Authors: H.G. Wells
“Please bring a light at once,” he said in the passage. “There is something wrong with my friend.”
Then he returned to the motionless seated figure, grasped the shoulder, shook it, and shouted. The room was flooded with yellow glare as his astonished landlady entered with the light. His face was white as he turned blinking towards her. “I must fetch a doctor at once,” he said. “It is either death or a fit. Is there a doctor in the village? Where is a doctor to be found?”
The state of cataleptic rigour into which this man had fallen, lasted for an unprecedented length of time, and then he passed slowly to the flaccid state, to a lax attitude suggestive of profound repose. Then it was his eyes could be closed.
He was removed from the hotel to the Boscastle surgery, and from the surgery, after some weeks, to London. But he still resisted every attempt at reanimation. After a time, for reasons that will appear later, these attempts were discontinued. For a great space he lay in that strange condition, inert and still—neither dead nor living but, as it were, suspended, hanging midway between nothingness and existence. His was a darkness unbroken by a ray of thought or sensation, a dreamless inanition, a vast space of peace. The tumult of his mind had swelled and risen to an abrupt climax of silence. Where was the man? Where is any man when insensibility takes hold of him?
“It seems only yesterday,” said Isbister. “I remember it all as though it happened yesterday—clearer perhaps, than if it had happened yesterday.”
It was the Isbister of the last chapter, but he was no longer a young man. The hair that had been brown and a trifle in excess of the fashionable length, was iron grey and clipped close, and the face that had been pink and white was buff and ruddy. He had a pointed beard shot with grey. He talked to an elderly man who wore a summer suit of drill (the summer of that year was unusually hot). This was Warming, a London solicitor and next of kin to Graham, the man who had fallen into the trance. And the two men stood side by side in a room in a house in London regarding his recumbent figure.
It was a yellow figure lying lax upon a water-bed and clad in a flowing shirt, a figure with a shrunken face and a stubby beard, lean limbs and lank nails, and about it was a case of thin glass. This glass seemed to mark off the sleeper from the reality of life about him, he was a thing apart, a strange, isolated abnormality. The two men stood close to the glass, peering in.
“The thing gave me a shock,” said Isbister. “I feel a queer sort of surprise even now when I think of his white eyes. They were white, you know, rolled up. Coming here again brings it all back to me.”
“Have you never seen him since that time?” asked Warming.
“Often wanted to come,” said Isbister; “but business nowadays is too serious a thing for much holiday keeping. I’ve been in America most of the time.”
“If I remember rightly,” said Warming, “you were an artist?”
“Was. And then I became a married man. I saw it was all up with black and white, very soon—at least for a mediocre man, and I jumped on to process. Those posters on the Cliffs at Dover are by my people.”
“Good posters,” admitted the solicitor, “though I was sorry to see them there.”
“Last as long as the cliffs, if necessary,” exclaimed Isbister with satisfaction. “The world changes. When he fell asleep, twenty years ago, I was down at Boscastle with a box of water-colours and a noble, old-fashioned ambition. I didn’t expect that some day my pigments would glorify the whole blessed coast of England, from Land’s End round again to the Lizard. Luck comes to a man very often when he’s not looking.”
Warming seemed to doubt the quality of the luck. “I just missed seeing you, if I recollect aright.”
“You came back by the trap that took me to Camelford railway station. It was close on the Jubilee, Victoria’s Jubilee, because I remember the seats and flags in Westminster, and the row with the cabman at Chelsea.”
“The Diamond Jubilee, it was,” said Warming; “the second one.”
“Ah, yes! At the proper Jubilee—the Fifty Year affair—I was down at Wookey—a boy. I missed all that. . . . What a fuss we had with him! My landlady wouldn’t take him in, wouldn’t let him stay—he looked so queer when he was rigid. We had to carry him in a chair up to the hotel. And the Boscastle doctor—it wasn’t the present chap, but the G. P. before him—was at him until nearly two, with me and the landlord holding lights and so forth.”
“It was a cataleptic rigour at first, wasn’t it?”
“Stiff !—wherever you bent him he stuck. You might have stood him on his head and he’d have stopped. I never saw such stiffness. Of course this”—he indicated the prostrate figure by a movement of his head—“is quite different. And, of course, the little doctor—what was his name?”
“Smithers it was—was quite wrong in trying to fetch him round too soon, according to all accounts. The things he did. Even now it makes me feel all—ugh! Mustard, snuff, pricking. And one of those beastly little things, not dynamos—”
“Yes. You could see his muscles throb and jump, and he twisted about. There was just two flaring yellow candles, and all the shadows were shivering, and the little doctor nervous and putting on side, and
—stark and squirming in the most unnatural ways. Well, it made me dream.”
“It’s a strange state,” said Warming.
“It’s a sort of complete absence,” said Isbister. “Here’s the body, empty. Not dead a bit, and yet not alive. It’s like a seat vacant and marked ‘engaged.’ No feeling, no digestion, no beating of the heart—not a flutter.
doesn’t make me feel as if there was a man present. In a sense it’s more dead than death, for these doctors tell me that even the hair has stopped growing. Now with the proper dead, the hair will go on growing—”
“I know,” said Warming, with a flash of pain in his expression.
They peered through the glass again. Graham was indeed in a strange state, in the flaccid phase of a trance, but a trance unprecedented in medical history. Trances had lasted for as much as a year before—but at the end of that time it had ever been a waking or a death; sometimes first one and then the other. Isbister noted the marks the physicians had made in injecting nourishment, for that device had been resorted to to postpone collapse; he pointed them out to Warming, who had been trying not to see them.
“And while he has been lying here,” said Isbister, with the zest of a life freely spent, “I have changed my plans in life; married, raised a family, my eldest lad—I hadn’t begun to think of sons then—is an American citizen, and looking forward to leaving Harvard. There’s a touch of grey in my hair. And this man, not a day older nor wiser (practically) than I was in my downy days. It’s curious to think of.”
Warming turned. “And I have grown old too. I played cricket with him when I was still only a lad. And he looks a young man still. Yellow perhaps. But that
a young man nevertheless.”
“And there’s been the War,” said Isbister.
“From beginning to end.”
“And these Martians.”
“I’ve understood,” said Isbister after a pause, “that he had some moderate property of his own?”
“That is so,” said Warming. He coughed primly. “As it happens—I have charge of it.”
“Ah!” Isbister thought, hesitated and spoke: “No doubt—his keep here is not expensive—no doubt it will have improved— accumulated?”
“It has. He will wake up very much better off—if he wakes— than when he slept.”
“As a business man,” said Isbister, “that thought has naturally been in my mind. I have, indeed, sometimes thought that, speaking commercially, of course, this sleep may be a very good thing for him. That he knows what he is about, so to speak, in being insensible so long. If he had lived straight on—”
“I doubt if he would have premeditated as much,” said Warming. “He was not a far-sighted man. In fact—”
“We differed on that point. I stood to him somewhat in the relation of a guardian. You have probably seen enough of affairs to recognise that occasionally a certain friction—. But even if that was the case, there is a doubt whether he will ever wake. This sleep exhausts slowly, but it exhausts. Apparently he is sliding slowly, very slowly and tediously, down a long slope, if you can understand me?”
“It will be a pity to lose his surprise. There’s been a lot of change these twenty years. It’s Rip Van Winkle come real.”
“It’s Bellamy,” said Warming. “There has been a lot of change certainly. And, among other changes; I have changed. I am an old man.”
Isbister hesitated, and then feigned a belated surprise. “I shouldn’t have thought it.”
“I was forty-three when his bankers—you remember you wired to his bankers—sent on to me.”
“I got their address from the cheque book in his pocket,” said Isbister.
“Well, the addition is not difficult,” said Warming.
There was another pause, and then Isbister gave way to an unavoidable curiosity. “He may go on for years yet,” he said, and had a moment of hesitation. “We have to consider that. His affairs, you know, may fall some day into the hands of—someone else, you know.”
“That, if you will believe me, Mr. Isbister, is one of the problems most constantly before my mind. We happen to be—as a matter of fact, there are no very trustworthy connexions of ours. It is a grotesque and unprecedented position.”
“It is,” said Isbister. “As a matter of fact, it’s a case for a public trustee, if only we had such a functionary.”
“It seems to me it’s a case for some public body, some practically undying guardian. If he really is going on living—as the doctors, some of them, think. As a matter of fact, I have gone to one or two public men about it. But, so far, nothing has been done.”
“It wouldn’t be a bad idea to hand him over to some public body—the British Museum Trustees, or the Royal College of Physicians. Sounds a bit odd, of course, but the whole situation is odd.”
“The difficulty is to induce them to take him.”
“Red tape, I suppose?”
Pause. “It’s a curious business, certainly,” said Isbister. “And compound interest has a way of mounting up.”
“It has,” said Warming. “And now the gold supplies are running short there is a tendency towards . . . appreciation.”
“I’ve felt that,” said Isbister with a grimace. “But it makes it better for
“If he wakes,” echoed Isbister. “Do you notice the pinched-in look of his nose, and the way in which his eyelids sink?”
Warming looked and thought for a space. “I doubt if he will wake,” he said at last.
“I never properly understood,” said Isbister, “what it was brought this on. He told me something about overstudy. I’ve often been curious.”
“He was a man of considerable gifts, but spasmodic, emotional. He had grave domestic troubles, divorced his wife, in fact, and it was as a relief from that, I think, that he took up politics of the rabid sort. He was a fanatical Radical—a Socialist—or typical Liberal, as they used to call themselves, of the advanced school. Energetic—flighty—undisciplined. Overwork upon a controversy did this for him. I remember the pamphlet he wrote—a curious production. Wild, whirling stuff. There were one or two prophecies. Some of them are already exploded, some of them are established facts. But for the most part to read such a thesis is to realise how full the world is of unanticipated things. He will have much to learn, much to unlearn, when he wakes. If ever a waking comes.”
“I’d give anything to be there,” said Isbister, “just to hear what he would say to it all.”
“So would I,” said Warming. “Aye! so would I,” with an old man’s sudden turn to self pity. “But I shall never see him wake.”
He stood looking thoughtfully at the waxen figure. “He will never wake,” he said at last. He sighed. “He will never wake again.”
But Warming was wrong in that. An awakening came.
What a wonderfully complex thing! this simple seeming unity—the self ! Who can trace its reintegration as morning after morning we awaken, the flux and confluence of its countless factors interweaving, rebuilding, the dim first stirrings of the soul, the growth and synthesis of the unconscious to the sub-conscious, the sub-conscious to dawning consciousness, until at last we recognise ourselves again. And as it happens to most of us after the night’s sleep, so it was with Graham at the end of his vast slumber. A dim cloud of sensation taking shape, a cloudy dreariness, and he found himself vaguely somewhere, recumbent, faint, but alive.
The pilgrimage towards a personal being seemed to traverse vast gulfs, to occupy epochs. Gigantic dreams that were terrible realities at the time, left vague perplexing memories, strange creatures, strange scenery, as if from another planet. There was a distinct impression, too, of a momentous conversation, of a name—he could not tell what name—that was subsequently to recur, of some queer long-forgotten sensation of vein and muscle, of a feeling of vast hopeless effort, the effort of a man near drowning in darkness. Then came a panorama of dazzling unstable confluent scenes.
Graham became aware his eyes were open and regarding some unfamiliar thing.
It was something white, the edge of something, a frame of wood. He moved his head slightly, following the contour of this shape. It went up beyond the top of his eyes. He tried to think where he might be. Did it matter, seeing he was so wretched? The colour of his thoughts was a dark depression. He felt the featureless misery of one who wakes towards the hour of dawn. He had an uncertain sense of whispers and footsteps hastily receding.
The movement of his head involved a perception of extreme physical weakness. He supposed he was in bed in the hotel at the place in the valley—but he could not recall that white edge. He must have slept. He remembered now that he had wanted to sleep. He recalled the cliff and waterfall again, and then recollected something about talking to a passer-by.
How long had he slept? What was that sound of pattering feet? And that rise and fall, like the murmur of breakers on pebbles? He put out a languid hand to reach his watch from the chair whereon it was his habit to place it, and touched some smooth hard surface like glass. This was so unexpected that it startled him extremely. Quite suddenly he rolled over, stared for a moment, and struggled into a sitting position. The effort was unexpectedly difficult, and it left him giddy and weak—and amazed.
He rubbed his eyes. The riddle of his surroundings was confusing but his mind was quite clear—evidently his sleep had benefitted him. He was not in a bed at all as he understood the word, but lying naked on a very soft and yielding mattress, in a trough of dark glass. The mattress was partly transparent, a fact he observed with a strange sense of insecurity, and below it was a mirror reflecting him greyly. About his arm—and he saw with a shock that his skin was strangely dry and yellow—was bound a curious apparatus of rubber, bound so cunningly that it seemed to pass into his skin above and below. And this strange bed was placed in a case of greenish coloured glass (as it seemed to him), a bar in the white framework of which had first arrested his attention. In the corner of the case was a stand of glittering and delicately made apparatus, for the most part quite strange appliances, though a maximum and minimum thermometer was recognisable.
The slightly greenish tint of the glass-like substance which surrounded him on every hand obscured what lay behind, but he perceived it was a vast apartment of splendid appearance, and with a very large and simple white archway facing him. Close to the walls of the cage were articles of furniture, a table covered with a silvery cloth, silvery like the side of a fish, a couple of graceful chairs, and on the table a number of dishes with substances piled on them, a bottle and two glasses. He realised that he was intensely hungry.
He could see no human being, and after a period of hesitation scrambled off the translucent mattress and tried to stand on the clean white floor of his little apartment. He had miscalculated his strength, however, and staggered and put his hand against the glass-like pane before him to steady himself. For a moment it resisted his hand, bending outward like a distended bladder, then it broke with a slight report and vanished—a pricked bubble. He reeled out into the general space of the hall, greatly astonished. He caught at the table to save himself, knocking one of the glasses to the floor—it rang but did not break—and sat down in one of the armchairs.
When he had a little recovered he filled the remaining glass from the bottle and drank—a colourless liquid it was, but not water, with a pleasing faint aroma and taste and a quality of immediate support and stimulus. He put down the vessel and looked about him.
The apartment lost none of its size and magnificence now that the greenish transparency that had intervened was removed. The archway he saw led to a flight of steps, going downward without the intermediation of a door, to a spacious transverse passage. This passage ran between polished pillars of some white-veined substance of deep ultramarine; and along it came the sound of human movements and voices and a deep undeviating droning note. He sat, now fully awake, listening alertly, forgetting the viands in his attention.
Then with a shock he remembered that he was naked, and casting about him for covering, saw a long black robe thrown on one of the chairs beside him. This he wrapped about him and sat down again, trembling.
His mind was still a surging perplexity. Clearly he had slept, and had been removed in his sleep. But where? And who were those people, the distant crowd beyond the deep blue pillars? Boscastle? He poured out and partially drank another glass of the colourless fluid.
What was this place?—this place that to his senses seemed subtly quivering like a thing alive? He looked about him at the clean and beautiful form of the apartment, unstained by ornament, and saw that the roof was broken in one place by a circular shaft full of light, and, as he looked, a steady, sweeping shadow blotted it out and passed, and came again and passed. “Beat, beat,” that sweeping shadow had a note of its own in the subdued tumult that filled the air.
He would have called out, but only a little sound came into his throat. Then he stood up, and, with the uncertain steps of a drunkard, made his way towards the archway. He staggered down the steps, tripped on the corner of the black cloak he had wrapped about himself, and saved himself by catching at one of the blue pillars.
The passage ran down a cool vista of blue and purple, and ended remotely in a railed space like a balcony, brightly lit and projecting into a space of haze, a space like the interior of some gigantic building. Beyond and remote were vast and vague architectural forms. The tumult of voices rose now loud and clear, and on the balcony and with their backs to him, gesticulating and apparently in animated conversation, were three figures, richly dressed in loose and easy garments of bright soft colourings. The noise of a great multitude of people poured up over the balcony, and once it seemed the top of a banner passed, and once some brightly coloured object, a pale blue cap or garment thrown up into the air perhaps, flashed athwart the space and fell. The shouts sounded like English, there was a reiteration of “Wake!” He heard some indistinct shrill cry, and abruptly these three men began laughing.
“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed one—a red-haired man in a short purple robe. “When the Sleeper wakes—When!”
He turned his eyes full of merriment along the passage. His face changed, the whole man changed, became rigid. The other two turned swiftly at his exclamation and stood motionless. Their faces assumed an expression of consternation, an expression that deepened into awe.
Suddenly Graham’s knees bent beneath him, his arm against the pillar collapsed limply, he staggered forward and fell upon his face.