Venus by Maurice Baring
John Fletcher was an overworked minor official in a Government office. He
lived a lonely life, and had done so ever since he had been a boy. At
school he had mixed little with his fellow school-boys, and he took no
interest in the things that interested them, that is to say, games. On the
other hand, although he was what is called "good at work," and did his
lessons with facility and ease, he was not a literary boy, and did not
care for books. He was drawn towards machinery of all kinds, and spent his
spare time in dabbling in scientific experiments or in watching trains go
by on the Great Western line. Once he blew off his eyebrows while making
some experiment with explosive chemicals; his hands were always smudged
with dark, mysterious stains, and his room was like that of a mediaeval
alchemist, littered with retorts, bottles, and test-glasses. Before
leaving school he invented a flying machine (heavier than air), and an
unsuccessful attempt to start it on the high road caused him to be the
victim of much chaff and ridicule.
When he left school he went to Oxford. His life there was as lonely as it
had been at school. The dirty, untidy, ink-stained, and chemical-stained
little boy grew up into a tall, lank, slovenly-dressed man, who kept
entirely to himself, not because he cherished any dislike or disdain for
his fellow-creatures, but because he seemed to be entirely absorbed in his
own thoughts and isolated from the world by a barrier of dreams.
He did well at Oxford, and when he went down he passed high into the Civil
Service and became a clerk in a Government office. There he kept as much
to himself as ever. He did his work rapidly and well, for this man, who
seemed so slovenly in his person, had an accurate mind, and was what was
called a good clerk, although his incurable absent-mindedness once or
twice caused him to forget certain matters of importance.
His fellow clerks treated him as a crank and as a joke, but none of them,
try as they would, could get to know him or win his confidence. They used
to wonder what Fletcher did with his spare time, what were his pursuits,
what were his hobbies, if he had any. They suspected that Fletcher had
some hobby of an engrossing kind, since in everyday life he conveyed the
impression of a man who is walking in his sleep, who acts mechanically and
automatically. Somewhere else, they thought, in some other circumstances,
he must surely wake up and take a living interest in somebody or in
Yet had they followed him home to his small room in Canterbury-mansions
they would have been astonished. For when he returned from the office
after a hard day's work he would do nothing more engrossing than slowly to
turn over the leaves of a book in which there were elaborate drawings and
diagrams of locomotives and other kinds of engines. And on Sunday he would
take a train to one of the large junctions and spend the whole day in
watching express trains go past, and in the evening would return again to
One day after he had returned from the office somewhat earlier than usual,
he was telephoned for. He had no telephone in his own room, but he could
use a public telephone which was attached to the building. He went into
the small box, but found on reaching the telephone that he had been cut
off by the exchange. He imagined that he had been rung up by the office,
so he asked to be given their number. As he did so his eye caught an
advertisement which was hung just over the telephone. It was an elaborate
design in black and white, pointing out the merits of a particular kind of
soap called the Venus: a classical lady, holding a looking-glass in one
hand and a cake of this invaluable soap in the other, was standing in a
sphere surrounded by pointed rays, which was no doubt intended to
represent the most brilliant of the planets.
Fletcher sat down on the stool and took the receiver in his hand. As he
did so he had for one second the impression that the floor underneath him
gave way and that he was falling down a precipice. But before he had time
to realise what was happening the sensation of falling left him; he shook
himself as though he had been asleep, and for one moment a faint
recollection as though of the dreams of the night twinkled in his mind,
and vanished beyond all possibility of recall. He said to himself that he
had had a long and curious dream, and he knew that it was too late to
remember what it had been about. Then he opened his eyes wide and looked
He was standing on the slope of a hill. At his feet there was a kind of
green moss, very soft to tread on. It was sprinkled here and there with
light red, wax-like flowers such as he had never seen before. He was
standing in an open space; beneath him there was a plain covered with what
seemed to be gigantic mushrooms, much taller than a man. Above him rose a
mass of vegetation, and over all this was a dense, heavy, streaming cloud
faintly glimmering with a white, silvery light which seemed to be beyond
He walked towards the vegetation, and soon found himself in the middle of
a wood, or rather of a jungle. Tangled plants grew on every side; large
hanging creepers with great blue flowers hung downwards. There was a
profound stillness in this wood; there were no birds singing and he heard
not the slightest rustle in the rich undergrowth. It was oppressively hot
and the air was full of a pungent, aromatic sweetness. He felt as though
he were in a hot-house full of gardenias and stephanotis. At the same time
the atmosphere of the place was pleasant to him. It was neither strange
nor disagreeable. He felt at home in this green shimmering jungle and in
this hot, aromatic twilight, as though he had lived there all his life.
He walked mechanically onwards as if he were going to a definite spot of
which he knew. He walked fast, but in spite of the oppressive atmosphere
and the thickness of the growth he grew neither hot nor out of breath; on
the contrary, he took pleasure in the motion, and the stifling, sweet air
seemed to invigorate him. He walked steadily on for over three hours,
choosing his way nicely, avoiding certain places and seeking others,
following a definite path and making for a definite goal. During all this
time the stillness continued unbroken, nor did he meet a single living
thing, either bird or beast.
After he had been walking for what seemed to him several hours, the
vegetation grew thinner, the jungle less dense, and from a more or less
open space in it he seemed to discern what might have been a mountain
entirely submerged in a multitude of heavy grey clouds. He sat down on the
green stuff which was like grass and yet was not grass, at the edge of the
open space whence he got this view, and quite naturally he picked from the
boughs of an overhanging tree a large red, juicy fruit, and ate it. Then
he said to himself, he knew not why, that he must not waste time, but must
be moving on.
He took a path to the right of him and descended the sloping jungle with
big, buoyant strides, almost running; he knew the way as though he had
been down that path a thousand times. He knew that in a few moments he
would reach a whole hanging garden of red flowers, and he knew that when
he had reached this he must again turn to the right. It was as he thought:
the red flowers soon came to view. He turned sharply, and then through the
thinning greenery he caught sight of an open plain where more mushrooms
grew. But the plain was as yet a great way off, and the mushrooms seemed
"I shall get there in time," he said to himself, and walked steadily on,
looking neither to the right nor to the left. It was evening by the time
he reached the edge of the plain: everything was growing dark. The endless
vapours and the high banks of cloud in which the whole of this world was
sunk grew dimmer and dimmer. In front of him was an empty level space, and
about two miles further on the huge mushrooms stood out, tall and wide
like the monuments of some prehistoric age. And underneath them on the
soft carpet there seemed to move a myriad vague and shadowy forms.
"I shall get there in time," he thought. He walked on for another half
hour, and by this time the tall mushrooms were quite close to him, and he
could see moving underneath them, distinctly now, green, living creatures
like huge caterpillars, with glowing eyes. They moved slowly and did not
seem to interfere with each other in any way. Further off, and beyond
them, there was a broad and endless plain of high green stalks like ears
of green wheat or millet, only taller and thinner.
He ran on, and now at his very feet, right in front of him, the green
caterpillars were moving. They were as big as leopards. As he drew nearer
they seemed to make way for him, and to gather themselves into groups
under the thick stems of the mushrooms. He walked along the pathway they
made for him, under the shadow of the broad, sunshade-like roofs of these
gigantic growths. It was almost dark now, yet he had no doubt or
difficulty as to finding his way. He was making for the green plain
beyond. The ground was dense with caterpillars; they were as plentiful as
ants in an ant's nest, and yet they never seemed to interfere with each
other or with him; they instinctively made way for him, nor did they
appear to notice him in any way. He felt neither surprise nor wonder at
It grew quite dark; the only lights which were in this world came from the
twinkling eyes of the moving figures, which shone like little stars. The
night was no whit cooler than the day. The atmosphere was as steamy, as
dense and as aromatic as before. He walked on and on, feeling no trace of
fatigue or hunger, and every now and then he said to himself: "I shall be
there in time." The plain was flat and level, and covered the whole way
with the mushrooms, whose roofs met and shut out from him the sight of the
At last he came to the end of the plain of mushrooms and reached the high
green stalks he had been making for. Beyond the dark clouds a silver
glimmer had begun once more to show itself. "I am just in time," he said
to himself, "the night is over, the sun is rising."
At that moment there was a great whirr in the air, and from out of the
green stalks rose a flight of millions and millions of enormous
broad-winged butterflies of every hue and description—silver, gold,
purple, brown and blue. Some with dark and velvety wings like the Purple
Emperor, or the Red Admiral, others diaphanous and iridescent as
dragon-flies. Others again like vast soft and silvery moths. They rose
from every part of that green plain of stalks, they filled the sky, and
then soared upwards and disappeared into the silvery cloudland.
Fletcher was about to leap forward when he heard a voice in his ear saying—
"Are you 6493 Victoria? You are talking to the Home Office."
As soon as Fletcher heard the voice of the office messenger through the
telephone he instantly realised his surroundings, and the strange
experience he had just gone through, which had seemed so long and which in
reality had been so brief, left little more impression on him than that
which remains with a man who has been immersed in a brown study or who has
been staring at something, say a poster in the street, and has not noticed
the passage of time.
The next day he returned to his work at the office, and his fellow-clerks,
during the whole of the next week, noticed that he was more zealous and
more painstaking than ever. On the other hand, his periodical fits of
abstraction grew more frequent and more pronounced. On one occasion he
took a paper to the head of the department for signature, and after it had
been signed, instead of removing it from the table, he remained staring in
front of him, and it was not until the head of the department had called
him three times loudly by name that he took any notice and regained
possession of his faculties. As these fits of absent-mindedness grew to be
somewhat severely commented on, he consulted a doctor, who told him that
what he needed was change of air, and advised him to spend his Sundays at
Brighton or at some other bracing and exhilarating spot. Fletcher did not
take the doctor's advice, but continued spending his spare time as he did
before, that is to say, in going to some big junction and watching the
express trains go by all day long.
One day while he was thus employed—it was Sunday, in August of 19—,
when the Egyptian Exhibition was attracting great crowds of visitors—and
sitting, as was his habit, on a bench on the centre platform of Slough
Station, he noticed an Indian pacing up and down the platform, who every
now and then stopped and regarded him with peculiar interest, hesitating
as though he wished to speak to him. Presently the Indian came and sat
down on the same bench, and after having sat there in silence for some
minutes he at last made a remark about the heat.
"Yes," said Fletcher, "it is trying, especially for people like myself,
who have to remain in London during these months."
"You are in an office, no doubt," said the Indian.
"Yes," said Fletcher.
"And you are no doubt hard worked."
"Our hours are not long," Fletcher replied, "and I should not complain of
overwork if I did not happen to suffer from—well, I don't know what
it is, but I suppose they would call it nerves."
"Yes," said the Indian, "I could see that by your eyes."
"I am a prey to sudden fits of abstraction," said Fletcher, "they are
growing upon me. Sometimes in the office I forget where I am altogether
for a space of about two or three minutes; people are beginning to notice
it and to talk about it. I have been to a doctor, and he said I needed
change of air. I shall have my leave in about a month's time, and then
perhaps I shall get some change of air, but I doubt if it will do me any
good. But these fits are annoying, and once something quite uncanny seemed
to happen to me."
The Indian showed great interest and asked for further details concerning
this strange experience, and Fletcher told him all that he could recall—for
the memory of it was already dimmed—of what had happened when he had
telephoned that night.
The Indian was thoughtful for a while after hearing this tale. At last he
said: "I am not a doctor, I am not even what you call a quack doctor—I
am a mere conjurer, and I gain my living by conjuring tricks and
fortune-telling at the Exhibition which is going on in London. But
although I am a poor man and an ignorant man, I have an inkling, a few
sparks in me of ancient knowledge, and I know what is the matter with
"What is it?" asked Fletcher.
"You have the power, or something has the power," said the Indian, "of
detaching you from your actual body, and your astral body has been into
another planet. By your description I think it must be the planet Venus.
It may happen to you again, and for a longer period—for a very much
"Is there anything I can do to prevent it?" asked Fletcher.
"Nothing," said the Indian. "You can try change of air if you like, but,"
he said with a smile, "I do not think it will do you much good."
At that moment a train came in, and the Indian said good-bye and jumped
On the next day, which was Monday, when Fletcher got to the office it was
necessary for him to use the telephone with regard to some business. No
sooner had he taken the receiver off the telephone than he vividly
recalled the minute details of the evening he had telephoned, when the
strange experience had come to him. The advertisement of Venus Soap that
had hung in the telephone box in his house appeared distinctly before him,
and as he thought of that he once more experienced a falling sensation
which lasted only a fraction of a second, and rubbing his eyes he awoke to
find himself in the tepid atmosphere of a green and humid world.
This time he was not near the wood, but on the sea-shore. In front of him
was a grey sea, smooth as oil and clouded with steaming vapours, and
behind him the wide green plain stretched into a cloudy distance. He could
discern, faint on the far-off horizon, the shadowy forms of the gigantic
mushrooms which he knew, and on the level plain which reached the sea
beach, but not so far off as the mushrooms, he could plainly see the huge
green caterpillars moving slowly and lazily in an endless herd. The sea
was breaking on the sand with a faint moan. But almost at once he became
aware of another sound, which came he knew not whence, and which was
familiar to him. It was a low whistling noise, and it seemed to come from
At that moment Fletcher was seized by an unaccountable panic. He was
afraid of something; he did not know what it was, but he knew, he felt
absolutely certain, that some danger, no vague calamity, no distant
misfortune, but some definite physical danger was hanging over him and
quite close to him—something from which it would be necessary to run
away, and to run fast in order to save his life. And yet there was no sign
of danger visible, for in front of him was the motionless oily sea, and
behind him was the empty and silent plain. It was then he noticed that the
caterpillars were fast disappearing, as if into the earth: he was too far
off to make out how.
He began to run along the coast. He ran as fast as he could, but he dared
not look round. He ran back from the coast to the plain, from which a
white mist was rising. By this time every single caterpillar had
disappeared. The whistling noise continued and grew louder.
At last he reached the wood and bounded on, trampling down long trailing
grasses and tangled weeds through the thick, muggy gloom of those endless
aisles of jungle. He came to a somewhat open space where there was the
trunk of a tree larger than the others; it stood by itself and disappeared
into the tangle of creepers above. He thought he would climb the tree, but
the trunk was too wide, and his efforts failed. He stood by the tree
trembling and panting with fear. He could not hear a sound, but he felt
that the danger, whatever it was, was at hand.
It grew darker and darker. It was night in the forest. He stood paralysed
with terror; he felt as though bound hand and foot, but there was nothing
to be done except to wait until his invisible enemy should choose to
inflict his will on him and achieve his doom. And yet the agony of this
suspense was so terrible that he felt that if it lasted much longer
something must inevitably break inside him . . . and just as he was
thinking that eternity could not be so long as the moments he was passing
through, a blessed unconsciousness came over him. He woke from this state
to find himself face to face with one of the office messengers, who said
to him that he had been given his number two or three times but had taken
no notice of it.
Fletcher executed his commission and then went upstairs to his office. His
fellow-clerks at once asked what had happened to him, for he was looking
white. He said that he had a headache and was not feeling quite himself,
but made no further explanations.
This last experience changed the whole tenor of his life. When fits of
abstraction had occurred to him before he had not troubled about them, and
after his first strange experience he had felt only vaguely interested;
but now it was a different matter. He was consumed with dread lest the
thing should occur again. He did not want to get back to that green world
and that oily sea; he did not want to hear the whistling noise, and to be
pursued by an invisible enemy. So much did the dread of this weigh on him
that he refused to go to the telephone lest the act of telephoning should
set alight in his mind the train of associations and bring his thoughts
back to his dreadful experience.
Shortly after this he went for leave, and following the doctor's advice he
spent it by the sea. During all this time he was perfectly well, and was
not once troubled by his curious fits. He returned to London in the autumn
refreshed and well.
On the first day that he went to the office a friend of his telephoned to
him. When he was told that the line was being held for him he hesitated,
but at last he went down to the telephone office.
He remained away twenty minutes. Finally his prolonged absence was
noticed, and he was sent for. He was found in the telephone room stiff and
unconscious, having fallen forward on the telephone desk. His face was
quite white, and his eyes wide open and glazed with an expression of
piteous and harrowing terror. When they tried to revive him their efforts
were in vain. A doctor was sent for, and he said that Fletcher had died of