beginners at Hammerpond Park.
The stakes offered in this affair consisted chiefly of diamonds and
other personal _bric-a-brac_ belonging to the newly married Lady
Aveling. Lady Aveling, as the reader will remember, was the only
daughter of Mrs Montague Pangs, the well-known hostess. Her marriage
to Lord Aveling was extensively advertised in the papers, the quantity
and quality of her wedding presents, and the fact that the honeymoon
was to be spent at Hammerpond. The announcement of these valuable
prizes created a considerable sensation in the small circle in which
Mr Teddy Watkins was the undisputed leader, and it was decided that,
accompanied by a duly qualified assistant, he should visit the village
of Hammerpond in his professional capacity.
Being a man of naturally retiring and modest disposition, Mr Watkins
determined to make this visit _incog_., and after due consideration of
the conditions of his enterprise, he selected the role of a landscape
artist and the unassuming surname of Smith. He preceded his assistant,
who, it was decided, should join him only on the last afternoon of his
stay at Hammerpond. Now the village of Hammerpond is perhaps one of
the prettiest little corners in Sussex; many thatched houses still
survive, the flint-built church with its tall spire nestling under the
down is one of the finest and least restored in the county, and the
beech-woods and bracken jungles through which the road runs to
the great house are singularly rich in what the vulgar artist and
photographer call "bits." So that Mr Watkins, on his arrival with
two virgin canvases, a brand-new easel, a paint-box, portmanteau, an
ingenious little ladder made in sections (after the pattern of the
late lamented master Charles Peace), crowbar, and wire coils, found
himself welcomed with effusion and some curiosity by half-a-dozen
other brethren of the brush. It rendered the disguise he had chosen
unexpectedly plausible, but it inflicted upon him a considerable
amount of aesthetic conversation for which he was very imperfectly
"Have you exhibited very much?" said Young Person in the bar-parlour
of the "Coach and Horses," where Mr Watkins was skilfully accumulating
local information on the night of his arrival.
"Very little," said Mr Watkins, "just a snack here and there."
"In course. _And_ the Crystal Palace."
"Did they hang you well?" said Porson.
"Don't rot," said Mr Watkins; "I don't like it."
"I mean did they put you in a good place?"
"Whadyer mean?" said Mr Watkins suspiciously. "One 'ud think you were
trying to make out I'd been put away."
Porson had been brought up by aunts, and was a gentlemanly young man
even for an artist; he did not know what being "put away" meant, but
he thought it best to explain that he intended nothing of the sort. As
the question of hanging seemed a sore point with Mr Watkins, he tried
to divert the conversation a little.
"Do you do figure-work at all?"
"No, never had a head for figures," said Mr Watkins, "my miss--Mrs
Smith, I mean, does all that."
"She paints too!" said Porson. "That's rather jolly."
"Very," said Mr Watkins, though he really did not think so, and,
feeling the conversation was drifting a little beyond his grasp,
added, "I came down here to paint Hammerpond House by moonlight."
"Really!" said Porson. "That's rather a novel idea."
"Yes," said Mr Watkins, "I thought it rather a good notion when it
occurred to me. I expect to begin to-morrow night."
"What! You don't mean to paint in the open, by night?"
"I do, though."
"But how will you see your canvas?"
"Have a bloomin' cop's--" began Mr Watkins, rising too quickly to the
question, and then realising this, bawled to Miss Durgan for another
glass of beer. "I'm goin' to have a thing called a dark lantern," he
said to Porson.
"But it's about new moon now," objected Porson. "There won't be any
"There'll be the house," said Watkins, "at any rate. I'm goin', you
see, to paint the house first and the moon afterwards."
"Oh!" said Porson, too staggered to continue the conversation.
"They doo say," said old Durgan, the landlord, who had maintained a
respectful silence during the technical conversation, "as there's no
less than three p'licemen from 'Azelworth on dewty every night in
the house--'count of this Lady Aveling 'n her jewellery. One'm won
fower-and-six last night, off second footman--tossin'."
Towards sunset next day Mr Watkins, virgin canvas, easel, and a
very considerable case of other appliances in hand, strolled up the
pleasant pathway through the beech-woods to Hammerpond Park, and
pitched his apparatus in a strategic position commanding the house.
Here he was observed by Mr Raphael Sant, who was returning across the
park from a study of the chalk-pits. His curiosity having been fired
by Person's account of the new arrival, he turned aside with the idea
of discussing nocturnal art.
Mr Watkins was apparently unaware of his approach. A friendly
conversation with Lady Hammerpond's butler had just terminated, and
that individual, surrounded by the three pet dogs which it was his
duty to take for an airing after dinner had been served, was receding
in the distance. Mr Watkins was mixing colour with an air of great
industry. Sant, approaching more nearly, was surprised to see the
colour in question was as harsh and brilliant an emerald green as it
is possible to imagine. Having cultivated an extreme sensibility to
colour from his earliest years, he drew the air in sharply between his
teeth at the very first glimpse of this brew. Mr Watkins turned round.
He looked annoyed.
"What on earth are you going to do with that _beastly_ green?" said
Mr Watkins realised that his zeal to appear busy in the eyes of the
butler had evidently betrayed him into some technical error. He looked
at Sant and hesitated.
"Pardon my rudeness," said Sant; "but really, that green is altogether
too amazing. It came as a shock. What _do_ you mean to do with it?"
Mr Watkins was collecting his resources. Nothing could save the
situation but decision. "If you come here interrupting my work," he
said, "I'm a-goin' to paint your face with it."
Sant retired, for he was a humourist and a peaceful man. Going down
the hill he met Porson and Wainwright. "Either that man is a genius
or he is a dangerous lunatic," said he. "Just go up and look at his
green." And he continued his way, his countenance brightened by a
pleasant anticipation of a cheerful affray round an easel in the
gloaming, and the shedding of much green paint.
But to Person and Wainwright Mr Watkins was less aggressive, and
explained that the green was intended to be the first coating of his
picture. It was, he admitted in response to a remark, an absolutely
new method, invented by himself. But subsequently he became more
reticent; he explained he was not going to tell every passer-by the
secret of his own particular style, and added some scathing remarks
upon the meanness of people "hanging about" to pick up such tricks of
the masters as they could, which immediately relieved him of their
Twilight deepened, first one then another star appeared. The rooks
amid the tall trees to the left of the house had long since lapsed
into slumbrous silence, the house itself lost all the details of its
architecture and became a dark grey outline, and then the windows of
the salon shone out brilliantly, the conservatory was lighted up, and
here and there a bedroom window burnt yellow. Had anyone approached
the easel in the park it would have been found deserted. One brief
uncivil word in brilliant green sullied the purity of its canvas.
Mr Watkins was busy in the shrubbery with his assistant, who had
discreetly joined him from the carriage-drive.
Mr Watkins was inclined to be self-congratulatory upon the ingenious
device by which he had carried all his apparatus boldly, and in the
sight of all men, right up to the scene of operations. "That's the
dressing-room," he said to his assistant, "and, as soon as the maid
takes the candle away and goes down to supper, we'll call in. My! how
nice the house do look, to be sure, against the starlight, and with
all its windows and lights! Swopme, Jim, I almost wish I _was_ a
painter-chap. Have you fixed that there wire across the path from the
He cautiously approached the house until he stood below the
dressing-room window, and began to put together his folding ladder.
He was much too experienced a practitioner to feel any unusual
excitement. Jim was reconnoitring the smoking-room. Suddenly, close
beside Mr Watkins in the bushes, there was a violent crash and a
stifled curse. Someone had tumbled over the wire which his assistant
had just arranged. He heard feet running on the gravel pathway beyond.
Mr Watkins, like all true artists, was a singularly shy man, and
he incontinently dropped his folding ladder and began running
circumspectly through the shrubbery. He was indistinctly aware of two
people hot upon his heels, and he fancied that he distinguished the
outline of his assistant in front of him. In another moment he had
vaulted the low stone wall bounding the shrubbery, and was in the open
park. Two thuds on the turf followed his own leap.
It was a close chase in the darkness through the trees. Mr Watkins was
a loosely-built man and in good training, and he gained hand-over-hand
upon the hoarsely panting figure in front. Neither spoke, but, as Mr
Watkins pulled up alongside, a qualm of awful doubt came over him. The
other man turned his head at the same moment and gave an exclamation
of surprise. "It's not Jim," thought Mr Watkins, and simultaneously
the stranger flung himself, as it were, at Watkin's knees, and they
were forthwith grappling on the ground together. "Lend a hand, Bill,"
cried the stranger as the third man came up. And Bill did--two hands
in fact, and some accentuated feet. The fourth man, presumably Jim,
had apparently turned aside and made off in a different direction. At
any rate, he did not join the trio.
Mr Watkins' memory of the incidents of the next two minutes is
extremely vague. He has a dim recollection of having his thumb in the
corner of the mouth of the first man, and feeling anxious about
its safety, and for some seconds at least he held the head of the
gentleman answering to the name of Bill, to the ground by the hair. He
was also kicked in a great number of different places, apparently by a
vast multitude of people. Then the gentleman who was not Bill got his
knee below Mr Watkins' diaphragm, and tried to curl him up upon it.
When his sensations became less entangled he was sitting upon the
turf, and eight or ten men--the night was dark, and he was rather too
confused to count--standing round him, apparently waiting for him
to recover. He mournfully assumed that he was captured, and would
probably have made some philosophical reflections on the fickleness of
fortune, had not his internal sensations disinclined him for speech.
He noticed very quickly that his wrists were not handcuffed, and then
a flask of brandy was put in his hands. This touched him a little--it
was such unexpected kindness.
"He's a-comin' round," said a voice which he fancied he recognised as
belonging to the Hammerpond second footman.
"We've got 'em, sir, both of 'em," said the Hammerpond butler, the man
who had handed him the flask. "Thanks to _you_."
No one answered this remark. Yet he failed to see how it applied to
"He's fair dazed," said a strange voice; "the villains half-murdered
Mr Teddy Watkins decided to remain fair dazed until he had a better
grasp of the situation. He perceived that two of the black figures
round him stood side-by-side with a dejected air, and there was
something in the carriage of their shoulders that suggested to his
experienced eye hands that were bound together. Two! In a flash
he rose to his position. He emptied the little flask and
staggered--obsequious hands assisting him--to his feet. There was a
"Shake hands, sir, shake hands," said one of the figures near him.
"Permit me to introduce myself. I am very greatly indebted to you.
It was the jewels of my wife, Lady Aveling, which attracted these
scoundrels to the house."
"Very glad to make your lordship's acquaintance," said Teddy Watkins.
"I presume you saw the rascals making for the shrubbery, and dropped
down on them?"
"That's exactly how it happened," said Mr Watkins.
"You should have waited till they got in at the window," said Lord
Aveling; "they would get it hotter if they had actually committed the
burglary. And it was lucky for you two of the policemen were out by
the gates, and followed up the three of you. I doubt if you could have
secured the two of them--though it was confoundedly plucky of you, all
"Yes, I ought to have thought of all that," said Mr Watkins; "but one
can't think of everythink."
"Certainly not," said Lord Aveling. "I am afraid they have mauled you
a little," he added. The party was now moving towards the house. "You
walk rather lame. May I offer you my arm?"
And instead of entering Hammerpond House by the dressing-room window,
Mr Watkins entered it--slightly intoxicated, and inclined now to
cheerfulness again--on the arm of a real live peer, and by the
front door. "This," thought Mr Watkins, "is burgling in style!" The
"scoundrels," seen by the gaslight, proved to be mere local amateurs
unknown to Mr Watkins, and they were taken down into the pantry and
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