THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER INCIDENTS
BY H. G. WELLS
AUTHOR OF "THE TIME MACHINE"
METHUEN & CO.
36 ESSEX STREET, STRAND
H.B. MARRIOTT WATSON
Most of the stories in this collection appeared originally in the
Pall Mall Budget, two were published in the Pall Mall Gazette,
and one in St James's Gazette. I desire to make the usual
acknowledgments. The third story in the book was, I find, reprinted
by the Observatory, and the "Lord of the Dynamos" by the Melbourne
I. THE STOLEN BACILLUS
II. THE FLOWERING OF THE STRANGE ORCHID
III. IN THE AVU OBSERVATORY
IV. THE TRIUMPHS OF A TAXIDERMIST
V. A DEAL IN OSTRICHES
VI. THROUGH A WINDOW
VII. THE TEMPTATION OF HARRINGAY
VIII. THE FLYING MAN
IX. THE DIAMOND MAKER
X. AEPYORNIS ISLAND
XI. THE REMARKABLE CASE OF DAVIDSON'S EYES
XII. THE LORD OF THE DYNAMOS
XIII. THE HAMMERPOND PARK BURGLARY
XIV. A MOTH—GENUS NOVO
XV. THE TREASURE IN THE FOREST
THE STOLEN BACILLUS
"This again," said the Bacteriologist, slipping a glass slide under
the microscope, "is a preparation of the celebrated Bacillus of
cholera—the cholera germ."
The pale-faced man peered down the microscope. He was evidently not
accustomed to that kind of thing, and held a limp white hand over his
disengaged eye. "I see very little," he said.
"Touch this screw," said the Bacteriologist; "perhaps the microscope
is out of focus for you. Eyes vary so much. Just the fraction of a
turn this way or that."
"Ah! now I see," said the visitor. "Not so very much to see after all.
Little streaks and shreds of pink. And yet those little particles,
those mere atomies, might multiply and devastate a city! Wonderful!"
He stood up, and releasing the glass slip from the microscope, held
it in his hand towards the window. "Scarcely visible," he said,
scrutinising the preparation. He hesitated. "Are these—alive? Are
they dangerous now?"
"Those have been stained and killed," said the Bacteriologist. "I
wish, for my own part, we could kill and stain every one of them in
"I suppose," the pale man said with a slight smile, "that you scarcely
care to have such things about you in the living—in the active
"On the contrary, we are obliged to," said the Bacteriologist. "Here,
for instance—" He walked across the room and took up one of several
sealed tubes. "Here is the living thing. This is a cultivation of the
actual living disease bacteria." He hesitated, "Bottled cholera, so to
A slight gleam of satisfaction appeared momentarily in the face of the
"It's a deadly thing to have in your possession," he said, devouring
the little tube with his eyes. The Bacteriologist watched the morbid
pleasure in his visitor's expression. This man, who had visited
him that afternoon with a note of introduction from an old friend,
interested him from the very contrast of their dispositions. The lank
black hair and deep grey eyes, the haggard expression and nervous
manner, the fitful yet keen interest of his visitor were a novel
change from the phlegmatic deliberations of the ordinary scientific
worker with whom the Bacteriologist chiefly associated. It was perhaps
natural, with a hearer evidently so impressionable to the lethal
nature of his topic, to take the most effective aspect of the matter.
He held the tube in his hand thoughtfully. "Yes, here is the
pestilence imprisoned. Only break such a little tube as this into a
supply of drinking-water, say to these minute particles of life that
one must needs stain and examine with the highest powers of the
microscope even to see, and that one can neither smell nor taste—say
to them, 'Go forth, increase and multiply, and replenish the
cisterns,' and death—mysterious, untraceable death, death swift and
terrible, death full of pain and indignity—would be released upon
this city, and go hither and thither seeking his victims. Here he
would take the husband from the wife, here the child from its mother,
here the statesman from his duty, and here the toiler from his
trouble. He would follow the water-mains, creeping along streets,
picking out and punishing a house here and a house there where they
did not boil their drinking-water, creeping into the wells of the
mineral-water makers, getting washed into salad, and lying dormant in
ices. He would wait ready to be drunk in the horse-troughs, and by
unwary children in the public fountains. He would soak into the soil,
to reappear in springs and wells at a thousand unexpected places. Once
start him at the water supply, and before we could ring him in, and
catch him again, he would have decimated the metropolis."
He stopped abruptly. He had been told rhetoric was his weakness.
"But he is quite safe here, you know—quite safe."
The pale-faced man nodded. His eyes shone. He cleared his throat.
"These Anarchist—rascals," said he, "are fools, blind fools—to use
bombs when this kind of thing is attainable. I think—"
A gentle rap, a mere light touch of the finger-nails was heard at the
door. The Bacteriologist opened it. "Just a minute, dear," whispered
When he re-entered the laboratory his visitor was looking at his
watch. "I had no idea I had wasted an hour of your time," he said.
"Twelve minutes to four. I ought to have left here by half-past three.
But your things were really too interesting. No, positively I cannot
stop a moment longer. I have an engagement at four."
He passed out of the room reiterating his thanks, and the
Bacteriologist accompanied him to the door, and then returned
thoughtfully along the passage to his laboratory. He was musing on the
ethnology of his visitor. Certainly the man was not a Teutonic type
nor a common Latin one. "A morbid product, anyhow, I am afraid," said
the Bacteriologist to himself. "How he gloated on those cultivations
of disease-germs!" A disturbing thought struck him. He turned to the
bench by the vapour-bath, and then very quickly to his writing-table.
Then he felt hastily in his pockets, and then rushed to the door. "I
may have put it down on the hall table," he said.
"Minnie!" he shouted hoarsely in the hall.
"Yes, dear," came a remote voice.
"Had I anything in my hand when I spoke to you, dear, just now?"
"Nothing, dear, because I remember—"
"Blue ruin!" cried the Bacteriologist, and incontinently ran to the
front door and down the steps of his house to the street.
Minnie, hearing the door slam violently, ran in alarm to the
window. Down the street a slender man was getting into a cab. The
Bacteriologist, hatless, and in his carpet slippers, was running and
gesticulating wildly towards this group. One slipper came off, but
he did not wait for it. "He has gone mad!" said Minnie; "it's that
horrid science of his"; and, opening the window, would have called
after him. The slender man, suddenly glancing round, seemed struck
with the same idea of mental disorder. He pointed hastily to the
Bacteriologist, said something to the cabman, the apron of the cab
slammed, the whip swished, the horse's feet clattered, and in a moment
cab, and Bacteriologist hotly in pursuit, had receded up the vista of
the roadway and disappeared round the corner.
Minnie remained straining out of the window for a minute. Then she
drew her head back into the room again. She was dumbfounded. "Of
course he is eccentric," she meditated. "But running about London—in
the height of the season, too—in his socks!" A happy thought struck
her. She hastily put her bonnet on, seized his shoes, went into the
hall, took down his hat and light overcoat from the pegs, emerged upon
the doorstep, and hailed a cab that opportunely crawled by. "Drive
me up the road and round Havelock Crescent, and see if we can find a
gentleman running about in a velveteen coat and no hat."
"Velveteen coat, ma'am, and no 'at. Very good, ma'am." And the cabman
whipped up at once in the most matter-of-fact way, as if he drove to
this address every day in his life.
Some few minutes later the little group of cabmen and loafers that
collects round the cabmen's shelter at Haverstock Hill were startled
by the passing of a cab with a ginger-coloured screw of a horse,
They were silent as it went by, and then as it receded—"That's 'Arry
'Icks. Wot's he got?" said the stout gentleman known as Old Tootles.
"He's a-using his whip, he is, to rights," said the ostler boy.
"Hullo!" said poor old Tommy Byles; "here's another bloomin' loonatic.
Blowed if there aint."
"It's old George," said old Tootles, "and he's drivin' a loonatic,
as you say. Aint he a-clawin' out of the keb? Wonder if he's after
The group round the cabmen's shelter became animated. Chorus: "Go it,
George!" "It's a race." "You'll ketch 'em!" "Whip up!"
"She's a goer, she is!" said the ostler boy.
"Strike me giddy!" cried old Tootles. "Here! I'm a-goin' to begin
in a minute. Here's another comin'. If all the kebs in Hampstead aint
gone mad this morning!"
"It's a fieldmale this time," said the ostler boy.
"She's a followin' him," said old Tootles. "Usually the other way
"What's she got in her 'and?"
"Looks like a 'igh 'at."
"What a bloomin' lark it is! Three to one on old George," said the
ostler boy. "Nexst!"
Minnie went by in a perfect roar of applause. She did not like it but
she felt that she was doing her duty, and whirled on down Haverstock
Hill and Camden Town High Street with her eyes ever intent on the
animated back view of old George, who was driving her vagrant husband
so incomprehensibly away from her.
The man in the foremost cab sat crouched in the corner, his arms
tightly folded, and the little tube that contained such vast
possibilities of destruction gripped in his hand. His mood was a
singular mixture of fear and exultation. Chiefly he was afraid of
being caught before he could accomplish his purpose, but behind this
was a vaguer but larger fear of the awfulness of his crime. But his
exultation far exceeded his fear. No Anarchist before him had ever
approached this conception of his. Ravachol, Vaillant, all those
distinguished persons whose fame he had envied dwindled into
insignificance beside him. He had only to make sure of the water
supply, and break the little tube into a reservoir. How brilliantly
he had planned it, forged the letter of introduction and got into the
laboratory, and how brilliantly he had seized his opportunity! The
world should hear of him at last. All those people who had sneered at
him, neglected him, preferred other people to him, found his company
undesirable, should consider him at last. Death, death, death! They
had always treated him as a man of no importance. All the world had
been in a conspiracy to keep him under. He would teach them yet what
it is to isolate a man. What was this familiar street? Great Saint
Andrew's Street, of course! How fared the chase? He craned out of the
cab. The Bacteriologist was scarcely fifty yards behind. That was bad.
He would be caught and stopped yet. He felt in his pocket for money,
and found half-a-sovereign. This he thrust up through the trap in the
top of the cab into the man's face. "More," he shouted, "if only we
The money was snatched out of his hand. "Right you are," said the
cabman, and the trap slammed, and the lash lay along the glistening
side of the horse. The cab swayed, and the Anarchist, half-standing
under the trap, put the hand containing the little glass tube upon the
apron to preserve his balance. He felt the brittle thing crack, and
the broken half of it rang upon the floor of the cab. He fell back
into the seat with a curse, and stared dismally at the two or three
drops of moisture on the apron.
"Well! I suppose I shall be the first. Phew! Anyhow, I shall be a
Martyr. That's something. But it is a filthy death, nevertheless. I
wonder if it hurts as much as they say."
Presently a thought occurred to him—he groped between his feet. A
little drop was still in the broken end of the tube, and he drank that
to make sure. It was better to make sure. At any rate, he would not
Then it dawned upon him that there was no further need to escape the
Bacteriologist. In Wellington Street he told the cabman to stop, and
got out. He slipped on the step, and his head felt queer. It was rapid
stuff this cholera poison. He waved his cabman out of existence, so to
speak, and stood on the pavement with his arms folded upon his breast
awaiting the arrival of the Bacteriologist. There was something tragic
in his pose. The sense of imminent death gave him a certain dignity.
He greeted his pursuer with a defiant laugh.
"Vive l'Anarchie! You are too late, my friend. I have drunk it. The
cholera is abroad!"
The Bacteriologist from his cab beamed curiously at him through his
spectacles. "You have drunk it! An Anarchist! I see now." He was about
to say something more, and then checked himself. A smile hung in the
corner of his mouth. He opened the apron of his cab as if to descend,
at which the Anarchist waved him a dramatic farewell and strode off
towards Waterloo Bridge, carefully jostling his infected body against
as many people as possible. The Bacteriologist was so preoccupied with
the vision of him that he scarcely manifested the slightest surprise
at the appearance of Minnie upon the pavement with his hat and shoes
and overcoat. "Very good of you to bring my things," he said,
and remained lost in contemplation of the receding figure of the
"You had better get in," he said, still staring. Minnie felt
absolutely convinced now that he was mad, and directed the cabman home
on her own responsibility. "Put on my shoes? Certainly dear," said
he, as the cab began to turn, and hid the strutting black figure,
now small in the distance, from his eyes. Then suddenly something
grotesque struck him, and he laughed. Then he remarked, "It is really
very serious, though."
"You see, that man came to my house to see me, and he is an Anarchist.
No—don't faint, or I cannot possibly tell you the rest. And I wanted
to astonish him, not knowing he was an Anarchist, and took up a
cultivation of that new species of Bacterium I was telling you of,
that infest, and I think cause, the blue patches upon various monkeys;
and like a fool, I said it was Asiatic cholera. And he ran away with
it to poison the water of London, and he certainly might have made
things look blue for this civilised city. And now he has swallowed it.
Of course, I cannot say what will happen, but you know it turned
that kitten blue, and the three puppies—in patches, and the
sparrow—bright blue. But the bother is, I shall have all the trouble
and expense of preparing some more.
"Put on my coat on this hot day! Why? Because we might meet Mrs
Jabber. My dear, Mrs Jabber is not a draught. But why should I wear a
coat on a hot day because of Mrs—. Oh! very well."
THE FLOWERING OF THE STRANGE ORCHID
The buying of orchids always has in it a certain speculative flavour.
You have before you the brown shrivelled lump of tissue, and for
the rest you must trust your judgment, or the auctioneer, or your
good-luck, as your taste may incline. The plant may be moribund or
dead, or it may be just a respectable purchase, fair value for your
money, or perhaps—for the thing has happened again and again—there
slowly unfolds before the delighted eyes of the happy purchaser, day
after day, some new variety, some novel richness, a strange twist
of the labellum, or some subtler colouration or unexpected mimicry.
Pride, beauty, and profit blossom together on one delicate green
spike, and, it may be, even immortality. For the new miracle of Nature
may stand in need of a new specific name, and what so convenient as
that of its discoverer? "Johnsmithia"! There have been worse names.
It was perhaps the hope of some such happy discovery that made
Winter-Wedderburn such a frequent attendant at these sales—that hope,
and also, maybe, the fact that he had nothing else of the slightest
interest to do in the world. He was a shy, lonely, rather ineffectual
man, provided with just enough income to keep off the spur of
necessity, and not enough nervous energy to make him seek any exacting
employments. He might have collected stamps or coins, or translated
Horace, or bound books, or invented new species of diatoms. But, as it
happened, he grew orchids, and had one ambitious little hothouse.
"I have a fancy," he said over his coffee, "that something is going to
happen to me to-day." He spoke—as he moved and thought—slowly.
"Oh, don't say that!" said his housekeeper—who was also his remote
cousin. For "something happening" was a euphemism that meant only one
thing to her.
"You misunderstand me. I mean nothing unpleasant … though what I do
mean I scarcely know.
"To-day," he continued, after a pause, "Peters' are going to sell a
batch of plants from the Andamans and the Indies. I shall go up and
see what they have. It may be I shall buy something good, unawares.
That may be it."
He passed his cup for his second cupful of coffee.
"Are these the things collected by that poor young fellow you told me
of the other day?" asked his cousin as she filled his cup.
"Yes," he said, and became meditative over a piece of toast.
"Nothing ever does happen to me," he remarked presently, beginning
to think aloud. "I wonder why? Things enough happen to other people.
There is Harvey. Only the other week; on Monday he picked up sixpence,
on Wednesday his chicks all had the staggers, on Friday his cousin
came home from Australia, and on Saturday he broke his ankle. What a
whirl of excitement!—compared to me."
"I think I would rather be without so much excitement," said his
housekeeper. "It can't be good for you."
"I suppose it's troublesome. Still … you see, nothing ever happens
to me. When I was a little boy I never had accidents. I never fell in
love as I grew up. Never married…. I wonder how it feels to have
something happen to you, something really remarkable.
"That orchid-collector was only thirty-six—twenty years younger than
myself—when he died. And he had been married twice and divorced once;
he had had malarial fever four times, and once he broke his thigh. He
killed a Malay once, and once he was wounded by a poisoned dart. And in
the end he was killed by jungle-leeches. It must have all been
very troublesome, but then it must have been very interesting, you
know—except, perhaps, the leeches."
"I am sure it was not good for him," said the lady, with conviction.
"Perhaps not." And then Wedderburn looked at his watch. "Twenty-three
minutes past eight. I am going up by the quarter to twelve train,
so that there is plenty of time. I think I shall wear my alpaca
jacket—it is quite warm enough—and my grey felt hat and brown shoes.
He glanced out of the window at the serene sky and sunlit garden, and
then nervously at his cousin's face.
"I think you had better take an umbrella if you are going to London,"
she said in a voice that admitted of no denial. "There's all between
here and the station coming back."
When he returned he was in a state of mild excitement. He had made a
purchase. It was rare that he could make up his mind quickly enough to
buy, but this time he had done so.
"There are Vandas," he said, "and a Dendrobe and some Palaeonophis."
He surveyed his purchases lovingly as he consumed his soup. They were
laid out on the spotless tablecloth before him, and he was telling his
cousin all about them as he slowly meandered through his dinner. It
was his custom to live all his visits to London over again in the
evening for her and his own entertainment.
"I knew something would happen to-day. And I have bought all these.
Some of them—some of them—I feel sure, do you know, that some of
them will be remarkable. I don't know how it is, but I feel just
as sure as if someone had told me that some of these will turn out
"That one"—he pointed to a shrivelled rhizome—"was not identified.
It may be a Palaeonophis—or it may not. It may be a new species,
or even a new genus. And it was the last that poor Batten ever
"I don't like the look of it," said his housekeeper. "It's such an
"To me it scarcely seems to have a shape."
"I don't like those things that stick out," said his housekeeper.
"It shall be put away in a pot to-morrow."
"It looks," said the housekeeper, "like a spider shamming dead."
Wedderburn smiled and surveyed the root with his head on one side. "It
is certainly not a pretty lump of stuff. But you can never judge of
these things from their dry appearance. It may turn out to be a very
beautiful orchid indeed. How busy I shall be to-morrow! I must see
to-night just exactly what to do with these things, and to-morrow I
shall set to work."
"They found poor Batten lying dead, or dying, in a mangrove swamp—I
forget which," he began again presently, "with one of these very
orchids crushed up under his body. He had been unwell for some days
with some kind of native fever, and I suppose he fainted. These
mangrove swamps are very unwholesome. Every drop of blood, they say,
was taken out of him by the jungle-leeches. It may be that very plant
that cost him his life to obtain."
"I think none the better of it for that."
"Men must work though women may weep," said Wedderburn with profound
"Fancy dying away from every comfort in a nasty swamp! Fancy being ill
of fever with nothing to take but chlorodyne and quinine—if men were
left to themselves they would live on chlorodyne and quinine—and no
one round you but horrible natives! They say the Andaman islanders are
most disgusting wretches—and, anyhow, they can scarcely make good
nurses, not having the necessary training. And just for people in
England to have orchids!"
"I don't suppose it was comfortable, but some men seem to enjoy that
kind of thing," said Wedderburn. "Anyhow, the natives of his party
were sufficiently civilised to take care of all his collection until
his colleague, who was an ornithologist, came back again from the
interior; though they could not tell the species of the orchid and had
let it wither. And it makes these things more interesting."
"It makes them disgusting. I should be afraid of some of the malaria
clinging to them. And just think, there has been a dead body lying
across that ugly thing! I never thought of that before. There! I
declare I cannot eat another mouthful of dinner."
"I will take them off the table if you like, and put them in the
window-seat. I can see them just as well there."
The next few days he was indeed singularly busy in his steamy little
hothouse, fussing about with charcoal, lumps of teak, moss, and all
the other mysteries of the orchid cultivator. He considered he was
having a wonderfully eventful time. In the evening he would talk about
these new orchids to his friends, and over and over again he reverted
to his expectation of something strange.
Several of the Vandas and the Dendrobium died under his care, but
presently the strange orchid began to show signs of life. He was
delighted and took his housekeeper right away from jam-making to see
it at once, directly he made the discovery.
"That is a bud," he said, "and presently there will be a lot of leaves
there, and those little things coming out here are aërial rootlets."
"They look to me like little white fingers poking out of the brown,"
said his housekeeper. "I don't like them."
"I don't know. They look like fingers trying to get at you. I can't
help my likes and dislikes."
"I don't know for certain, but I don't think there are any orchids I
know that have aërial rootlets quite like that. It may be my fancy, of
course. You see they are a little flattened at the ends."
"I don't like 'em," said his housekeeper, suddenly shivering and
turning away. "I know it's very silly of me—and I'm very sorry,
particularly as you like the thing so much. But I can't help thinking
of that corpse."
"But it may not be that particular plant. That was merely a guess of
His housekeeper shrugged her shoulders. "Anyhow I don't like it," she
Wedderburn felt a little hurt at her dislike to the plant. But that
did not prevent his talking to her about orchids generally, and this
orchid in particular, whenever he felt inclined.
"There are such queer things about orchids," he said one day;
"such possibilities of surprises. You know, Darwin studied their
fertilisation, and showed that the whole structure of an ordinary
orchid-flower was contrived in order that moths might carry the pollen
from plant to plant. Well, it seems that there are lots of orchids
known the flower of which cannot possibly be used for fertilisation in
that way. Some of the Cypripediums, for instance; there are no insects
known that can possibly fertilise them, and some of them have never be
found with seed."
"But how do they form new plants?"
"By runners and tubers, and that kind of outgrowth. That is easily
explained. The puzzle is, what are the flowers for?
"Very likely," he added, "my orchid may be something extraordinary
in that way. If so I shall study it. I have often thought of making
researches as Darwin did. But hitherto I have not found the time, or
something else has happened to prevent it. The leaves are beginning to
unfold now. I do wish you would come and see them!"
But she said that the orchid-house was so hot it gave her the
headache. She had seen the plant once again, and the aërial rootlets,
which were now some of them more than a foot long, had unfortunately
reminded her of tentacles reaching out after something; and they got
into her dreams, growing after her with incredible rapidity. So that
she had settled to her entire satisfaction that she would not see that
plant again, and Wedderburn had to admire its leaves alone. They were
of the ordinary broad form, and a deep glossy green, with splashes and
dots of deep red towards the base. He knew of no other leaves quite
like them. The plant was placed on a low bench near the thermometer,
and close by was a simple arrangement by which a tap dripped on the
hot-water pipes and kept the air steamy. And he spent his afternoons
now with some regularity meditating on the approaching flowering of
this strange plant.
And at last the great thing happened. Directly he entered the little
glass house he knew that the spike had burst out, although his great
Palaeonophis Lowii hid the corner where his new darling stood.
There was a new odour in the air, a rich, intensely sweet scent, that
overpowered every other in that crowded, steaming little greenhouse.
Directly he noticed this he hurried down to the strange orchid. And,
behold! the trailing green spikes bore now three great splashes of
blossom, from which this overpowering sweetness proceeded. He stopped
before them in an ecstasy of admiration.
The flowers were white, with streaks of golden orange upon the petals;
the heavy labellum was coiled into an intricate projection, and a
wonderful bluish purple mingled there with the gold. He could see at
once that the genus was altogether a new one. And the insufferable
scent! How hot the place was! The blossoms swam before his eyes.
He would see if the temperature was right. He made a step towards the
thermometer. Suddenly everything appeared unsteady. The bricks on the
floor were dancing up and down. Then the white blossoms, the green
leaves behind them, the whole greenhouse, seemed to sweep sideways,
and then in a curve upward.
* * * * *
At half-past four his cousin made the tea, according to their
invariable custom. But Wedderburn did not come in for his tea.
"He is worshipping that horrid orchid," she told herself, and waited
ten minutes. "His watch must have stopped. I will go and call him."
She went straight to the hothouse, and, opening the door, called his
name. There was no reply. She noticed that the air was very close, and
loaded with an intense perfume. Then she saw something lying on the
bricks between the hot-water pipes.
For a minute, perhaps, she stood motionless.
He was lying, face upward, at the foot of the strange orchid. The
tentacle-like aërial rootlets no longer swayed freely in the air, but
were crowded together, a tangle of grey ropes, and stretched tight
with their ends closely applied to his chin and neck and hands.
She did not understand. Then she saw from under one of the exultant
tentacles upon his cheek there trickled a little thread of blood.
With an inarticulate cry she ran towards him, and tried to pull him
away from the leech-like suckers. She snapped two of these tentacles,
and their sap dripped red.
Then the overpowering scent of the blossom began to make her head
reel. How they clung to him! She tore at the tough ropes, and he and
the white inflorescence swam about her. She felt she was fainting,
knew she must not. She left him and hastily opened the nearest door,
and, after she had panted for a moment in the fresh air, she had a
brilliant inspiration. She caught up a flower-pot and smashed in the
windows at the end of the green-house. Then she re-entered. She tugged
now with renewed strength at Wedderburn's motionless body, and brought
the strange orchid crashing to the floor. It still clung with the
grimmest tenacity to its victim. In a frenzy, she lugged it and him
into the open air.
Then she thought of tearing through the sucker rootlets one by one,
and in another minute she had released him and was dragging him away
from the horror.
He was white and bleeding from a dozen circular patches.
The odd-job man was coming up the garden, amazed at the smashing of
glass, and saw her emerge, hauling the inanimate body with red-stained
hands. For a moment he thought impossible things.
"Bring some water!" she cried, and her voice dispelled his fancies.
When, with unnatural alacrity, he returned with the water, he found
her weeping with excitement, and with Wedderburn's head upon her knee,
wiping the blood from his face.
"What's the matter?" said Wedderburn, opening his eyes feebly, and
closing them again at once.
"Go and tell Annie to come out here to me, and then go for Doctor
Haddon at once," she said to the odd-job man so soon as he brought the
water; and added, seeing he hesitated, "I will tell you all about it
when you come back."
Presently Wedderburn opened his eyes again, and, seeing that he was
troubled by the puzzle of his position, she explained to him, "You
fainted in the hothouse."
"And the orchid?"
"I will see to that," she said.
Wedderburn had lost a good deal of blood, but beyond that he had
suffered no very great injury. They gave him brandy mixed with some
pink extract of meat, and carried him upstairs to bed. His housekeeper
told her incredible story in fragments to Dr Haddon. "Come to the
orchid-house and see," she said.
The cold outer air was blowing in through the open door, and the
sickly perfume was almost dispelled. Most of the torn aërial rootlets
lay already withered amidst a number of dark stains upon the bricks.
The stem of the inflorescence was broken by the fall of the plant, and
the flowers were growing limp and brown at the edges of the petals.
The doctor stooped towards it, then saw that one of the aërial
rootlets still stirred feebly, and hesitated.
The next morning the strange orchid still lay there, black now and
putrescent. The door banged intermittently in the morning breeze, and
all the array of Wedderburn's orchids was shrivelled and prostrate.
But Wedderburn himself was bright and garrulous upstairs in the glory
of his strange adventure.
IN THE AVU OBSERVATORY
The observatory at Avu, in Borneo, stands on the spur of the mountain.
To the north rises the old crater, black at night against the
unfathomable blue of the sky. From the little circular building, with
its mushroom dome, the slopes plunge steeply downward into the black
mysteries of the tropical forest beneath. The little house in which
the observer and his assistant live is about fifty yards from the
observatory, and beyond this are the huts of their native attendants.
Thaddy, the chief observer, was down with a slight fever. His
assistant, Woodhouse, paused for a moment in silent contemplation of
the tropical night before commencing his solitary vigil. The night
was very still. Now and then voices and laughter came from the native
huts, or the cry of some strange animal was heard from the midst of
the mystery of the forest. Nocturnal insects appeared in ghostly
fashion out of the darkness, and fluttered round his light. He
thought, perhaps, of all the possibilities of discovery that still
lay in the black tangle beneath him; for to the naturalist the virgin
forests of Borneo are still a wonderland full of strange questions and
half-suspected discoveries. Woodhouse carried a small lantern in his
hand, and its yellow glow contrasted vividly with the infinite series
of tints between lavender-blue and black in which the landscape was
painted. His hands and face were smeared with ointment against the
attacks of the mosquitoes.
Even in these days of celestial photography, work done in a purely
temporary erection, and with only the most primitive appliances in
addition to the telescope, still involves a very large amount of
cramped and motionless watching. He sighed as he thought of the
physical fatigues before him, stretched himself, and entered the
The reader is probably familiar with the structure of an ordinary
astronomical observatory. The building is usually cylindrical in
shape, with a very light hemispherical roof capable of being turned
round from the interior. The telescope is supported upon a stone
pillar in the centre, and a clockwork arrangement compensates for the
earth's rotation, and allows a star once found to be continuously
observed. Besides this, there is a compact tracery of wheels and
screws about its point of support, by which the astronomer adjusts it.
There is, of course, a slit in the movable roof which follows the eye
of the telescope in its survey of the heavens. The observer sits or
lies on a sloping wooden arrangement, which he can wheel to any part
of the observatory as the position of the telescope may require.
Within it is advisable to have things as dark as possible, in order to
enhance the brilliance of the stars observed.
The lantern flared as Woodhouse entered his circular den, and the
general darkness fled into black shadows behind the big machine, from
which it presently seemed to creep back over the whole place again as
the light waned. The slit was a profound transparent blue, in which
six stars shone with tropical brilliance, and their light lay, a
pallid gleam, along the black tube of the instrument. Woodhouse
shifted the roof, and then proceeding to the telescope, turned first
one wheel and then another, the great cylinder slowly swinging into a
new position. Then he glanced through the finder, the little
companion telescope, moved the roof a little more, made some further
adjustments, and set the clockwork in motion. He took off his jacket,
for the night was very hot, and pushed into position the uncomfortable
seat to which he was condemned for the next four hours. Then with a
sigh he resigned himself to his watch upon the mysteries of space.
There was no sound now in the observatory, and the lantern waned
steadily. Outside there was the occasional cry of some animal in alarm
or pain, or calling to its mate, and the intermittent sounds of the
Malay and Dyak servants. Presently one of the men began a queer
chanting song, in which the others joined at intervals. After this it
would seem that they turned in for the night, for no further sound
came from their direction, and the whispering stillness became more
and more profound.
The clockwork ticked steadily. The shrill hum of a mosquito explored
the place and grew shriller in indignation at Woodhouse's ointment.
Then the lantern went out and all the observatory was black.
Woodhouse shifted his position presently, when the slow movement of
the telescope had carried it beyond the limits of his comfort.
He was watching a little group of stars in the Milky Way, in one of
which his chief had seen or fancied a remarkable colour variability.
It was not a part of the regular work for which the establishment
existed, and for that reason perhaps Woodhouse was deeply interested.
He must have forgotten things terrestrial. All his attention was
concentrated upon the great blue circle of the telescope field—a
circle powdered, so it seemed, with an innumerable multitude of stars,
and all luminous against the blackness of its setting. As he watched
he seemed to himself to become incorporeal, as if he too were floating
in the ether of space. Infinitely remote was the faint red spot he was
Suddenly the stars were blotted out. A flash of blackness passed, and
they were visible again.
"Queer," said Woodhouse. "Must have been a bird."
The thing happened again, and immediately after the great tube
shivered as though it had been struck. Then the dome of the
observatory resounded with a series of thundering blows. The stars
seemed to sweep aside as the telescope—which had been undamped—swung
round and away from the slit in the roof.
"Great Scott!" cried Woodhouse. "What's this?"
Some huge vague black shape, with a flapping something like a wing,
seemed to be struggling in the aperture of the roof. In another moment
the slit was clear again, and the luminous haze of the Milky Way shone
warm and bright.
The interior of the roof was perfectly black, and only a scraping
sound marked the whereabouts of the unknown creature.
Woodhouse had scrambled from the seat to his feet. He was trembling
violently and in a perspiration with the suddenness of the occurrence.
Was the thing, whatever it was, inside or out? It was big, whatever
else it might be. Something shot across the skylight, and the
telescope swayed. He started violently and put his arm up. It was
in the observatory, then, with him. It was clinging to the roof,
apparently. What the devil was it? Could it see him?
He stood for perhaps a minute in a state of stupefaction. The beast,
whatever it was, clawed at the interior of the dome, and then
something flapped almost into his face, and he saw the momentary
gleam of starlight on a skin like oiled leather. His water-bottle was
knocked off his little table with a smash.
The sense of some strange bird-creature hovering a few yards from his
face in the darkness was indescribably unpleasant to Woodhouse. As his
thought returned he concluded that it must be some night-bird or large
bat. At any risk he would see what it was, and pulling a match from
his pocket, he tried to strike it on the telescope seat. There was a
smoking streak of phosphorescent light, the match flared for a moment,
and he saw a vast wing sweeping towards him, a gleam of grey-brown
fur, and then he was struck in the face and the match knocked out of
his hand. The blow was aimed at his temple, and a claw tore sideways
down to his cheek. He reeled and fell, and he heard the extinguished
lantern smash. Another blow followed as he fell. He was partly
stunned, he felt his own warm blood stream out upon his face.
Instinctively he felt his eyes had been struck at, and, turning over
on his face to protect them, tried to crawl under the protection of
the telescope. He was struck again upon the back, and he heard his
jacket rip, and then the thing hit the roof of the observatory. He
edged as far as he could between the wooden seat and the eyepiece of
the instrument, and turned his body round so that it was chiefly his
feet that were exposed. With these he could at least kick. He was
still in a mystified state. The strange beast banged about in the
darkness, and presently clung to the telescope, making it sway and the
gear rattle. Once it flapped near him, and he kicked out madly and
felt a soft body with his feet. He was horribly scared now. It must be
a big thing to swing the telescope like that. He saw for a moment the
outline of a head black against the starlight, with sharply-pointed
upstanding ears and a crest between them. It seemed to him to be as
big as a mastiff's. Then he began to bawl out as loudly as he could for
At that the thing came down upon him again. As it did so his hand
touched something beside him on the floor. He kicked out, and the
next moment his ankle was gripped and held by a row of keen teeth. He
yelled again, and tried to free his leg by kicking with the other.
Then he realised he had the broken water-bottle at his hand, and,
snatching it, he struggled into a sitting posture, and feeling in the
darkness towards his foot, gripped a velvety ear, like the ear of a
big cat. He had seized the water-bottle by its neck and brought it
down with a shivering crash upon the head of the strange beast. He
repeated the blow, and then stabbed and jobbed with the jagged end of
it, in the darkness, where he judged the face might be.
The small teeth relaxed their hold, and at once Woodhouse pulled his
leg free and kicked hard. He felt the sickening feel of fur and bone
giving under his boot. There was a tearing bite at his arm, and he
struck over it at the face, as he judged, and hit damp fur.
There was a pause; then he heard the sound of claws and the dragging
of a heavy body away from him over the observatory floor. Then there
was silence, broken only by his own sobbing breathing, and a sound
like licking. Everything was black except the parallelogram of the
blue skylight with the luminous dust of stars, against which the end
of the telescope now appeared in silhouette. He waited, as it seemed,
an interminable time. Was the thing coming on again? He felt in his
trouser-pocket for some matches, and found one remaining. He tried
to strike this, but the floor was wet, and it spat and went out. He
cursed. He could not see where the door was situated. In his struggle
he had quite lost his bearings. The strange beast, disturbed by the
splutter of the match, began to move again. "Time!" called Woodhouse,
with a sudden gleam of mirth, but the thing was not coming at him
again. He must have hurt it, he thought, with the broken bottle. He
felt a dull pain in his ankle. Probably he was bleeding there. He
wondered if it would support him if he tried to stand up. The night
outside was very still. There was no sound of any one moving. The
sleepy fools had not heard those wings battering upon the dome, nor
his shouts. It was no good wasting strength in shouting. The monster
flapped its wings and startled him into a defensive attitude. He hit
his elbow against the seat, and it fell over with a crash. He cursed
this, and then he cursed the darkness.
Suddenly the oblong patch of starlight seemed to sway to and fro. Was
he going to faint? It would never do to faint. He clenched his fists
and set his teeth to hold himself together. Where had the door got
to? It occurred to him he could get his bearings by the stars visible
through the skylight. The patch of stars he saw was in Sagittarius and
south-eastward; the door was north—or was it north by west? He tried
to think. If he could get the door open he might retreat. It might be
the thing was wounded. The suspense was beastly. "Look here!" he said,
"if you don't come on, I shall come at you."
Then the thing began clambering up the side of the observatory, and
he saw its black outline gradually blot out the skylight. Was it in
retreat? He forgot about the door, and watched as the dome shifted and
creaked. Somehow he did not feel very frightened or excited now. He
felt a curious sinking sensation inside him. The sharply-defined patch
of light, with the black form moving across it, seemed to be growing
smaller and smaller. That was curious. He began to feel very thirsty,
and yet he did not feel inclined to get anything to drink. He seemed
to be sliding down a long funnel.
He felt a burning sensation in his throat, and then he perceived it
was broad daylight, and that one of the Dyak servants was looking at
him with a curious expression. Then there was the top of Thaddy's face
upside down. Funny fellow, Thaddy, to go about like that! Then he
grasped the situation better, and perceived that his head was on
Thaddy's knee, and Thaddy was giving him brandy. And then he saw the
eyepiece of the telescope with a lot of red smears on it. He began to
"You've made this observatory in a pretty mess," said Thaddy.
The Dyak boy was beating up an egg in brandy. Woodhouse took this and
sat up. He felt a sharp twinge of pain. His ankle was tied up, so were
his arm and the side of his face. The smashed glass, red-stained,
lay about the floor, the telescope seat was overturned, and by the
opposite wall was a dark pool. The door was open, and he saw the grey
summit of the mountain against a brilliant background of blue sky.
"Pah!" said Woodhouse. "Who's been killing calves here? Take me out of
Then he remembered the Thing, and the fight he had had with it.
"What was it?" he said to Thaddy—"The Thing I fought with?"
"You know that best," said Thaddy. "But, anyhow, don't worry
yourself now about it. Have some more to drink."
Thaddy, however, was curious enough, and it was a hard struggle
between duty and inclination to keep Woodhouse quiet until he was
decently put away in bed, and had slept upon the copious dose of
meat-extract Thaddy considered advisable. They then talked it over
"It was," said Woodhouse, "more like a big bat than anything else in
the world. It had sharp, short ears, and soft fur, and its wings were
leathery. Its teeth were little, but devilish sharp, and its jaw could
not have been very strong or else it would have bitten through my
"It has pretty nearly," said Thaddy.
"It seemed to me to hit out with its claws pretty freely. That
is about as much as I know about the beast. Our conversation was
intimate, so to speak, and yet not confidential."
"The Dyak chaps talk about a Big Colugo, a Klang-utang—whatever
that may be. It does not often attack man, but I suppose you made it
nervous. They say there is a Big Colugo and a Little Colugo, and a
something else that sounds like gobble. They all fly about at night.
For my own part I know there are flying foxes and flying lemurs about
here, but they are none of them very big beasts."
"There are more things in heaven and earth," said Woodhouse—and
Thaddy groaned at the quotation—"and more particularly in the forests
of Borneo, than are dreamt of in our philosophies. On the whole, if
the Borneo fauna is going to disgorge any more of its novelties upon
me, I should prefer that it did so when I was not occupied in the
observatory at night and alone."
THE TRIUMPHS OF A TAXIDERMIST
Here are some of the secrets of taxidermy. They were told me by the
taxidermist in a mood of elation. He told me them in the time between
the first glass of whisky and the fourth, when a man is no longer
cautious and yet not drunk. We sat in his den together; his library it
was, his sitting and his eating-room—separated by a bead curtain, so
far as the sense of sight went, from the noisome den where he plied
He sat on a deck chair, and when he was not tapping refractory bits of
coal with them, he kept his feet—on which he wore, after the manner
of sandals, the holy relics of a pair of carpet slippers—out of the
way upon the mantel-piece, among the glass eyes. And his trousers,
by-the-by—though they have nothing to do with his triumphs—were a
most horrible yellow plaid, such as they made when our fathers wore
side-whiskers and there were crinolines in the land. Further, his hair
was black, his face rosy, and his eye a fiery brown; and his coat was
chiefly of grease upon a basis of velveteen. And his pipe had a bowl
of china showing the Graces, and his spectacles were always askew, the
left eye glaring nakedly at you, small and penetrating; the right,
seen through a glass darkly, magnified and mild. Thus his discourse
ran: "There never was a man who could stuff like me, Bellows, never. I
have stuffed elephants and I have stuffed moths, and the things have
looked all the livelier and better for it. And I have stuffed human
beings—chiefly amateur ornithologists. But I stuffed a nigger once.
"No, there is no law against it. I made him with all his fingers out
and used him as a hat-rack, but that fool Homersby got up a quarrel
with him late one night and spoilt him. That was before your time. It
is hard to get skins, or I would have another.
"Unpleasant? I don't see it. Seems to me taxidermy is a promising
third course to burial or cremation. You could keep all your dear ones
by you. Bric-à-brac of that sort stuck about the house would be as
good as most company, and much less expensive. You might have them
fitted up with clockwork to do things.
"Of course they would have to be varnished, but they need not shine
more than lots of people do naturally. Old Manningtree's bald head….
Anyhow, you could talk to them without interruption. Even aunts. There
is a great future before taxidermy, depend upon it. There is fossils
He suddenly became silent.
"No, I don't think I ought to tell you that." He sucked at his pipe
thoughtfully. "Thanks, yes. Not too much water.
"Of course, what I tell you now will go no further. You know I have
made some dodos and a great auk? No! Evidently you are an amateur at
taxidermy. My dear fellow, half the great auks in the world are about
as genuine as the handkerchief of Saint Veronica, as the Holy Coat of
Treves. We make 'em of grebes' feathers and the like. And the great
auk's eggs too!"
"Yes, we make them out of fine porcelain. I tell you it is worth
while. They fetch—one fetched £300 only the other day. That one was
really genuine, I believe, but of course one is never certain. It is
very fine work, and afterwards you have to get them dusty, for no one
who owns one of these precious eggs has ever the temerity to clean the
thing. That's the beauty of the business. Even if they suspect an egg
they do not like to examine it too closely. It's such brittle capital
at the best.
"You did not know that taxidermy rose to heights like that. My boy, it
has risen higher. I have rivalled the hands of Nature herself. One of
the genuine great auks"—his voice fell to a whisper—one of the
genuine great auks was made by me."
"No. You must study ornithology, and find out which it is yourself.
And what is more, I have been approached by a syndicate of dealers
to stock one of the unexplored skerries to the north of Iceland with
specimens. I may—some day. But I have another little thing in hand
just now. Ever heard of the dinornis?
"It is one of those big birds recently extinct in New Zealand. 'Moa'
is its common name, so called because extinct: there is no moa now.
See? Well, they have got bones of it, and from some of the marshes
even feathers and dried bits of skin. Now, I am going to—well, there
is no need to make any bones about it—going to forge a complete
stuffed moa. I know a chap out there who will pretend to make the find
in a kind of antiseptic swamp, and say he stuffed it at once, as it
threatened to fall to pieces. The feathers are peculiar, but I have
got a simply lovely way of dodging up singed bits of ostrich plume.
Yes, that is the new smell you noticed. They can only discover the
fraud with a microscope, and they will hardly care to pull a nice
specimen to bits for that.
"In this way, you see, I give my little push in the advancement of
"But all this is merely imitating Nature. I have done more than that
in my time. I have—beaten her."
He took his feet down from the mantel-board, and leant over
confidentially towards me. "I have created birds," he said in a low
voice. "New birds. Improvements. Like no birds that was ever seen
He resumed his attitude during an impressive silence.
"Enrich the universe; rath-er. Some of the birds I made were new
kinds of humming birds, and very beautiful little things, but some of
them were simply rum. The rummest, I think, was the Anomalopteryx
Jejuna. Jejunus-a-um—empty—so called because there was really
nothing in it; a thoroughly empty bird—except for stuffing. Old
Javvers has the thing now, and I suppose he is almost as proud of it
as I am. It is a masterpiece, Bellows. It has all the silly clumsiness
of your pelican, all the solemn want of dignity of your parrot,
all the gaunt ungainliness of a flamingo, with all the extravagant
chromatic conflict of a mandarin duck. Such a bird. I made it out
of the skeletons of a stork and a toucan and a job lot of feathers.
Taxidermy of that kind is just pure joy, Bellows, to a real artist in
"How did I come to make it? Simple enough, as all great inventions
are. One of those young genii who write us Science Notes in the papers
got hold of a German pamphlet about the birds of New Zealand, and
translated some of it by means of a dictionary and his mother-wit—he
must have been one of a very large family with a small mother—and he
got mixed between the living apteryx and the extinct anomalopteryx;
talked about a bird five feet high, living in the jungles of the North
Island, rare, shy, specimens difficult to obtain, and so on. Javvers,
who even for a collector, is a miraculously ignorant man, read these
paragraphs, and swore he would have the thing at any price. Raided
the dealers with enquiries. It shows what a man can do by
persistence—will-power. Here was a bird-collector swearing he would
have a specimen of a bird that did not exist, that never had existed,
and which for very shame of its own profane ungainliness, probably
would not exist now if it could help itself. And he got it. He got
"Have some more whisky, Bellows?" said the taxidermist, rousing
himself from a transient contemplation of the mysteries of will-power
and the collecting turn of mind. And, replenished, he proceeded to
tell me of how he concocted a most attractive mermaid, and how an
itinerant preacher, who could not get an audience because of it,
smashed it because it was idolatry, or worse, at Burslem Wakes. But
as the conversation of all the parties to this transaction,
creator, would-be preserver, and destroyer, was uniformly unfit for
publication, this cheerful incident must still remain unprinted.
The reader unacquainted with the dark ways of the collector may
perhaps be inclined to doubt my taxidermist, but so far as great auks'
eggs, and the bogus stuffed birds are concerned, I find that he has
the confirmation of distinguished ornithological writers. And the note
about the New Zealand bird certainly appeared in a morning paper of
unblemished reputation, for the Taxidermist keeps a copy and has shown
it to me.
A DEAL IN OSTRICHES
"Talking of the prices of birds, I've seen an ostrich that cost three
hundred pounds," said the Taxidermist, recalling his youth of travel.
"Three hundred pounds!"
He looked at me over his spectacles. "I've seen another that was
refused at four."
"No," he said, "it wasn't any fancy points. They was just plain
ostriches. A little off colour, too—owing to dietary. And there
wasn't any particular restriction of the demand either. You'd have
thought five ostriches would have ruled cheap on an East Indiaman. But
the point was, one of 'em had swallowed a diamond.
"The chap it got it off was Sir Mohini Padishah, a tremendous swell, a
Piccadilly swell you might say up to the neck of him, and then an ugly
black head and a whopping turban, with this diamond in it. The blessed
bird pecked suddenly and had it, and when the chap made a fuss it
realised it had done wrong, I suppose, and went and mixed itself with
the others to preserve its incog. It all happened in a minute. I was
among the first to arrive, and there was this heathen going over his
gods, and two sailors and the man who had charge of the birds laughing
fit to split. It was a rummy way of losing a jewel, come to think of
it. The man in charge hadn't been about just at the moment, so that he
didn't know which bird it was. Clean lost, you see. I didn't feel half
sorry, to tell you the truth. The beggar had been swaggering over his
blessed diamond ever since he came aboard.
"A thing like that goes from stem to stern of a ship in no time. Every
one was talking about it. Padishah went below to hide his feelings.
At dinner—he pigged at a table by himself, him and two other
Hindoos—the captain kind of jeered at him about it, and he got very
excited. He turned round and talked into my ear. He would not buy the
birds; he would have his diamond. He demanded his rights as a British
subject. His diamond must be found. He was firm upon that. He would
appeal to the House of Lords. The man in charge of the birds was one
of those wooden-headed chaps you can't get a new idea into anyhow. He
refused any proposal to interfere with the birds by way of medicine.
His instructions were to feed them so-and-so and treat them so-and-so,
and it was as much as his place was worth not to feed them so-and-so
and treat them so-and-so. Padishah had wanted a stomach-pump—though
you can't do that to a bird, you know. This Padishah was full of bad
law, like most of these blessed Bengalis, and talked of having a lien
on the birds, and so forth. But an old boy, who said his son was a
London barrister, argued that what a bird swallowed became ipso
facto part of the bird, and that Padishah's only remedy lay in
an action for damages, and even then it might be possible to show
contributory negligence. He hadn't any right of way about an ostrich
that didn't belong to him. That upset Padishah extremely, the more so
as most of us expressed an opinion that that was the reasonable view.
There wasn't any lawyer aboard to settle the matter, so we all talked
pretty free. At last, after Aden, it appears that he came round to the
general opinion, and went privately to the man in charge and made an
offer for all five ostriches.
"The next morning there was a fine shindy at breakfast. The man hadn't
any authority to deal with the birds, and nothing on earth would
induce him to sell; but it seems he told Padishah that a Eurasian
named Potter had already made him an offer, and on that Padishah
denounced Potter before us all. But I think the most of us thought it
rather smart of Potter, and I know that when Potter said that he'd
wired at Aden to London to buy the birds, and would have an answer at
Suez, I cursed pretty richly at a lost opportunity.
"At Suez, Padishah gave way to tears—actual wet tears—when Potter
became the owner of the birds, and offered him two hundred and fifty
right off for the five, being more than two hundred per cent. on what
Potter had given. Potter said he'd be hanged if he parted with a
feather of them—that he meant to kill them off one by one and find
the diamond; but afterwards, thinking it over, he relented a little.
He was a gambling hound, was this Potter, a little queer at cards, and
this kind of prize-packet business must have suited him down to the
ground. Anyhow, he offered, for a lark, to sell the birds separately
to separate people by auction at a starting price of £80 for a bird.
But one of them, he said, he meant to keep for luck.
"You must understand this diamond was a valuable one—a little Jew
chap, a diamond merchant, who was with us, had put it at three or
four thousand when Padishah had shown it to him—and this idea of an
ostrich gamble caught on. Now it happened that I'd been having a
few talks on general subjects with the man who looked after these
ostriches, and quite incidentally he'd said one of the birds was
ailing, and he fancied it had indigestion. It had one feather in its
tail almost all white, by which I knew it, and so when, next day, the
auction started with it, I capped Padishah's eighty-five by ninety.
I fancy I was a bit too sure and eager with my bid, and some of the
others spotted the fact that I was in the know. And Padishah went for
that particular bird like an irresponsible lunatic. At last the Jew
diamond merchant got it for £175, and Padishah said £180 just after
the hammer came down—so Potter declared. At any rate the Jew merchant
secured it, and there and then he got a gun and shot it. Potter made a
Hades of a fuss because he said it would injure the sale of the other
three, and Padishah, of course, behaved like an idiot; but all of us
were very much excited. I can tell you I was precious glad when that
dissection was over, and no diamond had turned up—precious glad. I'd
gone to one-forty on that particular bird myself.
"The little Jew was like most Jews—he didn't make any great fuss over
bad luck; but Potter declined to go on with the auction until it was
understood that the goods could not be delivered until the sale was
over. The little Jew wanted to argue that the case was exceptional,
and as the discussion ran pretty even, the thing was postponed until
the next morning. We had a lively dinner-table that evening, I can
tell you, but in the end Potter got his way, since it would stand to
reason he would be safer if he stuck to all the birds, and that we
owed him some consideration for his sportsmanlike behaviour. And the
old gentleman whose son was a lawyer said he'd been thinking the thing
over and that it was very doubtful if, when a bird had been opened and
the diamond recovered, it ought not to be handed back to the
proper owner. I remember I suggested it came under the laws of
treasure-trove—which was really the truth of the matter. There was a
hot argument, and we settled it was certainly foolish to kill the bird
on board the ship. Then the old gentleman, going at large through his
legal talk, tried to make out the sale was a lottery and illegal,
and appealed to the captain; but Potter said he sold the birds as
ostriches. He didn't want to sell any diamonds, he said, and didn't
offer that as an inducement. The three birds he put up, to the best of
his knowledge and belief, did not contain a diamond. It was in the
one he kept—so he hoped.
"Prices ruled high next day all the same. The fact that now there were
four chances instead of five of course caused a rise. The blessed
birds averaged 227, and, oddly enough, this Padishah didn't secure one
of 'em—not one. He made too much shindy, and when he ought to have
been bidding he was talking about liens, and, besides, Potter was a
bit down on him. One fell to a quiet little officer chap, another to
the little Jew, and the third was syndicated by the engineers. And
then Potter seemed suddenly sorry for having sold them, and said he'd
flung away a clear thousand pounds, and that very likely he'd draw a
blank and that he always had been a fool, but when I went and had a
bit of a talk to him, with the idea of getting him to hedge on his
last chance, I found he'd already sold the bird he'd reserved to a
political chap that was on board, a chap who'd been studying Indian
morals and social questions in his vacation. That last was the three
hundred pounds bird. Well, they landed three of the blessed creatures
at Brindisi—though the old gentleman said it was a breach of the
Customs regulations—and Potter and Padishah landed too. The Hindoo
seemed half mad as he saw his blessed diamond going this way and
that, so to speak. He kept on saying he'd get an injunction—he had
injunction on the brain—and giving his name and address to the chaps
who'd bought the birds, so that they'd know where to send the diamond.
None of them wanted his name and address, and none of them would give
their own. It was a fine row I can tell you—on the platform. They all
went off by different trains. I came on to Southampton, and there
I saw the last of the birds, as I came ashore; it was the one the
engineers bought, and it was standing up near the bridge, in a kind of
crate, and looking as leggy and silly a setting for a valuable diamond
as ever you saw—if it was a setting for a valuable diamond.
"How did it end? Oh! like that. Well—perhaps. Yes, there's one more
thing that may throw light on it. A week or so after landing I was
down Regent-street doing a bit of shopping, and who should I see
arm-in-arm and having a purple time of it but Padishah and Potter. If
you come to think of it—
"Yes. I've thought that. Only, you see, there's no doubt the diamond
was real. And Padishah was an eminent Hindoo. I've seen his name
in the papers—often. But whether the bird swallowed the diamond
certainly is another matter, as you say."
THROUGH A WINDOW
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.
THE TEMPTATION OF HARRINGAY
It is quite impossible to say whether this thing really happened. It
depends entirely on the word of R.M. Harringay, who is an artist.
Following his version of the affair, the narrative deposes that
Harringay went into his studio about ten o'clock to see what he could
make of the head that he had been working at the day before. The
head in question was that of an Italian organ-grinder, and Harringay
thought—but was not quite sure—that the title would be the "Vigil."
So far he is frank, and his narrative bears the stamp of truth. He
had seen the man expectant for pennies, and with a promptness that
suggested genius, had had him in at once.
"Kneel. Look up at that bracket," said Harringay. "As if you expected
"Don't grin!" said Harringay. "I don't want to paint your gums. Look
as though you were unhappy."
Now, after a night's rest, the picture proved decidedly
unsatisfactory. "It's good work," said Harringay. "That little bit in
the neck … But."
He walked about the studio and looked at the thing from this point and
from that. Then he said a wicked word. In the original the word is
"Painting," he says he said. "Just a painting of an organ-grinder—a
mere portrait. If it was a live organ-grinder I wouldn't mind. But
somehow I never make things alive. I wonder if my imagination is
wrong." This, too, has a truthful air. His imagination is wrong.
"That creative touch! To take canvas and pigment and make a man—as
Adam was made of red ochre! But this thing! If you met it walking
about the streets you would know it was only a studio production. The
little boys would tell it to 'Garnome and git frimed.' Some little
touch … Well—it won't do as it is."
He went to the blinds and began to pull them down. They were made of
blue holland with the rollers at the bottom of the window, so that you
pull them down to get more light. He gathered his palette, brushes,
and mahl stick from his table. Then he turned to the picture and put a
speck of brown in the corner of the mouth; and shifted his attention
thence to the pupil of the eye. Then he decided that the chin was a
trifle too impassive for a vigil.
Presently he put down his impedimenta, and lighting a pipe surveyed
the progress of his work. "I'm hanged if the thing isn't sneering at
me," said Harringay, and he still believes it sneered.
The animation of the figure had certainly increased, but scarcely in
the direction he wished. There was no mistake about the sneer. "Vigil
of the Unbeliever," said Harringay. "Rather subtle and clever that!
But the left eyebrow isn't cynical enough."
He went and dabbed at the eyebrow, and added a little to the lobe of
the ear to suggest materialism. Further consideration ensued. "Vigil's
off, I'm afraid," said Harringay. "Why not Mephistopheles? But that's
a bit too common. 'A Friend of the Doge,'—not so seedy. The armour
won't do, though. Too Camelot. How about a scarlet robe and call him
'One of the Sacred College'? Humour in that, and an appreciation of
Middle Italian History."
"There's always Benvenuto Cellini," said Harringay; "with a clever
suggestion of a gold cup in one corner. But that would scarcely suit
He describes himself as babbling in this way in order to keep down an
unaccountably unpleasant sensation of fear. The thing was certainly
acquiring anything but a pleasing expression. Yet it was as certainly
becoming far more of a living thing than it had been—if a sinister
one—far more alive than anything he had ever painted before. "Call it
'Portrait of a Gentleman,'" said Harringay;—"A Certain Gentleman."
"Won't do," said Harringay, still keeping up his courage. "Kind of
thing they call Bad Taste. That sneer will have to come out. That
gone, and a little more fire in the eye—never noticed how warm his
eye was before—and he might do for—? What price Passionate Pilgrim?
But that devilish face won't do—this side of the Channel.
"Some little inaccuracy does it," he said; "eyebrows probably too
oblique,"—therewith pulling the blind lower to get a better light,
and resuming palette and brushes.
The face on the canvas seemed animated by a spirit of its own. Where
the expression of diablerie came in he found impossible to discover.
Experiment was necessary. The eyebrows—it could scarcely be the
eyebrows? But he altered them. No, that was no better; in fact, if
anything, a trifle more satanic. The corner of the mouth? Pah! more
than ever a leer—and now, retouched, it was ominously grim. The eye,
then? Catastrophe! he had filled his brush with vermilion instead of
brown, and yet he had felt sure it was brown! The eye seemed now to
have rolled in its socket, and was glaring at him an eye of fire. In a
flash of passion, possibly with something of the courage of panic, he
struck the brush full of bright red athwart the picture; and then a
very curious thing, a very strange thing indeed, occurred—if it did
The diabolified Italian before him shut both his eyes, pursed his
mouth, and wiped the colour off his face with his hand.
Then the red eye opened again, with a sound like the opening of
lips, and the face smiled. "That was rather hasty of you," said the
Harringay states that, now that the worst had happened, his
self-possession returned. He had a saving persuasion that devils were
"Why do you keep moving about then," he said, "making faces and all
that—sneering and squinting, while I am painting you?"
"I don't," said the picture.
"You do," said Harringay.
"It's yourself," said the picture.
"It's not myself," said Harringay.
"It is yourself," said the picture. "No! don't go hitting me with
paint again, because it's true. You have been trying to fluke an
expression on my face all the morning. Really, you haven't an idea
what your picture ought to look like."
"I have," said Harringay.
"You have not," said the picture: "You never have with your
pictures. You always start with the vaguest presentiment of what you
are going to do; it is to be something beautiful—you are sure of
that—and devout, perhaps, or tragic; but beyond that it is all
experiment and chance. My dear fellow! you don't think you can paint a
picture like that?"
Now it must be remembered that for what follows we have only
"I shall paint a picture exactly as I like," said Harringay, calmly.
This seemed to disconcert the picture a little. "You can't paint a
picture without an inspiration," it remarked.
"But I had an inspiration—for this."
"Inspiration!" sneered the sardonic figure; "a fancy that came from
your seeing an organ-grinder looking up at a window! Vigil! Ha, ha!
You just started painting on the chance of something coming—that's
what you did. And when I saw you at it I came. I want a talk with
"Art, with you," said the picture,—"it's a poor business. You potter.
I don't know how it is, but you don't seem able to throw your soul
into it. You know too much. It hampers you. In the midst of your
enthusiasms you ask yourself whether something like this has not been
done before. And …"
"Look here," said Harringay, who had expected something better than
criticism from the devil. "Are you going to talk studio to me?" He
filled his number twelve hoghair with red paint.
"The true artist," said the picture, "is always an ignorant man. An
artist who theorises about his work is no longer artist but critic.
Wagner … I say!—What's that red paint for?"
"I'm going to paint you out," said Harringay. "I don't want to hear
all that Tommy Rot. If you think just because I'm an artist by trade
I'm going to talk studio to you, you make a precious mistake."
"One minute," said the picture, evidently alarmed. "I want to make
you an offer—a genuine offer. It's right what I'm saying. You lack
inspirations. Well. No doubt you've heard of the Cathedral of Cologne,
and the Devil's Bridge, and—"
"Rubbish," said Harringay. "Do you think I want to go to perdition
simply for the pleasure of painting a good picture, and getting it
slated. Take that."
His blood was up. His danger only nerved him to action, so he says.
So he planted a dab of vermilion in his creature's mouth. The Italian
spluttered and tried to wipe it off—evidently horribly surprised. And
then—according to Harringay—there began a very remarkable struggle,
Harringay splashing away with the red paint, and the picture wriggling
about and wiping it off as fast as he put it on. "Two masterpieces,"
said the demon. "Two indubitable masterpieces for a Chelsea artist's
soul. It's a bargain?" Harringay replied with the paint brush.
For a few minutes nothing could be heard but the brush going and the
spluttering and ejaculations of the Italian. A lot of the strokes he
caught on his arm and hand, though Harringay got over his guard often
enough. Presently the paint on the palette gave out and the two
antagonists stood breathless, regarding each other. The picture was
so smeared with red that it looked as if it had been rolling about
a slaughterhouse, and it was painfully out of breath and very
uncomfortable with the wet paint trickling down its neck. Still, the
first round was in its favour on the whole. "Think," it said, sticking
pluckily to its point, "two supreme masterpieces—in different styles.
Each equivalent to the Cathedral…"
"I know," said Harringay, and rushed out of the studio and along the
passage towards his wife's boudoir.
In another minute he was back with a large tin of enamel—Hedge
Sparrow's Egg Tint, it was, and a brush. At the sight of that
the artistic devil with the red eye began to scream. "Three
Harringay delivered cut two across the demon, and followed with
a thrust in the eye. There was an indistinct rumbling. "Four
masterpieces," and a spitting sound.
But Harringay had the upper hand now and meant to keep it. With rapid,
bold strokes he continued to paint over the writhing canvas, until at
last it was a uniform field of shining Hedge Sparrow tint. Once the
mouth reappeared and got as far as "Five master—" before he filled
it with enamel; and near the end the red eye opened and glared at him
indignantly. But at last nothing remained save a gleaming panel of
drying enamel. For a little while a faint stirring beneath the surface
puckered it slightly here and there, but presently even that died away
and the thing was perfectly still.
Then Harringay—according to Harringay's account—lit his pipe and sat
down and stared at the enamelled canvas, and tried to make out clearly
what had happened. Then he walked round behind it, to see if the back
of it was at all remarkable. Then it was he began to regret he had not
photographed the Devil before he painted him out.
This is Harringay's story—not mine. He supports it by a small canvas
(24 by 20) enamelled a pale green, and by violent asseverations. It is
also true that he never has produced a masterpiece, and in the opinion
of his intimate friends probably never will.
THE FLYING MAN
The Ethnologist looked at the bhimraj feather thoughtfully. "They
seemed loth to part with it," he said.
"It is sacred to the Chiefs," said the lieutenant; "just as yellow
silk, you know, is sacred to the Chinese Emperor."
The Ethnologist did not answer. He hesitated. Then opening the topic
abruptly, "What on earth is this cock-and-bull story they have of a
The lieutenant smiled faintly. "What did they tell you?"
"I see," said the Ethnologist, "that you know of your fame."
The lieutenant rolled himself a cigarette. "I don't mind hearing about
it once more. How does it stand at present?"
"It's so confoundedly childish," said the Ethnologist, becoming
irritated. "How did you play it off upon them?"
The lieutenant made no answer, but lounged back in his folding-chair,
"Here am I, come four hundred miles out of my way to get what is left
of the folk-lore of these people, before they are utterly demoralised
by missionaries and the military, and all I find are a lot of
impossible legends about a sandy-haired scrub of an infantry
lieutenant. How he is invulnerable—how he can jump over
elephants—how he can fly. That's the toughest nut. One old gentleman
described your wings, said they had black plumage and were not quite
as long as a mule. Said he often saw you by moonlight hovering over
the crests out towards the Shendu country.—Confound it, man!"
The lieutenant laughed cheerfully. "Go on," he said. "Go on."
The Ethnologist did. At last he wearied. "To trade so," he said, "on
these unsophisticated children of the mountains. How could you bring
yourself to do it, man?"
"I'm sorry," said the lieutenant, "but truly the thing was forced upon
me. I can assure you I was driven to it. And at the time I had not the
faintest idea of how the Chin imagination would take it. Or curiosity.
I can only plead it was an indiscretion and not malice that made me
replace the folk-lore by a new legend. But as you seem aggrieved, I
will try and explain the business to you.
"It was in the time of the last Lushai expedition but one, and Walters
thought these people you have been visiting were friendly. So, with an
airy confidence in my capacity for taking care of myself, he sent me
up the gorge—fourteen miles of it—with three of the Derbyshire men
and half a dozen Sepoys, two mules, and his blessing, to see what
popular feeling was like at that village you visited. A force of
ten—not counting the mules—fourteen miles, and during a war! You saw
"Road!" said the Ethnologist.
"It's better now than it was. When we went up we had to wade in
the river for a mile where the valley narrows, with a smart stream
frothing round our knees and the stones as slippery as ice. There it
was I dropped my rifle. Afterwards the Sappers blasted the cliff with
dynamite and made the convenient way you came by. Then below, where
those very high cliffs come, we had to keep on dodging across the
river—I should say we crossed it a dozen times in a couple of miles.
"We got in sight of the place early the next morning. You know how
it lies, on a spur halfway between the big hills, and as we began to
appreciate how wickedly quiet the village lay under the sunlight, we
came to a stop to consider.
"At that they fired a lump of filed brass idol at us, just by way of a
welcome. It came twanging down the slope to the right of us where the
boulders are, missed my shoulder by an inch or so, and plugged the
mule that carried all the provisions and utensils. I never heard such
a death-rattle before or since. And at that we became aware of a
number of gentlemen carrying matchlocks, and dressed in things like
plaid dusters, dodging about along the neck between the village and
the crest to the east.
"'Right about face,' I said. 'Not too close together.'
"And with that encouragement my expedition of ten men came round and
set off at a smart trot down the valley again hitherward. We did not
wait to save anything our dead had carried, but we kept the second
mule with us—he carried my tent and some other rubbish—out of a
feeling of friendship.
"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 cañon 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
Daubrée's at the Paris Laboratorie des Poudres et Salpêtres. 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
fiancée. "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-à-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 rôle 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 Porson 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 Porson'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 Porson 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
there watched over by the three policemen, two gamekeepers with loaded
guns, the butler, an ostler, and a carman, until the dawn allowed of
their removal to Hazelhurst police-station. Mr Watkins was made much
of in the saloon. They devoted a sofa to him, and would not hear of
a return to the village that night. Lady Aveling was sure he was
brilliantly original, and said her idea of Turner was just such
another rough, half-inebriated, deep-eyed, brave, and clever man. Some
one brought up a remarkable little folding-ladder that had been picked
up in the shrubbery, and showed him how it was put together. They also
described how wires had been found in the shrubbery, evidently placed
there to trip-up unwary pursuers. It was lucky he had escaped these
snares. And they showed him the jewels.
Mr Watkins had the sense not to talk too much, and in any
conversational difficulty fell back on his internal pains. At last he
was seized with stiffness in the back, and yawning. Everyone suddenly
awoke to the fact that it was a shame to keep him talking after his
affray, so he retired early to his room, the little red room next to
Lord Aveling's suite.
The dawn found a deserted easel bearing a canvas with a green
inscription, in the Hammerpond Park, and it found Hammerpond House
in commotion. But if the dawn found Mr Teddy Watkins and the Aveling
diamonds, it did not communicate the information to the police.
A MOTH—GENUS NOVO
Probably you have heard of Hapley—not W.T. Hapley, the son, but the
celebrated Hapley, the Hapley of Periplaneta Hapliia, Hapley the
entomologist. If so you know at least of the great feud between Hapley
and Professor Pawkins. Though certain of its consequences may be
new to you. For those who have not, a word or two of explanation is
necessary, which the idle reader may go over with a glancing eye, if
his indolence so incline him.
It is amazing how very widely diffused is the ignorance of such really
important matters as this Hapley-Pawkins feud. Those epoch-making
controversies, again, that have convulsed the Geological Society, are,
I verily believe, almost entirely unknown outside the fellowship of
that body. I have heard men of fair general education even refer to
the great scenes at these meetings as vestry-meeting squabbles. Yet
the great Hate of the English and Scotch geologists has lasted now
half a century, and has "left deep and abundant marks upon the body of
the science." And this Hapley-Pawkins business, though perhaps a more
personal affair, stirred passions as profound, if not profounder. Your
common man has no conception of the zeal that animates a scientific
investigator, the fury of contradiction you can arouse in him. It is
the odium theologicum in a new form. There are men, for instance,
who would gladly burn Professor Ray Lankester at Smithfield for
his treatment of the Mollusca in the Encyclopaedia. That fantastic
extension of the Cephalopods to cover the Pteropods … But I wander
from Hapley and Pawkins.
It began years and years ago, with a revision of the Microlepidoptera
(whatever these may be) by Pawkins, in which he extinguished a new
species created by Hapley. Hapley, who was always quarrelsome, replied
by a stinging impeachment of the entire classification of Pawkins[A].
Pawkins, in his "Rejoinder[B]," suggested that Hapley's microscope
was as defective as his powers of observation, and called him an
"irresponsible meddler"—Hapley was not a professor at that time.
Hapley, in his retort[C], spoke of "blundering collectors," and
described, as if inadvertently, Pawkins' revision as a "miracle of
ineptitude." It was war to the knife. However, it would scarcely
interest the reader to detail how these two great men quarrelled, and
how the split between them widened until from the Microlepidoptera
they were at war upon every open question in entomology. There were
memorable occasions. At times the Royal Entomological Society meetings
resembled nothing so much as the Chamber of Deputies. On the whole, I
fancy Pawkins was nearer the truth than Hapley. But Hapley was skilful
with his rhetoric, had a turn for ridicule rare in a scientific man,
was endowed with vast energy, and had a fine sense of injury in the
matter of the extinguished species; while Pawkins was a man of dull
presence, prosy of speech, in shape not unlike a water-barrel,
over-conscientious with testimonials, and suspected of jobbing museum
appointments. So the young men gathered round Hapley and applauded
him. It was a long struggle, vicious from the beginning, and growing
at last to pitiless antagonism. The successive turns of fortune, now
an advantage to one side and now to another—now Hapley tormented by
some success of Pawkins, and now Pawkins outshone by Hapley, belong
rather to the history of entomology than to this story.
[Footnote A: "Remarks on a Recent Revision of Microlepidoptera."
Quart. Journ. Entomological Soc. 1863.]
[Footnote B: "Rejoinder to certain Remarks," &c. Ibid. 1864.]
[Footnote C: "Further Remarks," &c. Ibid.]
But in 1891 Pawkins, whose health had been bad for some time,
published some work upon the "mesoblast" of the Death's Head Moth.
What the mesoblast of the Death's Head Moth may be, does not matter a
rap in this story. But the work was far below his usual standard, and
gave Hapley an opening he had coveted for years. He must have worked
night and day to make the most of his advantage.
In an elaborate critique he rent Pawkins to tatters—one can fancy the
man's disordered black hair, and his queer dark eyes flashing as
he went for his antagonist—and Pawkins made a reply, halting,
ineffectual, with painful gaps of silence, and yet malignant. There
was no mistaking his will to wound Hapley, nor his incapacity to
do it. But few of those who heard him—I was absent from that
meeting—realised how ill the man was.
Hapley had got his opponent down, and meant to finish him. He followed
with a simply brutal attack upon Pawkins, in the form of a paper upon
the development of moths in general, a paper showing evidence of a
most extraordinary amount of mental labour, and yet couched in a
violently controversial tone. Violent as it was, an editorial note
witnesses that it was modified. It must have covered Pawkins with
shame and confusion of face. It left no loophole; it was murderous in
argument, and utterly contemptuous in tone; an awful thing for the
declining years of a man's career.
The world of entomologists waited breathlessly for the rejoinder from
Pawkins. He would try one, for Pawkins had always been game. But when
it came it surprised them. For the rejoinder of Pawkins was to catch
the influenza, to proceed to pneumonia, and to die.
It was perhaps as effectual a reply as he could make under the
circumstances, and largely turned the current of feeling against
Hapley. The very people who had most gleefully cheered on those
gladiators became serious at the consequence. There could be no
reasonable doubt the fret of the defeat had contributed to the death
of Pawkins. There was a limit even to scientific controversy, said
serious people. Another crushing attack was already in the press and
appeared on the day before the funeral. I don't think Hapley exerted
himself to stop it. People remembered how Hapley had hounded down his
rival, and forgot that rival's defects. Scathing satire reads ill over
fresh mould. The thing provoked comment in the daily papers. This it
was that made me think that you had probably heard of Hapley and this
controversy. But, as I have already remarked, scientific workers live
very much in a world of their own; half the people, I dare say, who go
along Piccadilly to the Academy every year, could not tell you where
the learned societies abide. Many even think that Research is a kind
of happy-family cage in which all kinds of men lie down together in
In his private thoughts Hapley could not forgive Pawkins for dying.
In the first place, it was a mean dodge to escape the absolute
pulverisation Hapley had in hand for him, and in the second, it left
Hapley's mind with a queer gap in it. For twenty years he had worked
hard, sometimes far into the night, and seven days a week, with
microscope, scalpel, collecting-net, and pen, and almost entirely with
reference to Pawkins. The European reputation he had won had come as
an incident in that great antipathy. He had gradually worked up to a
climax in this last controversy. It had killed Pawkins, but it had
also thrown Hapley out of gear, so to speak, and his doctor advised
him to give up work for a time, and rest. So Hapley went down into a
quiet village in Kent, and thought day and night of Pawkins, and good
things it was now impossible to say about him.
At last Hapley began to realise in what direction the pre-occupation
tended. He determined to make a fight for it, and started by trying to
read novels. But he could not get his mind off Pawkins, white in the
face, and making his last speech—every sentence a beautiful opening
for Hapley. He turned to fiction—and found it had no grip on him.
He read the "Island Nights' Entertainments" until his "sense of
causation" was shocked beyond endurance by the Bottle Imp. Then
he went to Kipling, and found he "proved nothing," besides being
irreverent and vulgar. These scientific people have their limitations.
Then unhappily, he tried Besant's "Inner House," and the opening
chapter set his mind upon learned societies and Pawkins at once.
So Hapley turned to chess, and found it a little more soothing. He
soon mastered the moves and the chief gambits and commoner closing
positions, and began to beat the Vicar. But then the cylindrical
contours of the opposite king began to resemble Pawkins standing up
and gasping ineffectually against Check-mate, and Hapley decided to
give up chess.
Perhaps the study of some new branch of science would after all be
better diversion. The best rest is change of occupation. Hapley
determined to plunge at diatoms, and had one of his smaller
microscopes and Halibut's monograph sent down from London. He thought
that perhaps if he could get up a vigorous quarrel with Halibut, he
might be able to begin life afresh and forget Pawkins. And very soon
he was hard at work, in his habitual strenuous fashion, at these
microscopic denizens of the way-side pool.
It was on the third day of the diatoms that Hapley became aware of
a novel addition to the local fauna. He was working late at the
microscope, and the only light in the room was the brilliant little
lamp with the special form of green shade. Like all experienced
microscopists, he kept both eyes open. It is the only way to avoid
excessive fatigue. One eye was over the instrument, and bright and
distinct before that was the circular field of the microscope, across
which a brown diatom was slowly moving. With the other eye Hapley saw,
as it were, without seeing[A]. He was only dimly conscious of the
brass side of the instrument, the illuminated part of the table-cloth,
a sheet of note-paper, the foot of the lamp, and the darkened room
[Footnote A: The reader unaccustomed to microscopes may easily
understand this by rolling a newspaper in the form of a tube and
looking through it at a book, keeping the other eye open.]
Suddenly his attention drifted from one eye to the other. The
table-cloth was of the material called tapestry by shopmen, and rather
brightly coloured. The pattern was in gold, with a small amount of
crimson and pale blue upon a greyish ground. At one point the pattern
seemed displaced, and there was a vibrating movement of the colours at
Hapley suddenly moved his head back and looked with both eyes. His
mouth fell open with astonishment.
It was a large moth or butterfly; its wings spread in butterfly
It was strange it should be in the room at all, for the windows were
closed. Strange that it should not have attracted his attention when
fluttering to its present position. Strange that it should match the
table-cloth. Stranger far that to him, Hapley, the great entomologist,
it was altogether unknown. There was no delusion. It was crawling
slowly towards the foot of the lamp.
"Genus novo, by heavens! And in England!" said Hapley, staring.
Then he suddenly thought of Pawkins. Nothing would have maddened
Pawkins more…. And Pawkins was dead!
Something about the head and body of the insect became singularly
suggestive of Pawkins, just as the chess king had been.
"Confound Pawkins!" said Hapley. "But I must catch this." And, looking
round him for some means of capturing the moth, he rose slowly out
of his chair. Suddenly the insect rose, struck the edge of the
lampshade—Hapley heard the "ping"—and vanished into the shadow.
In a moment Hapley had whipped off the shade, so that the whole room
was illuminated. The thing had disappeared, but soon his practised eye
detected it upon the wall paper near the door. He went towards it,
poising the lamp-shade for capture. Before he was within striking
distance, however, it had risen and was fluttering round the room.
After the fashion of its kind, it flew with sudden starts and turns,
seeming to vanish here and reappear there. Once Hapley struck, and
missed; then again.
The third time he hit his microscope. The instrument swayed, struck
and overturned the lamp, and fell noisily upon the floor. The lamp
turned over on the table and, very luckily, went out. Hapley was left
in the dark. With a start he felt the strange moth blunder into his
It was maddening. He had no lights. If he opened the door of the
room the thing would get away. In the darkness he saw Pawkins quite
distinctly laughing at him. Pawkins had ever an oily laugh. He swore
furiously and stamped his foot on the floor.
There was a timid rapping at the door.
Then it opened, perhaps a foot, and very slowly. The alarmed face of
the landlady appeared behind a pink candle flame; she wore a night-cap
over her grey hair and had some purple garment over her shoulders.
"What was that fearful smash?" she said. "Has anything—" The
strange moth appeared fluttering about the chink of the door. "Shut
that door!" said Hapley, and suddenly rushed at her.
The door slammed hastily. Hapley was left alone in the dark. Then in
the pause he heard his landlady scuttle upstairs, lock her door and
drag something heavy across the room and put against it.
It became evident to Hapley that his conduct and appearance had been
strange and alarming. Confound the moth! and Pawkins! However, it was
a pity to lose the moth now. He felt his way into the hall and found
the matches, after sending his hat down upon the floor with a noise
like a drum. With the lighted candle he returned to the sitting-room.
No moth was to be seen. Yet once for a moment it seemed that the thing
was fluttering round his head. Hapley very suddenly decided to give up
the moth and go to bed. But he was excited. All night long his sleep
was broken by dreams of the moth, Pawkins, and his landlady. Twice in
the night he turned out and soused his head in cold water.
One thing was very clear to him. His landlady could not possibly
understand about the strange moth, especially as he had failed to
catch it. No one but an entomologist would understand quite how he
felt. She was probably frightened at his behaviour, and yet he failed
to see how he could explain it. He decided to say nothing further
about the events of last night. After breakfast he saw her in her
garden, and decided to go out to talk to her to reassure her. He
talked to her about beans and potatoes, bees, caterpillars, and the
price of fruit. She replied in her usual manner, but she looked at him
a little suspiciously, and kept walking as he walked, so that there
was always a bed of flowers, or a row of beans, or something of
the sort, between them. After a while he began to feel singularly
irritated at this, and to conceal his vexation went indoors and
presently went out for a walk.
The moth, or butterfly, trailing an odd flavour of Pawkins with it,
kept coming into that walk, though he did his best to keep his mind
off it. Once he saw it quite distinctly, with its wings flattened out,
upon the old stone wall that runs along the west edge of the park,
but going up to it he found it was only two lumps of grey and yellow
lichen. "This," said Hapley, "is the reverse of mimicry. Instead of
a butterfly looking like a stone, here is a stone looking like a
butterfly!" Once something hovered and fluttered round his head, but
by an effort of will he drove that impression out of his mind again.
In the afternoon Hapley called upon the Vicar, and argued with him
upon theological questions. They sat in the little arbour covered with
briar, and smoked as they wrangled. "Look at that moth!" said Hapley,
suddenly, pointing to the edge of the wooden table.
"Where?" said the Vicar.
"You don't see a moth on the edge of the table there?" said Hapley.
"Certainly not," said the Vicar.
Hapley was thunderstruck. He gasped. The Vicar was staring at him.
Clearly the man saw nothing. "The eye of faith is no better than the
eye of science," said Hapley, awkwardly.
"I don't see your point," said the Vicar, thinking it was part of the
That night Hapley found the moth crawling over his counterpane. He sat
on the edge of the bed in his shirt-sleeves and reasoned with himself.
Was it pure hallucination? He knew he was slipping, and he battled
for his sanity with the same silent energy he had formerly displayed
against Pawkins. So persistent is mental habit, that he felt as if it
were still a struggle with Pawkins. He was well versed in psychology.
He knew that such visual illusions do come as a result of mental
strain. But the point was, he did not only see the moth, he had
heard it when it touched the edge of the lampshade, and afterwards
when it hit against the wall, and he had felt it strike his face in
He looked at it. It was not at all dreamlike, but perfectly clear and
solid-looking in the candle-light. He saw the hairy body, and the
short feathery antennae, the jointed legs, even a place where the down
was rubbed from the wing. He suddenly felt angry with himself for
being afraid of a little insect.
His landlady had got the servant to sleep with her that night, because
she was afraid to be alone. In addition she had locked the door, and
put the chest of drawers against it. They listened and talked in
whispers after they had gone to bed, but nothing occurred to alarm
them. About eleven they had ventured to put the candle out, and had
both dozed off to sleep. They woke up with a start, and sat up in bed,
listening in the darkness.
Then they heard slippered feet going to and fro in Hapley's room. A
chair was overturned, and there was a violent dab at the wall. Then a
china mantel ornament smashed upon the fender. Suddenly the door of
the room opened, and they heard him upon the landing. They clung to
one another, listening. He seemed to be dancing upon the staircase.
Now he would go down three or four steps quickly, then up again, then
hurry down into the hall. They heard the umbrella stand go over, and
the fanlight break. Then the bolt shot and the chain rattled. He was
opening the door.
They hurried to the window. It was a dim grey night; an almost
unbroken sheet of watery cloud was sweeping across the moon, and the
hedge and trees in front of the house were black against the pale
roadway. They saw Hapley, looking like a ghost in his shirt and white
trousers, running to and fro in the road, and beating the air. Now he
would stop, now he would dart very rapidly at something invisible, now
he would move upon it with stealthy strides. At last he went out of
sight up the road towards the down. Then, while they argued who should
go down and lock the door, he returned. He was walking very fast, and
he came straight into the house, closed the door carefully, and went
quietly up to his bedroom. Then everything was silent.
"Mrs Colville," said Hapley, calling down the staircase next morning.
"I hope I did not alarm you last night."
"You may well ask that!" said Mrs Colville.
"The fact is, I am a sleep-walker, and the last two nights I have been
without my sleeping mixture. There is nothing to be alarmed about,
really. I am sorry I made such an ass of myself. I will go over the
down to Shoreham, and get some stuff to make me sleep soundly. I ought
to have done that yesterday."
But half-way over the down, by the chalk pits, the moth came upon
Hapley again. He went on, trying to keep his mind upon chess problems,
but it was no good. The thing fluttered into his face, and he struck
at it with his hat in self-defence. Then rage, the old rage—the rage
he had so often felt against Pawkins—came upon him again. He went
on, leaping and striking at the eddying insect. Suddenly he trod on
nothing, and fell headlong.
There was a gap in his sensations, and Hapley found himself sitting on
the heap of flints in front of the opening of the chalkpits, with a
leg twisted back under him. The strange moth was still fluttering
round his head. He struck at it with his hand, and turning his head
saw two men approaching him. One was the village doctor. It occurred
to Hapley that this was lucky. Then it came into his mind, with
extraordinary vividness, that no one would ever be able to see the
strange moth except himself, and that it behoved him to keep silent
Late that night, however, after his broken leg was set, he was
feverish and forgot his self-restraint. He was lying flat on his bed,
and he began to run his eyes round the room to see if the moth was
still about. He tried not to do this, but it was no good. He
soon caught sight of the thing resting close to his hand, by the
night-light, on the green table-cloth. The wings quivered. With a
sudden wave of anger he smote at it with his fist, and the nurse woke
up with a shriek. He had missed it.
"That moth!" he said; and then, "It was fancy. Nothing!"
All the time he could see quite clearly the insect going round the
cornice and darting across the room, and he could also see that the
nurse saw nothing of it and looked at him strangely. He must keep
himself in hand. He knew he was a lost man if he did not keep himself
in hand. But as the night waned the fever grew upon him, and the very
dread he had of seeing the moth made him see it. About five, just as
the dawn was grey, he tried to get out of bed and catch it, though his
leg was afire with pain. The nurse had to struggle with him.
On account of this, they tied him down to the bed. At this the moth
grew bolder, and once he felt it settle in his hair. Then, because he
struck out violently with his arms, they tied these also. At this the
moth came and crawled over his face, and Hapley wept, swore, screamed,
prayed for them to take it off him, unavailingly.
The doctor was a blockhead, a half-qualified general practitioner, and
quite ignorant of mental science. He simply said there was no moth.
Had he possessed the wit, he might still, perhaps, have saved Hapley
from his fate by entering into his delusion and covering his face with
gauze, as he prayed might be done. But, as I say, the doctor was a
blockhead, and until the leg was healed Hapley was kept tied to his
bed, and with the imaginary moth crawling over him. It never left him
while he was awake and it grew to a monster in his dreams. While he
was awake he longed for sleep, and from sleep he awoke screaming.
So now Hapley is spending the remainder of his days in a padded room,
worried by a moth that no one else can see. The asylum doctor calls
it hallucination; but Hapley, when he is in his easier mood, and can
talk, says it is the ghost of Pawkins, and consequently a unique
specimen and well worth the trouble of catching.
THE TREASURE IN THE FOREST
The canoe was now approaching the land. The bay opened out, and a gap
in the white surf of the reef marked where the little river ran out to
the sea; the thicker and deeper green of the virgin forest showed its
course down the distant hill slope. The forest here came close to
the beach. Far beyond, dim and almost cloudlike in texture, rose the
mountains, like suddenly frozen waves. The sea was still save for an
almost imperceptible swell. The sky blazed.
The man with the carved paddle stopped. "It should be somewhere here,"
he said. He shipped the paddle and held his arms out straight before
The other man had been in the fore part of the canoe, closely
scrutinising the land. He had a sheet of yellow paper on his knee.
"Come and look at this, Evans," he said.
Both men spoke in low tones, and their lips were hard and dry.
The man called Evans came swaying along the canoe until he could look
over his companion's shoulder.
The paper had the appearance of a rough map. By much folding it was
creased and worn to the pitch of separation, and the second man held
the discoloured fragments together where they had parted. On it one
could dimly make out, in almost obliterated pencil, the outline of the
"Here," said Evans, "is the reef and here is the gap." He ran his
thumb-nail over the chart.
"This curved and twisting line is the river—I could do with a drink
now!—and this star is the place."
"You see this dotted line," said the man with the map; "it is a
straight line, and runs from the opening of the reef to a clump of
palm-trees. The star comes just where it cuts the river. We must mark
the place as we go into the lagoon."
"It's queer," said Evans, after a pause, "what these little marks down
here are for. It looks like the plan of a house or something; but what
all these little dashes, pointing this way and that, may mean I can't
get a notion. And what's the writing?"
"Chinese," said the man with the map.
"Of course! He was a Chinee," said Evans.
"They all were," said the man with the map.
They both sat for some minutes staring at the land, while the canoe
drifted slowly. Then Evans looked towards the paddle.
"Your turn with the paddle now, Hooker," said he.
And his companion quietly folded up his map, put it in his pocket,
passed Evans carefully, and began to paddle. His movements were
languid, like those of a man whose strength was nearly exhausted.
Evans sat with his eyes half closed, watching the frothy breakwater of
the coral creep nearer and nearer. The sky was like a furnace now, for
the sun was near the zenith. Though they were so near the Treasure he
did not feel the exaltation he had anticipated. The intense excitement
of the struggle for the plan, and the long night voyage from the
mainland in the unprovisioned canoe had, to use his own expression,
"taken it out of him." He tried to arouse himself by directing his
mind to the ingots the Chinamen had spoken of, but it would not rest
there; it came back headlong to the thought of sweet water rippling
in the river, and to the almost unendurable dryness of his lips and
throat. The rhythmic wash of the sea upon the reef was becoming
audible now, and it had a pleasant sound in his ears; the water washed
along the side of the canoe, and the paddle dripped between each
stroke. Presently he began to doze.
He was still dimly conscious of the island, but a queer dream texture
interwove with his sensations. Once again it was the night when he and
Hooker had hit upon the Chinamen's secret; he saw the moonlit
trees, the little fire burning, and the black figures of the three
Chinamen—silvered on one side by moonlight, and on the other
glowing from the firelight—and heard them talking together in
pigeon-English—for they came from different provinces. Hooker had
caught the drift of their talk first, and had motioned to him to
listen. Fragments of the conversation were inaudible and fragments
incomprehensible. A Spanish galleon from the Philippines hopelessly
aground, and its treasure buried against the day of return, lay in
the background of the story; a shipwrecked crew thinned by disease,
a quarrel or so, and the needs of discipline, and at last taking to
their boats never to be heard of again. Then Chang-hi, only a year
since, wandering ashore, had happened upon the ingots hidden for two
hundred years, had deserted his junk, and reburied them with infinite
toil, single-handed but very safe. He laid great stress on the
safety—it was a secret of his. Now he wanted help to return and
exhume them. Presently the little map fluttered and the voices sank.
A fine story for two stranded British wastrels to hear! Evans' dream
shifted to the moment when he had Chang-hi's pigtail in his hand. The
life of a Chinaman is scarcely sacred like a European's. The cunning
little face of Chang-hi, first keen and furious like a startled snake,
and then fearful, treacherous and pitiful, became overwhelmingly
prominent in the dream. At the end Chang-hi had grinned, a most
incomprehensible and startling grin. Abruptly things became very
unpleasant, as they will do at times in dreams. Chang-hi gibbered and
threatened him. He saw in his dream heaps and heaps of gold, and
Chang-hi intervening and struggling to hold him back from it. He took
Chang-hi by the pigtail—how big the yellow brute was, and how he
struggled and grinned! He kept growing bigger, too. Then the bright
heaps of gold turned to a roaring furnace, and a vast devil,
surprisingly like Chang-hi, but with a huge black tail, began to feed
him with coals. They burnt his mouth horribly. Another devil was
shouting his name: "Evans, Evans, you sleepy fool!"—or was it Hooker?
He woke up. They were in the mouth of the lagoon.
"There are the three palm-trees. It must be in a line with that clump
of bushes," said his companion. "Mark that. If we go to those bushes
and then strike into the bush in a straight line from here, we shall
come to it when we come to the stream."
They could see now where the mouth of the stream opened out. At the
sight of it Evans revived. "Hurry up, man," he said, "Or by heaven I
shall have to drink sea water!" He gnawed his hand and stared at the
gleam of silver among the rocks and green tangle.
Presently he turned almost fiercely upon Hooker. "Give me the
paddle," he said.
So they reached the river mouth. A little way up Hooker took some
water in the hollow of his hand, tasted it, and spat it out. A little
further he tried again. "This will do," he said, and they began
"Curse this!" said Evans, suddenly. "It's too slow." And, leaning
dangerously over the fore part of the canoe, he began to suck up the
water with his lips.
Presently they made an end of drinking, and, running the canoe into a
little creek, were about to land among the thick growth that overhung
"We shall have to scramble through this to the beach to find our
bushes and get the line to the place," said Evans.
"We had better paddle round," said Hooker.
So they pushed out again into the river and paddled back down it to
the sea, and along the shore to the place where the clump of bushes
grew. Here they landed, pulled the light canoe far up the beach, and
then went up towards the edge of the jungle until they could see the
opening of the reef and the bushes in a straight line. Evans had
taken a native implement out of the canoe. It was L-shaped, and the
transverse piece was armed with polished stone. Hooker carried the
paddle. "It is straight now in this direction," said he; "we must push
through this till we strike the stream. Then we must prospect."
They pushed through a close tangle of reeds, broad fronds, and young
trees, and at first it was toilsome going, but very speedily the trees
became larger and the ground beneath them opened out. The blaze of the
sunlight was replaced by insensible degrees by cool shadow. The trees
became at last vast pillars that rose up to a canopy of greenery far
overhead. Dim white flowers hung from their stems, and ropy creepers
swung from tree to tree. The shadow deepened. On the ground, blotched
fungi and a red-brown incrustation became frequent.
Evans shivered. "It seems almost cold here after the blaze outside."
"I hope we are keeping to the straight," said Hooker.
Presently they saw, far ahead, a gap in the sombre darkness where
white shafts of hot sunlight smote into the forest. There also was
brilliant green undergrowth, and coloured flowers. Then they heard the
rush of water.
"Here is the river. We should be close to it now," said Hooker.
The vegetation was thick by the river bank. Great plants, as yet
unnamed, grew among the roots of the big trees, and spread rosettes of
huge green fans towards the strip of sky. Many flowers and a creeper
with shiny foliage clung to the exposed stems. On the water of the
broad, quiet pool which the treasure seekers now overlooked there
floated big oval leaves and a waxen, pinkish-white flower not unlike
a water-lily. Further, as the river bent away from them, the water
suddenly frothed and became noisy in a rapid.
"Well?" said Evans.
"We have swerved a little from the straight," said Hooker. "That was
to be expected."
He turned and looked into the dim cool shadows of the silent forest
behind them. "If we beat a little way up and down the stream we should
come to something."
"You said—" began Evans.
"He said there was a heap of stones," said Hooker.
The two men looked at each other for a moment.
"Let us try a little down-stream first," said Evans.
They advanced slowly, looking curiously about them. Suddenly Evans
stopped. "What the devil's that?" he said.
Hooker followed his finger. "Something blue," he said. It had come
into view as they topped a gentle swell of the ground. Then he began
to distinguish what it was.
He advanced suddenly with hasty steps, until the body that belonged to
the limp hand and arm had become visible. His grip tightened on the
implement he carried. The thing was the figure of a Chinaman lying on
his face. The abandon of the pose was unmistakable.
The two men drew closer together, and stood staring silently at this
ominous dead body. It lay in a clear space among the trees. Near by
was a spade after the Chinese pattern, and further off lay a scattered
heap of stones, close to a freshly dug hole.
"Somebody has been here before," said Hooker, clearing his throat.
Then suddenly Evans began to swear and rave, and stamp upon the
Hooker turned white but said nothing. He advanced towards the
prostrate body. He saw the neck was puffed and purple, and the hands
and ankles swollen. "Pah!" he said, and suddenly turned away and went
towards the excavation. He gave a cry of surprise. He shouted to
Evans, who was following him slowly.
"You fool! It's all right It's here still." Then he turned again and
looked at the dead Chinaman, and then again at the hole.
Evans hurried to the hole. Already half exposed by the ill-fated
wretch beside them lay a number of dull yellow bars. He bent down in
the hole, and, clearing off the soil with his bare hands, hastily
pulled one of the heavy masses out. As he did so a little thorn
pricked his hand. He pulled the delicate spike out with his fingers
and lifted the ingot.
"Only gold or lead could weigh like this," he said exultantly.
Hooker was still looking at the dead Chinaman. He was puzzled.
"He stole a march on his friends," he said at last. "He came here
alone, and some poisonous snake has killed him … I wonder how he
found the place."
Evans stood with the ingot in his hands. What did a dead Chinaman
signify? "We shall have to take this stuff to the mainland piecemeal,
and bury it there for a while. How shall we get it to the canoe?"
He took his jacket off and spread it on the ground, and flung two or
three ingots into it. Presently he found that another little thorn had
punctured his skin.
"This is as much as we can carry," said he. Then suddenly, with a
queer rush of irritation, "What are you staring at?"
Hooker turned to him. "I can't stand … him." He nodded towards the
corpse. "It's so like—"
"Rubbish!" said Evans. "All Chinamen are alike."
Hooker looked into his face. "I'm going to bury that, anyhow, before
I lend a hand with this stuff."
"Don't be a fool, Hooker," said Evans. "Let that mass of corruption
Hooker hesitated, and then his eye went carefully over the brown soil
about them. "It scares me somehow," he said.
"The thing is," said Evans, "what to do with these ingots. Shall we
re-bury them over here, or take them across the strait in the canoe?"
Hooker thought. His puzzled gaze wandered among the tall tree-trunks,
and up into the remote sunlit greenery overhead. He shivered again
as his eye rested upon the blue figure of the Chinaman. He stared
searchingly among the grey depths between the trees.
"What's come to you, Hooker?" said Evans. "Have you lost your wits?"
"Let's get the gold out of this place, anyhow," said Hooker.
He took the ends of the collar of the coat in his hands, and Evans
took the opposite corners, and they lifted the mass. "Which way?" said
Evans. "To the canoe?"
"It's queer," said Evans, when they had advanced only a few steps,
"but my arms ache still with that paddling."
"Curse it!" he said. "But they ache! I must rest."
They let the coat down. Evans' face was white, and little drops of
sweat stood out upon his forehead. "It's stuffy, somehow, in this
Then with an abrupt transition to unreasonable anger: "What is the
good of waiting here all the day? Lend a hand, I say! You have done
nothing but moon since we saw the dead Chinaman."
Hooker was looking steadfastly at his companion's face. He helped
raise the coat bearing the ingots, and they went forward perhaps a
hundred yards in silence. Evans began to breathe heavily. "Can't you
speak?" he said.
"What's the matter with you?" said Hooker.
Evans stumbled, and then with a sudden curse flung the coat from
him. He stood for a moment staring at Hooker, and then with a groan
clutched at his own throat.
"Don't come near me," he said, and went and leant against a tree. Then
in a steadier voice, "I'll be better in a minute."
Presently his grip upon the trunk loosened, and he slipped slowly down
the stem of the tree until he was a crumpled heap at its foot. His
hands were clenched convulsively. His face became distorted with pain.
Hooker approached him.
"Don't touch me! Don't touch me!" said Evans in a stifled voice. "Put
the gold back on the coat."
"Can't I do anything for you?" said Hooker.
"Put the gold back on the coat."
As Hooker handled the ingots he felt a little prick on the ball of
his thumb. He looked at his hand and saw a slender thorn, perhaps two
inches in length.
Evans gave an inarticulate cry and rolled over.
Hooker's jaw dropped. He stared at the thorn for a moment with dilated
eyes. Then he looked at Evans, who was now crumpled together on the
ground, his back bending and straitening spasmodically. Then he looked
through the pillars of the trees and net-work of creeper stems, to
where in the dim grey shadow the blue-clad body of the Chinaman was
still indistinctly visible. He thought of the little dashes in the
corner of the plan, and in a moment he understood.
"God help me!" he said. For the thorns were similar to those the
Dyaks poison and use in their blowing-tubes. He understood now
what Chang-hi's assurance of the safety of his treasure meant. He
understood that grin now.
"Evans!" he cried.
But Evans was silent and motionless now, save for a horrible spasmodic
twitching of his limbs. A profound silence brooded over the forest.
Then Hooker began to suck furiously at the little pink spot on the
ball of his thumb—sucking for dear life. Presently he felt a strange
aching pain in his arms and shoulders, and his fingers seemed
difficult to bend. Then he knew that sucking was no good.
Abruptly he stopped, and sitting down by the pile of ingots, and
resting his chin upon his hands and his elbows upon his knees, stared
at the distorted but still stirring body of his companion. Chang-hi's
grin came in his mind again. The dull pain spread towards his throat
and grew slowly in intensity. Far above him a faint breeze stirred the
greenery, and the white petals of some unknown flower came floating
down through the gloom.