Through A Window, by H. G. Wells
Bacillus and Other Incidents
After his legs were set, they carried Bailey into the study and put
him on a couch before the open window. There he lay, a live—even a
feverish man down to the loins, and below that a double-barrelled
mummy swathed in white wrappings. He tried to read, even tried to
write a little, but most of the time he looked out of the window.
He had thought the window cheerful to begin with, but now he thanked
God for it many times a day. Within, the room was dim and grey, and
in the reflected light the wear of the furniture showed plainly. His
medicine and drink stood on the little table, with such litter as the
bare branches of a bunch of grapes or the ashes of a cigar upon a
green plate, or a day old evening paper. The view outside was flooded
with light, and across the corner of it came the head of the acacia,
and at the foot the top of the balcony-railing of hammered iron. In
the foreground was the weltering silver of the river, never quiet and
yet never tiresome. Beyond was the reedy bank, a broad stretch of
meadow land, and then a dark line of trees ending in a group of
poplars at the distant bend of the river, and, upstanding behind them,
a square church tower.
Up and down the river, all day long, things were passing. Now a string
of barges drifting down to London, piled with lime or barrels of beer;
then a steam-launch, disengaging heavy masses of black smoke, and
disturbing the whole width of the river with long rolling waves; then
an impetuous electric launch, and then a boatload of pleasure-seekers,
a solitary sculler, or a four from some rowing club. Perhaps the river
was quietest of a morning or late at night. One moonlight night some
people drifted down singing, and with a zither playing—it sounded
very pleasantly across the water.
In a few days Bailey began to recognise some of the craft; in a week
he knew the intimate history of half-a-dozen. The launch Luzon, from
Fitzgibbon's, two miles up, would go fretting by, sometimes three or
four times a day, conspicuous with its colouring of Indian-red and
yellow, and its two Oriental attendants; and one day, to Bailey's vast
amusement, the house-boat Purple Emperor came to a stop outside, and
breakfasted in the most shameless domesticity. Then one afternoon, the
captain of a slow-moving barge began a quarrel with his wife as they
came into sight from the left, and had carried it to personal violence
before he vanished behind the window-frame to the right. Bailey
regarded all this as an entertainment got up to while away his
illness, and applauded all the more moving incidents. Mrs Green,
coming in at rare intervals with his meals, would catch him clapping
his hands or softly crying, "Encore!" But the river players had other
engagements, and his encore went unheeded.
"I should never have thought I could take such an interest in things
that did not concern me," said Bailey to Wilderspin, who used to come
in in his nervous, friendly way and try to comfort the sufferer by
being talked to. "I thought this idle capacity was distinctive of
little children and old maids. But it's just circumstances. I simply
can't work, and things have to drift; it's no good to fret and
struggle. And so I lie here and am as amused as a baby with a rattle,
at this river and its affairs.
"Sometimes, of course, it gets a bit dull, but not often.
"I would give anything, Wilderspin, for a swamp—just one swamp—once.
Heads swimming and a steam launch to the rescue, and a chap or so
hauled out with a boat-hook…. There goes Fitzgibbon's launch! They
have a new boat-hook, I see, and the little blackie is still in the
dumps. I don't think he's very well, Wilderspin. He's been like that
for two or three days, squatting sulky-fashion and meditating over the
churning of the water. Unwholesome for him to be always staring at the
frothy water running away from the stern."
They watched the little steamer fuss across the patch of sunlit river,
suffer momentary occultation from the acacia, and glide out of sight
behind the dark window-frame.
"I'm getting a wonderful eye for details," said Bailey: "I spotted
that new boat-hook at once. The other nigger is a funny little chap.
He never used to swagger with the old boat-hook like that."
"Malays, aren't they?" said Wilderspin.
"Don't know," said Bailey. "I thought one called all that sort of
Then he began to tell Wilderspin what he knew of the private affairs
of the houseboat, Purple Emperor. "Funny," he said, "how these
people come from all points of the compass—from Oxford and Windsor,
from Asia and Africa—and gather and pass opposite the window just
to entertain me. One man floated out of the infinite the day before
yesterday, caught one perfect crab opposite, lost and recovered a
scull, and passed on again. Probably he will never come into my life
again. So far as I am concerned, he has lived and had his little
troubles, perhaps thirty—perhaps forty—years on the earth, merely
to make an ass of himself for three minutes in front of my window.
Wonderful thing, Wilderspin, if you come to think of it."
"Yes," said Wilderspin; "isn't it?"
A day or two after this Bailey had a brilliant morning. Indeed,
towards the end of the affair, it became almost as exciting as any
window show very well could be. We will, however, begin at the
Bailey was all alone in the house, for his housekeeper had gone into
the town three miles away to pay bills, and the servant had her
holiday. The morning began dull. A canoe went up about half-past nine,
and later a boat-load of camping men came down. But this was mere
margin. Things became cheerful about ten o'clock.
It began with something white fluttering in the remote distance where
the three poplars marked the river bend. "Pocket-handkerchief," said
Bailey, when he saw it "No. Too big! Flag perhaps."
However, it was not a flag, for it jumped about. "Man in whites
running fast, and this way," said Bailey. "That's luck! But his whites
are precious loose!"
Then a singular thing happened. There was a minute pink gleam among
the dark trees in the distance, and a little puff of pale grey that
began to drift and vanish eastward. The man in white jumped and
continued running. Presently the report of the shot arrived.
"What the devil!" said Bailey. "Looks as if someone was shooting at
He sat up stiffly and stared hard. The white figure was coming along
the pathway through the corn. "It's one of those niggers from the
Fitzgibbon's," said Bailey; "or may I be hanged! I wonder why he keeps
sawing with his arm."
Then three other figures became indistinctly visible against the dark
background of the trees.
Abruptly on the opposite bank a man walked into the picture. He was
black-bearded, dressed in flannels, had a red belt, and a vast grey
felt hat. He walked, leaning very much forward and with his hands
swinging before him. Behind him one could see the grass swept by the
towing-rope of the boat he was dragging. He was steadfastly regarding
the white figure that was hurrying through the corn. Suddenly he
stopped. Then, with a peculiar gesture, Bailey could see that he began
pulling in the tow-rope hand over hand. Over the water could be heard
the voices of the people in the still invisible boat.
"What are you after, Hagshot?" said someone.
The individual with the red belt shouted something that was inaudible,
and went on lugging in the rope, looking over his shoulder at the
advancing white figure as he did so. He came down the bank, and the
rope bent a lane among the reeds and lashed the water between his
Then just the bows of the boat came into view, with the towing-mast
and a tall, fair-haired man standing up and trying to see over the
bank. The boat bumped unexpectedly among the reeds, and the tall,
fair-haired man disappeared suddenly, having apparently fallen back
into the invisible part of the boat. There was a curse and some
indistinct laughter. Hagshot did not laugh, but hastily clambered into
the boat and pushed off. Abruptly the boat passed out of Bailey's
But it was still audible. The melody of voices suggested that its
occupants were busy telling each other what to do.
The running figure was drawing near the bank. Bailey could now see
clearly that it was one of Fitzgibbon's Orientals, and began to
realise what the sinuous thing the man carried in his hand might
be. Three other men followed one another through the corn, and the
foremost carried what was probably the gun. They were perhaps two
hundred yards or more behind the Malay.
"It's a man hunt, by all that's holy!" said Bailey.
The Malay stopped for a moment and surveyed the bank to the right.
Then he left the path, and, breaking through the corn, vanished in
that direction. The three pursuers followed suit, and their heads and
gesticulating arms above the corn, after a brief interval, also went
out of Bailey's field of vision.
Bailey so far forgot himself as to swear. "Just as things were getting
lively!" he said. Something like a woman's shriek came through the
air. Then shouts, a howl, a dull whack upon the balcony outside that
made Bailey jump, and then the report of a gun.
"This is precious hard on an invalid," said Bailey.
But more was to happen yet in his picture. In fact, a great deal more.
The Malay appeared again, running now along the bank up stream.
His stride had more swing and less pace in it than before. He was
threatening someone ahead with the ugly krees he carried. The blade,
Bailey noticed, was dull—it did not shine as steel should.
Then came the tall, fair man, brandishing a boat-hook, and after him
three other men in boating costume, running clumsily with oars.
The man with the grey hat and red belt was not with them. After an
interval the three men with the gun reappeared, still in the corn,
but now near the river bank. They emerged upon the towing-path,
and hurried after the others. The opposite bank was left blank and
The sick-room was disgraced by more profanity. "I would give my life
to see the end of this," said Bailey. There were indistinct shouts up
stream. Once they seemed to be coming nearer, but they disappointed
Bailey sat and grumbled. He was still grumbling when his eye caught
something black and round among the waves. "Hullo!" he said. He looked
narrowly and saw two triangular black bodies frothing every now and
then about a yard in front of this.
He was still doubtful when the little band of pursuers came into sight
again, and began to point to this floating object. They were talking
eagerly. Then the man with the gun took aim.
"He's swimming the river, by George!" said Bailey.
The Malay looked round, saw the gun, and went under. He came up so
close to Bailey's bank of the river that one of the bars of the
balcony hid him for a moment. As he emerged the man with the gun
fired. The Malay kept steadily onward—Bailey could see the wet hair
on his forehead now and the krees between his teeth—and was presently
hidden by the balcony.
This seemed to Bailey an unendurable wrong. The man was lost to him
for ever now, so he thought. Why couldn't the brute have got himself
decently caught on the opposite bank, or shot in the water?
"It's worse than Edwin Drood," said Bailey.
Over the river, too, things had become an absolute blank. All seven
men had gone down stream again, probably to get the boat and follow
across. Bailey listened and waited. There was silence. "Surely it's
not over like this," said Bailey.
Five minutes passed—ten minutes. Then a tug with two barges went up
stream. The attitudes of the men upon these were the attitudes of
those who see nothing remarkable in earth, water, or sky. Clearly the
whole affair had passed out of sight of the river. Probably the hunt
had gone into the beech woods behind the house.
"Confound it!" said Bailey. "To be continued again, and no chance this
time of the sequel. But this is hard on a sick man."
He heard a step on the staircase behind him and looking round saw the
door open. Mrs Green came in and sat down, panting. She still had her
bonnet on, her purse in her hand, and her little brown basket upon her
arm. "Oh, there!" she said, and left Bailey to imagine the rest.
"Have a little whisky and water, Mrs Green, and tell me about it,"
Sipping a little, the lady began to recover her powers of explanation.
One of those black creatures at the Fitzgibbon's had gone mad, and
was running about with a big knife, stabbing people. He had killed
a groom, and stabbed the under-butler, and almost cut the arm off a
"Running amuck with a krees," said Bailey. "I thought that was it."
And he was hiding in the wood when she came through it from the town.
"What! Did he run after you?" asked Bailey, with a certain touch of
glee in his voice.
"No, that was the horrible part of it," Mrs Green explained. She had
been right through the woods and had never known he was there. It
was only when she met young Mr Fitzgibbon carrying his gun in the
shrubbery that she heard anything about it. Apparently, what upset
Mrs Green was the lost opportunity for emotion. She was determined,
however, to make the most of what was left her.
"To think he was there all the time!" she said, over and over again.
Bailey endured this patiently enough for perhaps ten minutes. At last
he thought it advisable to assert himself. "It's twenty past one, Mrs
Green," he said. "Don't you think it time you got me something to
This brought Mrs Green suddenly to her knees.
"Oh Lord, sir!" she said. "Oh! don't go making me go out of this room,
sir, till I know he's caught. He might have got into the house, sir.
He might be creeping, creeping, with that knife of his, along the
passage this very—"
She broke off suddenly and glared over him at the window. Her lower
jaw dropped. Bailey turned his head sharply.
For the space of half a second things seemed just as they were. There
was the tree, the balcony, the shining river, the distant church
tower. Then he noticed that the acacia was displaced about a foot to
the right, and that it was quivering, and the leaves were rustling.
The tree was shaken violently, and a heavy panting was audible.
In another moment a hairy brown hand had appeared and clutched the
balcony railings, and in another the face of the Malay was peering
through these at the man on the couch. His expression was an
unpleasant grin, by reason of the krees he held between his teeth,
and he was bleeding from an ugly wound in his cheek. His hair wet to
drying stuck out like horns from his head. His body was bare save for
the wet trousers that clung to him. Bailey's first impulse was to
spring from the couch, but his legs reminded him that this was
By means of the balcony and tree the man slowly raised himself until
he was visible to Mrs Green. With a choking cry she made for the door
and fumbled with the handle.
Bailey thought swiftly and clutched a medicine bottle in either
hand. One he flung, and it smashed against the acacia. Silently and
deliberately, and keeping his bright eyes fixed on Bailey, the Malay
clambered into the balcony. Bailey, still clutching his second bottle,
but with a sickening, sinking feeling about his heart, watched first
one leg come over the railing and then the other.
It was Bailey's impression that the Malay took about an hour to get
his second leg over the rail. The period that elapsed before the
sitting position was changed to a standing one seemed enormous—days,
weeks, possibly a year or so. Yet Bailey had no clear impression of
anything going on in his mind during that vast period, except a vague
wonder at his inability to throw the second medicine bottle. Suddenly
the Malay glanced over his shoulder. There was the crack of a rifle.
He flung up his arms and came down upon the couch. Mrs Green began a
dismal shriek that seemed likely to last until Doomsday. Bailey stared
at the brown body with its shoulder blade driven in, that writhed
painfully across his legs and rapidly staining and soaking the
spotless bandages. Then he looked at the long krees, with the reddish
streaks upon its blade, that lay an inch beyond the trembling brown
fingers upon the floor. Then at Mrs Green, who had backed hard against
the door and was staring at the body and shrieking in gusty outbursts
as if she would wake the dead. And then the body was shaken by one
last convulsive effort.
The Malay gripped the krees, tried to raise himself with his left
hand, and collapsed. Then he raised his head, stared for a moment
at Mrs Green, and twisting his face round looked at Bailey. With a
gasping groan the dying man succeeded in clutching the bed clothes
with his disabled hand, and by a violent effort, which hurt Bailey's
legs exceedingly, writhed sideways towards what must be his last
victim. Then something seemed released in Bailey's mind and he brought
down the second bottle with all his strength on to the Malay's face.
The krees fell heavily upon the floor.
"Easy with those legs," said Bailey, as young Fitzgibbon and one of
the boating party lifted the body off him.
Young Fitzgibbon was very white in the face. "I didn't mean to kill
him," he said.
"It's just as well," said Bailey.