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The Purple Cloud by M.P. Shiel

Part 2 out of 6

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quick-repeated spurts, and mixing with the diggings my crazy wavings,
and with both the daft shoutings of 'Hallo! Hi! Bravo! I have _been to
the Pole!_'

Well, vanity, vanity. Nearer still I drew: it was broad morning, going
on toward noon: I was half a mile away, I was fifty yards. But on board
the _Boreal_, though now they _must_ have heard me, seen me, I observed
no movement of welcome, but all, all was still as death that still
Arctic morning, my God. Only, the ragged sail flapped a little, and--one
on each side--two ice-floes sluggishly bombarded the bows, with hollow

I was certain now that Sallitt it was who looked across the ice: but
when the ship swung a little round, I noticed that the direction of his
gaze was carried with her movement, he no longer looking my way.

'Why, Sallitt!' I shouted reproachfully: 'why, Sallitt, man...!' I

But even as I shouted and whined, a perfect wild certainty was in my
heart: for an aroma like peach, my God, had been suddenly wafted from
the ship upon me, and I must have very well known then that that
watchful outlook of Sallitt saw nothing, and on the _Boreal_ were dead
men all; indeed, very soon I saw one of his eyes looking like a glass
eye which has slid askew, and glares distraught. And now again my
wretched body failed, and my head dropped forward, where I sat, upon
the kayak-deck.

* * * * *

Well, after a long time, I lifted myself to look again at that forlorn
and wandering craft. There she lay, quiet, tragic, as it were culpable
of the dark secret she bore; and Sallitt, who had been such good friends
with me, would not cease his stare. I knew quite well why he was there:
he had leant over to vomit, and had leant ever since, his forearms
pressed on the bulwark-beam, his left knee against the boards, and his
left shoulder propped on the cathead. When I came quite near, I saw that
with every bump of the two floes against the bows, his face shook in
response, and nodded a little; strange to say, he had no covering on his
head, and I noted the play of the faint breezes in his uncut hair. After
a time I would approach no more, for I was afraid; I did not dare, the
silence of the ship seemed so sacred and awful; and till late afternoon
I sat there, watching the black and massive hull. Above her water-line
emerged all round a half-floating fringe of fresh-green sea-weed,
proving old neglect; an abortive attempt had apparently been made to
lower, or take in, the larch-wood pram, for there she hung by a jammed
davit-rope, stern up, bow in the water; the only two arms of the
windmill moved this way and that, through some three degrees, with an
_andante_ creaking sing-song; some washed clothes, tied on the bow-sprit
rigging to dry, were still there; the iron casing all round the bluff
bows was red and rough with rust; at several points the rigging was in
considerable tangle; occasionally the boom moved a little with a
tortured skirling cadence; and the sail, rotten, I presume, from
exposure--for she had certainly encountered no bad weather--gave out
anon a heavy languid flap at a rent down the middle. Besides Sallitt,
looking out there where he had jammed himself, I saw no one.

By a paddle-stroke now, and another presently, I had closely approached
her about four in the afternoon, though my awe of the ship was
complicated by that perfume of hers, whose fearful effects I knew. My
tentative approach, however, proved to me, when I remained unaffected,
that, here and now, whatever danger there had been was past; and
finally, by a hanging rope, with a thumping desperation of heart, I
clambered up her beam.

* * * * *

They had died, it seemed, very suddenly, for nearly all the twelve were
in poses of activity. Egan was in the very act of ascending the
companion-way; Lamburn was sitting against the chart-room door,
apparently cleaning two carbines; Odling at the bottom of the
engine-room stair seemed to be drawing on a pair of reindeer komagar;
and Cartwright, who was often in liquor, had his arms frozen tight round
the neck of Martin, whom he seemed to be kissing, they two lying stark
at the foot of the mizzen-mast.

Over all--over men, decks, rope-coils--in the cabin, in the
engine-room--between skylight leaves--on every shelf, in every
cranny--lay a purplish ash or dust, very impalpably fine. And steadily
reigning throughout the ship, like the very spirit of death, was that
aroma of peach-blossom.

* * * * *

Here it had reigned, as I could see from the log-dates, from the rust on
the machinery, from the look of the bodies, from a hundred indications,
during something over a year. It was, therefore, mainly by the random
workings of winds and currents that this fragrant ship of death had been
brought hither to me.

And this was the first direct intimation which I had that the Unseen
Powers (whoever and whatever they may be), who through the history of
the world had been so very, very careful to conceal their Hand from the
eyes of men, hardly any longer intended to be at the pains to conceal
their Hand from me. It was just as though the Boreal had been openly
presented to me by a spiritual agency, which, though I could not see it,
I could readily apprehend.

* * * * *

The dust, though very thin and flighty above-decks, lay thickly
deposited below, and after having made a tour of investigation
throughout the ship, the first thing which I did was to examine
that--though I had tasted nothing all day, and was exhausted to death. I
found my own microscope where I had left it in the box in my berth to
starboard, though I had to lift up Egan to get at it, and to step over
Lamburn to enter the chart-room; but there, toward evening, I sat at the
table and bent to see if I could make anything of the dust, while it
seemed to me as if all the myriad spirits of men that have sojourned on
the earth, and angel and devil, and all Time and all Eternity, hung
silent round for my decision; and such an ague had me, that for a long
time my wandering finger-tips, all ataxic with agitation, eluded every
delicate effort which I made, and I could nothing do. Of course, I know
that an odour of peach-blossom in the air, resulting in death, could
only be associated with some vaporous effluvium of cyanogen, or of
hydrocyanic ('prussic') acid, or of both; and when I at last managed to
examine some of the dust under the microscope, I was not therefore
surprised to find, among the general mass of purplish ash, a number of
bright-yellow particles, which could only be minute crystals of potassic
ferrocyanide. What potassic ferrocyanide was doing on board the _Boreal_
I did not know, and I had neither the means, nor the force of mind,
alas! to dive then further into the mystery; I understood only that by
some extraordinary means the air of the region just south of the Polar
environ had been impregnated with a vapour which was either cyanogen, or
some product of cyanogen; also, that this deadly vapour, which is very
soluble, had by now either been dissolved by the sea, or else dispersed
into space (probably the latter), leaving only its faint after-perfume;
and seeing this, I let my poor abandoned head drop again on the table,
and long hours I sat there staring mad, for I had a suspicion, my God,
and a fear, in my breast.

* * * * *

The _Boreal,_ I found, contained sufficient provisions, untouched by
the dust, in cases, casks, &c., to last me, probably, fifty years. After
two days, when I had partially scrubbed and boiled the filth of fifteen
months from my skin, and solaced myself with better food, I overhauled
her thoroughly, and spent three more days in oiling and cleaning the
engine. Then, all being ready, I dragged my twelve dead and laid them
together in two rows on the chart-room floor; and I hoisted for love the
poor little kayak which had served me through so many tribulations. At
nine in the morning of the 6th July, a week from my first sighting of
the _Boreal_, I descended to the engine-room to set out.

The screws, like those of most quite modern ships, were driven by the
simple contrivance of a constant stream of liquid air, contained in very
powerful tanks, exploding through capillary tubes into non-expansion
slide-valve chests, much as in the ordinary way with steam: a motor
which gave her, in spite of her bluff hulk, a speed of sixteen knots. It
is, therefore, the simplest thing for one man to take these ships round
the world, since their movement, or stopping, depend upon nothing but
the depressing or raising of a steel handle, provided that one does not
get blown to the sky meantime, as liquid air, in spite of its thousand
advantages, occasionally blows people. At any rate, I had tanks of air
sufficient to last me through twelve years' voyaging; and there was the
ordinary machine on board for making it, with forty tons of coal, in
case of need, in the bunkers, and two excellent Belleville boilers: so I
was well supplied with motors at least.

The ice here was quite slack, and I do not think I ever saw Arctic
weather so bright and gay, the temperature at 41 deg.. I found that I was
midway between Franz Josef and Spitzbergen, in latitude 79 deg. 23' N. and
longitude 39 deg. E.; my way was perfectly clear; and something almost like
a mournful hopefulness was in me as the engines slid into their clanking
turmoil, and those long-silent screws began to churn the Arctic sea. I
ran up with alacrity and took my stand at the wheel; and the bows of my
eventful Argo turned southward and westward.

* * * * *

When I needed food or sleep, the ship slept, too: when I awoke, she
continued her way.

Sixteen hours a day sometimes I stood sentinel at that wheel,
overlooking the varied monotony of the ice-sea, till my knees would
give, and I wondered why a wheel at which one might sit was not
contrived, rather delicate steering being often required among the floes
and bergs. By now, however, I was less weighted with my ball of Polar
clothes, and stood almost slim in a Lap great-coat, a round Siberian fur
cap on my head.

At midnight when I threw myself into my old berth, it was just as though
the engines, subsided now into silence, were a dead thing, and had a
ghost which haunted me; for I heard them still, and yet not them, but
the silence of their ghost.

Sometimes I would startle from sleep, horrified to the heart at some
sound of exploding iceberg, or bumping floe, noising far through that
white mystery of quietude, where the floes and bergs were as floating
tombs, and the world a liquid cemetery. Never could I describe the
strange Doom's-day shock with which such a sound would recall me from
far depths of chaos to recollection of myself: for often-times, both
waking and in nightmare, I did not know on which planet I was, nor in
which Age, but felt myself adrift in the great gulf of time and space
and circumstance, without bottom for my consciousness to stand upon; and
the world was all mirage and a new show to me; and the boundaries of
dream and waking lost.

Well, the weather was most fair all the time, and the sea like a pond.
During the morning of the fifth day, the 11th July, I entered, and went
moving down, an extraordinary long avenue of snow-bergs and floes, most
regularly placed, half a mile across and miles long, like a Titanic
double-procession of statues, or the Ming Tombs, but rising and sinking
on the cadenced swell; many towering high, throwing placid shadows on
the aisle between; some being of a lucid emerald tint; and three or four
pouring down cascades that gave a far and chaunting sound. The sea
between was of a strange thick bluishness, almost like raw egg-white;
while, as always here, some snow-clouds, white and woolly, floated in
the pale sky. Down this avenue, which produced a mysterious impression
of Cyclopean cathedrals and odd sequesteredness, I had not passed a
mile, when I sighted a black object at the end.

I rushed to the shrouds, and very soon made out a whaler.

Again the same panting agitations, mad rage to be at her, at once
possessed me; I flew to the indicator, turned the lever to full, then
back to give the wheel a spin, then up the main-mast ratlins, waving a
long foot-bandage of vadmel tweed picked up at random, and by the time I
was within five hundred yards of her, had worked myself to such a pitch,
that I was again shouting that futile madness: 'Hullo! Hi! Bravo! _I
have been to the Pole!_'

And those twelve dead that I had in the chart-room there must have heard
me, and the men on the whaler must have heard me, and smiled their

For, as to that whaler, I should have known better at once, if I had not
been crazy, since she _looked_ like a ship of death, her boom slamming
to port and starboard on the gentle heave of the sea, and her fore-sail
reefed that serene morning. Only when I was quite near her, and hurrying
down to stop the engines, did the real truth, with perfect suddenness,
drench my heated brain; and I almost ran into her, I was so stunned.

However, I stopped the _Boreal_ in time, and later on lowered the kayak,
and boarded the other.

This ship had evidently been stricken silent in the midst of a perfect
drama of activity, for I saw not one of her crew of sixty-two who was
not busy, except one boy. I found her a good-sized thing of 500 odd
tons, ship-rigged, with auxiliary engine of seventy horse-power, and
pretty heavily armour-plated round the bows. There was no part of her
which I did not over-haul, and I could see that they had had a great
time with whales, for a mighty carcass, attached to the outside of the
ship by the powerful cant-purchase tackle, had been in process of
flensing and cutting-in, and on the deck two great blankets of blubber,
looking each a ton-weight, surrounded by twenty-seven men in many
attitudes, some terrifying to see, some disgusting, several grotesque,
all so unhuman, the whale dead, and the men dead, too, and death was
there, and the rank-flourishing germs of Inanity, and a mesmerism, and a
silence, whose dominion was established, and its reign was growing old.
Four of them, who had been removing the gums from a mass of stratified
whalebone at the mizzen-mast foot, were quite imbedded in whale-flesh;
also, in a barrel lashed to the top of the main top-gallant masthead was
visible the head of a man with a long pointed beard, looking steadily
out over the sea to the S.W., which made me notice that five only of the
probable eight or nine boats were on board; and after visiting the
'tween-decks, where I saw considerable quantities of stowed whalebone
plates, and about fifty or sixty iron oil-tanks, and cut-up blubber; and
after visiting cabin, engine-room, fo'cas'le, where I saw a lonely boy
of fourteen with his hand grasping a bottle of rum under all the
turned-up clothes in a chest, he, at the moment of death, being
evidently intent upon hiding it; and after two hours' search of the
ship, I got back to my own, and half an hour later came upon all the
three missing whale-boats about a mile apart, and steered zig-zag near
to each. They contained five men each and a steerer, and one had the
harpoon-gun fired, with the loose line coiled round and round the head
and upper part of the stroke line-manager; and in the others hundreds of
fathoms of coiled rope, with toggle-irons, whale-lances, hand-harpoons,
and dropped heads, and grins, and lazy _abandon_, and eyes that stared,
and eyes that dozed, and eyes that winked.

After this I began to sight ships not infrequently, and used regularly
to have the three lights burning all night. On the 12th July I met one,
on the 15th two, on the 16th one, on the 17th three, on the 18th
two--all Greenlanders, I think: but, of the nine, I boarded only three,
the glass quite clearly showing me, when yet far off, that on the others
was no life; and on the three which I boarded were dead men; so that
that suspicion which I had, and that fear, grew very heavy upon me.

I went on southward, day after day southward, sentinel there at my
wheel; clear sunshine by day, when the calm pale sea sometimes seemed
mixed with regions of milk, and at night the immense desolation of a
world lit by a sun that was long dead, and by a light that was gloom. It
was like Night blanched in death then; and wan as the very kingdom of
death and Hades I have seen it, most terrifying, that neuter state and
limbo of nothingness, when unreal sea and spectral sky, all boundaries
lost, mingled in a vast shadowy void of ghastly phantasmagoria, pale to
utter huelessness, at whose centre I, as if annihilated, seemed to swoon
in immensity of space. Into this disembodied world would come anon
waftures of that peachy scent which I knew: and their frequency rapidly
grew. But still the _Boreal_ moved, traversing, as it were, bottomless
Eternity: and I reached latitude 72 deg., not far now from Northern Europe.

And now, as to that blossomy peach-scent--even while some floes were yet
around me--I was just like some fantastic mariner, who, having set out
to search for Eden and the Blessed Islands, finds them, and balmy gales
from their gardens come out, while he is yet afar, to meet him with
their perfumes of almond and champac, cornel and jasmin and lotus. For I
had now reached a zone where the peach-aroma was constant; all the world
seemed embalmed in its spicy fragrance; and I could easily imagine
myself voyaging beyond the world toward some clime of perpetual and
enchanting Spring.

* * * * *

Well, I saw at last what whalers used to call 'the blink of the ice';
that is to say, its bright apparition or reflection in the sky when it
is left behind, or not yet come-to. By this time I was in a region where
a good many craft of various sorts were to be seen; I was continually
meeting them; and not one did I omit to investigate, while many I
boarded in the kayak or the larch-wood pram. Just below latitude 70 deg. I
came upon a good large fleet of what I supposed to be Lafoden cod and
herring fishers, which must have drifted somewhat on a northward
current. They had had a great season, for the boats were well laden with
curing fish. I went from one to the other on a zig-zag course, they
being widely scattered, some mere dots to the glass on the horizon. The
evening was still and clear with that astral Arctic clearness, the sun
just beginning his low-couched nightly drowse. These sturdy-looking
brown boats stood rocking gently there with slow-creaking noises, as of
things whining in slumber, without the least damage, awaiting the
appalling storms of the winter months on that tenebrous sea, when a
dark doom, and a deep grave, would not fail them. The fishers were braw
carles, wearing, many of them, fringes of beard well back from the
chin-point, with hanging woollen caps. In every case I found below-decks
a number of cruses of corn-brandy, marked _aquavit_, two of which I took
into the pram. In one of the smacks an elderly fisher was kneeling in a
forward sprawling pose, clasping the lug-mast with his arms, the two
knees wide apart, head thrown back, and the yellow eye-balls with their
islands of grey iris staring straight up the mast-pole. At another of
them, instead of boarding in the pram, I shut off the _Boreal's_ liquid
air at such a point that, by delicate steering, she slackened down to a
stoppage just a-beam of the smack, upon whose deck I was thus able to
jump down. After looking around I descended the three steps aft into the
dark and garrety below-decks, and with stooping back went calling in an
awful whisper: '_Anyone? Anyone?_' Nothing answered me: and when I went
up again, the _Boreal_ had drifted three yards beyond my reach. There
being a dead calm, I had to plunge into the water, and in that
half-minute there a sudden cold throng of unaccountable terrors beset
me, and I can feel again now that abysmal desolation of loneliness, and
sense of a hostile and malign universe bent upon eating me up: for the
ocean seemed to me nothing but a great ghost.

Two mornings later I came upon another school, rather larger boats
these, which I found to be Brittany cod-fishers. Most of these, too, I
boarded. In every below-decks was a wooden or earthenware image of the
Virgin, painted in gaudy faded colours; and in one case I found a boy
who had been kneeling before the statue, but was toppled sideways now,
his knees still bent, and the cross of Christ in his hand. These
stalwart blue woollen blouses and tarpaulin sou'-westers lay in every
pose of death, every detail of feature and expression still perfectly
preserved. The sloops were all the same, all, all: with sing-song creaks
they rocked a little, nonchalantly: each, as it were, with a certain
sub-consciousness of its own personality, and callous unconsciousness of
all the others round it: yet each a copy of the others: the same hooks
and lines, disembowelling-knives, barrels of salt and pickle, piles and
casks of opened cod, kegs of biscuit, and low-creaking rockings, and a
bilgy smell, and dead men. The next day, about eighty miles south of the
latitude of Mount Hekla, I sighted a big ship, which turned out to be
the French cruiser _Lazare Treport_. I boarded and overhauled her
during three hours, her upper, main, and armoured deck, deck by deck, to
her lowest black depths, even childishly spying up the tubes of her two
big, rusted turret-guns. Three men in the engine-room had been much
mangled, after death, I presume, by a burst boiler; floating about 800
yards to the north-east lay a long-boat of hers, low in the water,
crammed with marines, one oar still there, jammed between the row-lock
and the rower's forced-back chin; on the ship's starboard deck, in the
long stretch of space between the two masts, the blue-jackets had
evidently been piped up, for they lay there in a sort of serried
disorder, to the number of two hundred and seventy-five. Nothing could
be of suggestion more tragic than the wasted and helpless power of this
poor wandering vessel, around whose stolid mass myriads of wavelets,
busy as aspen-leaves, bickered with a continual weltering splash that
was quite loud to hear. I sat a good time that afternoon in one of her
steely port main-deck casemates on a gun-carriage, my head sunken on my
breast, furtively eyeing the bluish turned-up feet, all shrunk,
exsanguined, of a sailor who lay on his back before me; his soles were
all that I could see, the rest of him lying head-downwards beyond the
steel door-sill.

Drenched in seas of lugubrious reverie I sat, till, with a shuddering
start, I awoke, paddled back to the _Boreal_, and, till sleep conquered
me, went on my way. At ten the next morning, coming on deck, I spied to
the west a group of craft, and turned my course upon them. They turned
out to be eight Shetland sixerns, which must have drifted north-eastward
hither. I examined them well, but they were as the long list of the
others: for all the men, and all the boys, and all the dogs on them were

* * * * *

I could have come to land a long time before I did: but I would not: I
was so afraid. For I was used to the silence of the ice: and I was used
to the silence of the sea: but, God knows it, I was afraid of the
silence of the land.

* * * * *

Once, on the 15th July, I had seen a whale, or thought I did, spouting
very remotely afar on the S.E. horizon; and on the 19th I distinctly saw
a shoal of porpoises vaulting the sea-surface, in their swift-successive
manner, northward: and seeing them, I had said pitifully to myself:
'Well, I am not quite alone in the world, then, my good God--not quite

Moreover, some days later, the _Boreal_ had found herself in a bank of
cod making away northward, millions of fish, for I saw them, and one
afternoon caught three, hand-running, with the hook.

So the sea, at least, had its tribes to be my mates.

But if I should find the land as still as the sea, without even the
spouting whale, or school of tumbling sea-hogs--_if Paris were dumber
than the eternal ice_--what then, I asked myself, should I do?

* * * * *

I could have made short work, and landed at Shetland, for I found myself
as far westward as longitude 11 deg. 23' W.: but I would not: I was so
afraid. The shrinking within me to face that vague suspicion which I
had, turned me first to a foreign land.

I made for Norway, and on the first night of this definite intention, at
about nine o'clock, the weather being gusty, the sky lowering, the air
sombrous, and the sea hard-looking, dark, and ridged, I was steaming
along at a good rate, holding the wheel, my poor port and starboard
lights still burning there, when, without the least notice, I received
the roughest physical shock of my life, being shot bodily right over
the wheel, thence, as from a cannon, twenty feet to the cabin-door,
through it head-foremost down the companion-way, and still beyond some
six yards along the passage. I had crashed into some dark and dead ship,
probably of large size, though I never saw her, nor any sign of her; and
all that night, and the next day till four in the afternoon, the
_Boreal_ went driving alone over the sea, whither she would: for I lay
unconscious. When I woke, I found that I had received really very small
injuries, considering: but I sat there on the floor a long time in a
sulky, morose, disgusted, and bitter mood; and when I rose, pettishly
stopped the ship's engines, seeing my twelve dead all huddled and
disfigured. Now I was afraid to steam by night, and even in the daytime
I would not go on for three days: for I was childishly angry with I know
not what, and inclined to quarrel with Those whom I could not see.

However, on the fourth day, a rough swell which knocked the ship about,
and made me very uncomfortable, coaxed me into moving; and I did so with
bows turned eastward and southward.

I sighted the Norway coast four days later, in latitude 63 deg. 19', at noon
of the 11th August, and pricked off my course to follow it; but it was
with a slow and dawdling reluctance that I went, at much less than
half-speed. In some eight hours, as I knew from the chart, I ought to
sight the lighthouse light on Smoelen Island; and when quiet night came,
the black water being branded with trails of still moonlight, I passed
quite close to it, between ten and twelve, almost under the shadow of
the mighty hills: but, oh my God, no light was there. And all the way
down I marked the rugged sea-board slumber darkling, afar or near, with
never, alas! one friendly light.

* * * * *

Well, on the 15th August I had another of those maniac raptures, whose
passing away would have left an elephant racked and prostrate. During
four days I had seen not one sign of present life on the Norway coast,
only hills, hills, dead and dark, and floating craft, all dead and dark;
and my eyes now, I found, had acquired a crazy fixity of stare into the
very bottom of the vacant abyss of nothingness, while I remained
unconscious of being, save of one point, rainbow-blue, far down in the
infinite, which passed slowly from left to right before my consciousness
a little way, then vanished, came back, and passed slowly again, from
left to right continually; till some prick, or voice, in my brain would
startle me into the consciousness that I was staring, whispering the
profound confidential warning: _You must not stare so, or it is over
with you!_' Well, lost in a blank trance of this sort, I was leaning
over the wheel during the afternoon of the 15th, when it was as if some
instinct or premonition in my soul leapt up, and said aloud: 'If you
look just yonder, _you will see...!_' I started, and in one instant had
surged up from all that depth of reverie to reality: I glanced to the
right: and there, at last, my God, I saw something human which moved,
rapidly moved: at last!--and it came to me.

That sense of recovery, of waking, of new solidity, of the comfortable
usual, a million-fold too intense for words--how sweetly consoling it
was! Again now, as I write, I can fancy and feel it--the rocky solidity,
the adamant ordinary, on which to base the feet, and live. From the day
when I stood at the Pole, and saw there the dizzy thing that made me
swoon, there had come into my way not one sign or trace that other
beings like myself were alive on the earth with me: till now, suddenly,
I had the sweet indubitable proof: for on the south-western sea, not
four knots away, I saw a large, swift ship: and her bows, which were
sharp as a hatchet, were steadily chipping through the smooth sea at a
pretty high pace, throwing out profuse ribbony foams that went
wide-vawering, with outward undulations, far behind her length, as she
ran the sea in haste, straight northward.

At the moment, I was steering about S.E. by S., fifteen miles out from a
shadowy-blue series of Norway mountains; and just giving the wheel one
frantic spin to starboard to bring me down upon her, I flew to the
bridge, leant my back on the main-mast, which passed through it, put a
foot on the white iron rail before me, and there at once felt all the
mocking devils of distracted revelry possess me, as I caught the cap
from my long hairs, and commenced to wave and wave and wave, red-faced
maniac that I was: for at the second nearer glance, I saw that she was
flying an ensign at the main, and a long pennant at the main-top, and I
did not know what she was flying those flags there for: and I was
embittered and driven mad.

With distinct minuteness did she print herself upon my consciousness in
that five minutes' interval: she was painted a dull and cholera yellow,
like many Russian ships, and there was a faded pink space at her bows
under the line where the yellow ceased: the ensign at her main I made
out to be the blue-and-white saltire, and she was clearly a Russian
passenger-liner, two-masted, two-funnelled, though from her funnels came
no trace of smoke, and the position of her steam-cones was anywhere. All
about her course the sea was spotted with wobbling splendours of the low
sun, large coarse blots of glory near the eye, but lessening to a
smaller pattern in the distance, and at the horizon refined to a
homogeneous band of livid silver.

The double speed of the _Boreal_ and the other, hastening opposite ways,
must have been thirty-eight or forty knots, and the meeting was
accomplished in certainly less than five minutes: yet into that time I
crowded years of life. I was shouting passionately at her, my eyes
starting from my head, my face all inflamed with rage the most prone,
loud and urgent. For she did not stop, nor signal, nor make sign of
seeing me, but came furrowing down upon me like Juggernaut, with
steadfast run. I lost reason, thought, memory, purpose, sense of
relation, in that access of delirium which transported me, and can only
remember now that in the midst of my shouting, a word, uttered by the
fiends who used my throat to express their frenzy, set me laughing high
and madly: for I was crying: 'Hi! Bravo! Why don't you stop? _Madmen! I
have been to the Pole!'_

That instant an odour arose, and came, and struck upon my brain, most
detestable, most execrable; and while one might count ten, I was aware
of her near-sounding engines, and that cursed charnel went tearing past
me on her maenad way, not fifteen yards from my eyes and nostrils. She
was a thing, my God, from which the vulture and the jackal, prowling for
offal, would fly with shrieks of loathing. I had a glimpse of decks
piled thick with her festered dead.

In big black letters on the round retreating yellow stern my eye-corner
caught the word _Yaroslav_, as I bent over the rail to retch and cough
and vomit at her. She was a horrid thing.

This ship had certainly been pretty far south in tropical or
sub-tropical latitudes with her great crowd of dead: for all the bodies
which I had seen till then, so far from smelling ill, seemed to give out
a certain perfume of the peach. She was evidently one of those many
ships of late years which have substituted liquid air for steam, yet
retained their old steam-funnels, &c., in case of emergency: for air, I
believe, was still looked at askance by several builders, on account of
the terrible accidents which it sometimes caused. The _Boreal_ herself
is a similar instance of both motors. This vessel, the _Yaroslav_, must
have been left with working engines when her crew were overtaken by
death, and, her air-tanks being still unexhausted, must have been
ranging the ocean with impunity ever since, during I knew not how many
months, or, it might be, years.

Well, I coasted Norway for nearly a hundred and sixty miles without once
going nearer land than two or three miles: for something held me back.
But passing the fjord-mouth where I knew that Aadheim was, I suddenly
turned the helm to port, almost before I knew that I was doing it, and
made for land.

In half an hour I was moving up an opening in the land with mountains on
either hand, streaky crags at their summit, umbrageous boscage below;
and the whole softened, as it were, by veils woven of the rainbow.

This arm of water lies curved about like a thread which one drops, only
the curves are much more pointed, so that every few minutes the scene
was changed, though the vessel just crawled her way up, and I could see
behind me nothing of what was passed, or only a land-locked gleam like a

I never saw water so polished and glassy, like clarid polished marble,
reflecting everything quite clean-cut in its lucid abysm, over which
hardly the faintest zephyr breathed that still sun-down; it wimpled
about the bluff _Boreal_, which seemed to move as if careful not to
bruise it, in rich wrinkles and creases, like glycerine, or
dewy-trickling lotus-oil; yet it was only the sea: and the spectacle
yonder was only crags, and autumn-foliage and mountain-slope: yet all
seemed caught-up and chaste, rapt in a trance of rose and purple, and
made of the stuff of dreams and bubbles, of pollen-of-flowers, and rinds
of the peach.

I saw it not only with delight, but with complete astonishment: having
forgotten, as was too natural in all that long barrenness of ice and
sea, that anything could be so ethereally fair: yet homely, too, human,
familiar, and consoling. The air here was richly spiced with that peachy
scent, and there was a Sabbath and a nepenthe and a charm in that place
at that hour, as it were of those gardens of Hesperus, and fields of
asphodel, reserved for the spirits of the just.

Alas! but I had the glass at my side, and for me nepenthe was mixed with
a despair immense as the vault of heaven, my good God: for anon I would
take it up to spy some perched hut of the peasant, or burg of the
'bonder,' on the peaks: and I saw no one there; and to the left, at the
third marked bend of the fjord, where there is one of those watch-towers
that these people used for watching in-coming fish, I spied, lying on a
craggy slope just before the tower, a body which looked as if it must
surely tumble head-long, but did not. And when I saw that, I felt
definitely, for the first time, that shoreless despair which I alone of
men have felt, high beyond the stars, and deep as hell; and I fell to
staring again that blank stare of Nirvana and the lunacy of Nothingness,
wherein Time merges in Eternity, and all being, like one drop of water,
flies scattered to fill the bottomless void of space, and is lost.

The _Boreal's_ bow walking over a little empty fishing-boat roused me,
and a minute later, just before I came to a new promontory and bend, I
saw two people. The shore there is some three feet above the water, and
edged with boulders of rock, about which grows a fringe of shrubs and
small trees: behind this fringe is a path, curving upward through a
sombre wooded little gorge; and on the path, near the water, I saw a
driver of one of those Norwegian sulkies that were called karjolers: he,
on the high front seat, was dead, lying sideways and backwards, with low
head resting on the wheel; and on a trunk strapped to a frame on the
axle behind was a boy, his head, too, resting sideways on the wheel,
near the other's; and the little pony was dead, pitched forward on its
head and fore-knees, tilting the shafts downward; and some distance from
them on the water floated an empty skiff.

* * * * *

When I turned the next fore-land, I all at once began to see a number of
craft, which increased as I advanced, most of them small boats, with
some schooners, sloops, and larger craft, the majority a-ground: and
suddenly now I was conscious that, mingling with that delicious odour of
spring-blossoms--profoundly modifying, yet not destroying it--was
another odour, wafted to me on the wings of the very faint land-breeze:
and 'Man,' I said, 'is decomposing': for I knew it well: it was the
odour of human corruption.

* * * * *

The fjord opened finally in a somewhat wider basin, shut-in by quite
steep, high-towering mountains, which reflected themselves in the water
to their last cloudy crag: and, at the end of this I saw ships, a quay,
and a modest, homely old town.

Not a sound, not one: only the languidly-working engines of the
_Boreal_. Here, it was clear, the Angel of Silence had passed, and his
scythe mown.

I ran and stopped the engines, and, without anchoring, got down into an
empty boat that lay at the ship's side when she stopped; and I paddled
twenty yards toward the little quay. There was a brigantine with all her
courses set, three jibs, stay-sails, square-sails, main and fore-sails,
and gaff-top-sail, looking hanging and listless in that calm place, and
wedded to a still copy of herself, mast-downward, in the water; there
were three lumber-schooners, a forty-ton steam-boat, a tiny barque, five
Norway herring-fishers, and ten or twelve shallops: and the
sailing-craft had all fore-and-aft sails set, and about each, as I
passed among them, brooded an odour that was both sweet and abhorrent,
an odour more suggestive of the very genius of mortality--the inner mind
and meaning of Azrael--than aught that I could have conceived: for all,
as I soon saw, were crowded with dead.

Well, I went up the old mossed steps, in that strange dazed state in
which one notices frivolous things: I remember, for instance, feeling
the lightness of my new clothes: for the weather was quite mild, and the
day before I had changed to Summer things, having on now only a common
undyed woollen shirt, the sleeves rolled up, and cord trousers, with a
belt, and a cloth cap over my long hair, and an old pair of yellow
shoes, without laces, and without socks. And I stood on the unhewn
stones of the edge of the quay, and looked abroad over a largish piece
of unpaved ground, which lay between the first house-row and the quay.

What I saw was not only most woeful, but wildly startling: woeful,
because a great crowd of people had assembled, and lay dead, there; and
wildly startling, because something in their _tout ensemble_ told me in
one minute why they were there in such number.

They were there in the hope, and with the thought, to fly westward by

And the something which told me this was a certain _foreign_ air about
that field of the dead as the eye rested on it, something un-northern,
southern, and Oriental.

Two yards from my feet, as I stepped to the top, lay a group of three:
one a Norway peasant-girl in skirt of olive-green, scarlet stomacher,
embroidered bodice, Scotch bonnet trimmed with silver lace, and big
silver shoe-buckles; the second was an old Norway man in knee-breeches,
and eighteenth-century small-clothes, and red worsted cap; and the third
was, I decided, an old Jew of the Polish Pale, in gaberdine and
skull-cap, with ear-locks.

I went nearer to where they lay thick as reaped stubble between the
quay and a little stone fountain in the middle of the space, and I saw
among those northern dead two dark-skinned women in costly dress, either
Spanish or Italian, and the yellower mortality of a Mongolian, probably
a Magyar, and a big negro in zouave dress, and some twenty-five obvious
French, and two Morocco fezes, and the green turban of a shereef, and
the white of an Ulema.

And I asked myself this question: 'How came these foreign stragglers
here in this obscure northern town?'

And my wild heart answered: 'There has been an impassioned stampede,
northward and westward, of all the tribes of Man. And this that I, Adam
Jeffson, here see is but the far-tossed spray of that monstrous,
infuriate flood.'

* * * * *

Well, I passed up a street before me, careful, careful where I trod. It
was not utterly silent, nor was the quay-square, but haunted by a pretty
dense cloud of mosquitoes, and dreamy twinges of music, like the drawing
of the violin-bow in elf-land. The street was narrow, pavered, steep,
and dark; and the sensations with which I, poor bent man, passed
through that dead town, only Atlas, fabled to bear the burden of this
Earth, could divine.

* * * * *

I thought to myself: If now a wave from the Deep has washed over this
planetary ship of earth, and I, who alone happened to be in the extreme
bows, am the sole survivor of that crew?... What then, my God, shall I

* * * * *

I felt, I felt, that in this townlet, save the water-gnats of Norway,
was no living thing; that the hum and the savour of Eternity filled, and
wrapped, and embalmed it.

The houses are mostly of wood, some of them fairly large, with a
_porte-cochere_ leading into a semi-circular yard, around which the
building stands, very steep-roofed, and shingled, in view of the heavy
snow-masses of winter. Glancing into one open casement near the ground,
I saw an aged woman, stout and capped, lie on her face before a very
large porcelain stove; but I paced on without stoppage, traversed
several streets, and came out, as it became dark, upon a piece of
grass-land leading downward to a mountain-gorge. It was some distance
along this gorge that I found myself sitting the next morning: and how,
and in what trance, I passed that whole blank night is obliterated from
my consciousness. When I looked about with the return of light I saw
majestic fir-grown mountains on either hand, almost meeting overhead at
some points, deeply shading the mossy gorge. I rose, and careless of
direction, went still onward, and walked and walked for hours,
unconscious of hunger; there was a profusion of wild
mountain-strawberries, very tiny, which must grow almost into winter, a
few of which I ate; there were blue gentianellas, and
lilies-of-the-valley, and luxuriance of verdure, and a noise of waters.
Occasionally, I saw little cataracts on high, fluttering like white wild
rags, for they broke in the mid-fall, and were caught away, and
scattered; patches also of reaped hay and barley, hung up, in a singular
way, on stakes six feet high, I suppose to dry; there were perched huts,
and a seemingly inaccessible small castle or burg, but none of these did
I enter: and five bodies only I saw in the gorge, a woman with a babe,
and a man with two small oxen.

About three in the afternoon I was startled to find myself there, and
turned back. It was dark when I again passed through those gloomy
streets of Aadheim, making for the quay, and now I felt both my hunger
and a dropping weariness. I had no thought of entering any house, but
as I passed by one open _porte-cochere_, something, I know not what,
made me turn sharply in, for my mind had become as fluff on the winds,
not working of its own action, but the sport of impulses that seemed
external. I went across the yard, and ascended a wooden spiral stair by
a twilight which just enabled me to pick my way among five or six vague
forms fallen there. In that confined place fantastic qualms beset me; I
mounted to the first landing, and tried the door, but it was locked; I
mounted to the second: the door was open, and with a chill reluctance I
took a step inward where all was pitch darkness, the window-stores being
drawn. I hesitated: it was very dark. I tried to utter that word of
mine, but it came in a whisper inaudible to my ears: I tried again, and
this time heard myself say: '_anyone_?' At the same time I had made
another step forward, and trodden upon a soft abdomen; and at that
contact terrors the most cold and ghastly thrilled me through and
through, for it was as though I saw in that darkness the sudden eyeballs
of Hell and frenzy glare upon me, and with a low gurgle of affright I
was gone, helter-skelter down the stairs, treading upon flesh, across
the yard, and down the street, with pelting feet, and open arms, and
sobbing bosom, for I thought that all Aadheim was after me; nor was my
horrid haste appeased till I was on board the _Boreal_, and moving down
the fjord.

Out to sea, then, I went again; and within the next few days I visited
Bergen, and put in at Stavanger. And I saw that Bergen and Stavanger
were dead.

It was then, on the 19th August, that I turned my bow toward my native

* * * * *

From Stavanger I steered a straight course for the Humber.

I had no sooner left behind me the Norway coast than I began to meet the
ships, the ships--ship after ship; and by the time I entered the zone
of the ordinary alternation of sunny day and sunless night, I was moving
through the midst of an incredible number of craft, a mighty and
wide-spread fleet.

Over all that great expanse of the North Sea, where, in its most
populous days of trade, the sailor might perhaps sight a sail or two, I
had now at every moment at least ten or twelve within scope of the
glass, oftentimes as many as forty, forty-five.

And very still they lay on a still sea, itself a dead thing, livid as
the lips of death; and there was an intensity in the calm that was
appalling: for the ocean seemed weighted, and the air drugged.

Extremely slow was my advance, for at first I would not leave any ship,
however remotely small, without approaching sufficiently to investigate
her, at least with the spy-glass: and a strange multitudinous mixture of
species they were, trawlers in hosts, war-ships of every nation, used,
it seemed, as passenger-boats, smacks, feluccas, liners, steam-barges,
great four-masters with sails, Channel boats, luggers, a Venetian
_burchiello_, colliers, yachts, _remorqueurs_, training ships, dredgers,
two _dahabeeahs_ with curving gaffs, Marseilles fishers, a Maltese
_speronare_, American off-shore sail, Mississippi steam-boats, Sorrento
lug-schooners, Rhine punts, yawls, old frigates and three-deckers,
called to novel use, Stromboli caiques, Yarmouth tubs, xebecs, Rotterdam
flat-bottoms, floats, mere gunwaled rafts--anything from anywhere that
could bear a human freight on water had come, and was here: and all, I
knew, had been making westward, or northward, or both; and all, I knew,
were crowded; and all were tombs, listlessly wandering, my God, on the
wandering sea with their dead.

And so fair was the world about them, too: the brightest suavest autumn
weather; all the still air aromatic with that vernal perfume of peach:
yet not so utterly still, but if I passed close to the lee of any
floating thing, the spicy stirrings of morning or evening wafted me
faint puffs of the odour of mortality over-ripe for the grave.

So abominable and accursed did this become to me, such a plague and a
hissing, vague as was the offence, that I began to shun rather than seek
the ships, and also I now dropped my twelve, whom I had kept to be my
companions all the way from the Far North, one by one, into the sea: for
now I had definitely passed into a zone of settled warmth.

I was convinced, however, that the poison, whatever it might be, had
some embalming, or antiseptic, effect upon the bodies: at Aadheim,
Bergen and Stavanger, for instance, where the temperature permitted me
to go without a jacket, only the merest hints and whiffs of the
processes of dissolution had troubled me.

* * * * *

Very benign, I say, and pleasant to see, was sky and sea during all that
voyage: but it was at sun-set that my sense of the wondrously beautiful
was roused and excited, in spite of that great burden which I carried.
Certainly, I never saw sun-sets resembling those, nor could have
conceived of aught so flamboyant, extravagant, and bewitched: for the
whole heaven seemed turned into an arena for warring Hierarchies,
warring for the universe, or it was like the wild countenance of God
defeated, and flying marred and bloody from His enemies. But many
evenings I watched with unintelligent awe, believing it but a portent of
the un-sheathed sword of the Almighty; till, one morning, a thought
pricked me like a sword, for I suddenly remembered the great sun-sets of
the later nineteenth century, witnessed in Europe, America, and, I
believe, over the world, after the eruption of the volcano of Krakatoa.

And whereas I had before said to myself: 'If now a wave from the Deep
has washed over this planetary ship of earth...,' I said now: 'A
wave--but not from the Deep: a wave rather which she had reserved, and
has spouted, from her own un-motherly entrails...'

* * * * *

I had some knowledge of Morse telegraphy, and of the manipulation of
tape-machines, telegraphic typing-machines, and the ordinary wireless
transmitter and coherer, as of most little things of that sort which
came within the outskirts of the interest of a man of science; I had
collaborated with Professor Stanistreet in the production of a text-book
called 'Applications of Science to the Arts,' which had brought us some
notoriety; and, on the whole, the _minutiae_ of modern things were
still pretty fresh in my memory. I could therefore have wired from
Bergen or Stavanger, supposing the batteries not run down, to somewhere:
but I would not: I was so afraid; afraid lest for ever from nowhere
should come one answering click, or flash, or stirring....

* * * * *

I could have made short work, and landed at Hull: but I would not: I was
so afraid. For I was used to the silence of the ice: and I was used to
the silence of the sea: but I was afraid of the silence of England.

* * * * *

I came in sight of the coast on the morning of the 26th August,
somewhere about Hornsea, but did not see any town, for I put the helm to
port, and went on further south, no longer bothering with the
instruments, but coasting at hap-hazard, now in sight of land, and now
in the centre of a circle of sea; not admitting to myself the motive of
this loitering slowness, nor thinking at all, but ignoring the
deep-buried fear of the to-morrow which I shirked, and instinctively
hiding myself in to-day. I passed the Wash, I passed Yarmouth,
Felixstowe. By now the things that floated motionless on the sea were
beyond numbering, for I could hardly lower my eyes ten minutes and lift
them, without seeing yet another there: so that soon after dusk I, too,
had to lie still among them all, till morning: for they lay dark, and to
move at any pace would have been to drown the already dead.

Well, I came to the Thames-mouth, and lay pretty well in among the Flats
and Pan Sands towards eight one evening, not seven miles from Sheppey
and the North Kent coast: and I did not see any Nore Light, nor Girdler
Light: and all along the coast I had seen no light: but as to that I
said not one word to myself, not admitting it, nor letting my heart know
what my brain thought, nor my brain know what my heart surmised; but
with a daft and mock-mistrustful under-look I would regard the darkling
land, holding it a sentient thing that would be playing a prank upon a
poor man like me.

And the next morning, when I moved again, my furtive eye-corners were
very well aware of the Prince's Channel light-ship, and also the Tongue
ship, for there they were: but I would not look at them at all, nor go
near them: for I did not wish to have anything to do with whatever might
have happened beyond my own ken, and it was better to look straight
before, seeing nothing, and concerning one's-self with one's-self.

The next evening, after having gone out to sea again, I was in a little
to the E. by S. of the North Foreland: and I saw no light there, nor any
Sandhead light; but over the sea vast signs of wreckage, and the coasts
were strewn with old wrecked fleets. I turned about S.E., very slowly
moving--for anywhere hereabouts hundreds upon hundreds of craft lay dead
within a ten-mile circle of sea--and by two in the fore-day had wandered
up well in sight of the French cliffs: for I had said: 'I will go and
see the light-beam of the great revolving-drum on Calais pier that
nightly beams half-way over-sea to England.' And the moon shone clear in
the southern heaven that morning, like a great old dying queen whose
Court swarms distantly from around her, diffident, pale, and tremulous,
the paler the nearer; and I could see the mountain-shadows on her spotty
full-face, and her misty aureole, and her lights on the sea, as it were
kisses stolen in the kingdom of sleep; and all among the quiet ships
mysterious white trails and powderings of light, like palace-corridors
in some fairy-land forlorn, full of breathless wan whispers, scandals,
and runnings-to-and-fro, with leers, and agitated last embraces, and
flight of the princess, and death-bed of the king; and on the N.E.
horizon a bank of brown cloud that seemed to have no relation with the
world; and yonder, not far, the white coast-cliffs, not so low as at
Calais near, but arranged in masses separated by vales of sward, each
with its wreck: but no light of any revolving-drum I saw.

* * * * *

I could not sleep that night: for all the operations of my mind and body
seemed in abeyance. Mechanically I turned the ship westward again; and
when the sun came up, there, hardly two miles from me, were the cliffs
of Dover; and on the crenulated summit of the Castle I spied the Union
Jack hang motionless.

I heard eight, nine o'clock strike in the cabin, and I was still at sea.
But some mad, audacious whisper was at my brain: and at 10.30, the 2nd
September, immediately opposite the Cross Wall Custom House, the
_Boreal's_ anchor-chain, after a voyage of three years, two months, and
fourteen days, ran thundering, thundering, through the starboard

Ah heaven! but I must have been stark mad to let the anchor go! for the
effect upon me of that shocking obstreperous hubbub, breaking in upon
all that cemetery repose that blessed morning, and lasting it seemed a
year, was most appalling; and at the sudden racket I stood excruciated,
with shivering knees and flinching heart, God knows: for not less
terrifically uproarious than the clatter of the last Trump it raged and
raged, and I thought that all the billion dead could not fail to start,
and rise, at alarum so excessive, and question me with their eyes....

* * * * *

On the top of the Cross Wall near I saw a grey crab fearlessly crawl; at
the end where the street begins, I saw a single gas-light palely burn
that broad day, and at its foot a black man lay on his face, clad only
in a shirt and one boot; the harbour was almost packed with every sort
of craft, and on a Calais-Dover boat, eight yards from my stern, which
must have left Calais crowded to suffocation, I saw the rotted dead lie
heaped, she being unmoored, and continually grinding against an anchored
green brig.

And when I saw that, I dropped down upon my knees at the capstan, and my
poor heart sobbed out the frail cry: 'Well, Lord God, Thou hast
destroyed the work of Thy hand...'

* * * * *

After a time I got up, went below in a state of somnambulism, took a
packet of pemmican cakes, leapt to land, and went following the railway
that runs from the Admiralty Pier. In an enclosed passage ten yards
long, with railway masonry on one side, I saw five dead lie, and could
not believe that I was in England, for all were dark-skinned people,
three gaudily dressed, and two in flowing white robes. It was the same
when I turned into a long street, leading northward, for here were a
hundred, or more, and never saw I, except in Constantinople, where I
once lived eighteen months, so variegated a mixture of races, black,
brunette, brown, yellow, white, in all the shades, some emaciated like
people dead from hunger, and, overlooking them all, one English boy with
a clean Eton collar sitting on a bicycle, supported by a lamp-post which
his arms clasped, he proving clearly the extraordinary suddenness of the
death which had overtaken them all.

I did not know whither, nor why, I went, nor had I the least idea
whether all this was visually seen by me in the world which I had known,
or in some other, or was all phantasy of my disembodied spirit--for I
had the thought that I, too, might be dead since old ages, and my spirit
wandering now through the universe of space, in which there is neither
north nor south, nor up nor down, nor measure nor relation, nor aught
whatever, save an uneasy consciousness of a dream about bottomlessness.
Of grief or pain, I think, I felt nothing; though I have a sort of
memory now that some sound, resembling a sob or groan, though it was
neither, came at regular clockwork intervals from my bosom during three
or four days. Meantime, my brain registered like a tape-machine details
the most frivolous, the most ludicrous--the name of a street, Strond
Street, Snargate Street; the round fur cap--black fur for the side,
white ermine for the top--of a portly Karaite priest on his back, whose
robes had been blown to his spread knees, as if lifted and neatly folded
there; a violin-bow gripped between the thick, irregular teeth of a
little Spaniard with brushed-back hair and mad-looking eyes; odd shoes
on the foot of a French girl, one black, one brown. They lay in the
street about as numerous as gunners who fall round their carriage, at
intervals of five to ten feet, the majority--as was the case also in
Norway, and on the ships--in poses of distraction, with spread arms, or
wildly distorted limbs, like men who, the instant before death, called
upon the rocks and hills to cover them.

* * * * *

On the left I came to an opening in the land, called, I believe, 'The
Shaft,' and into this I turned, climbing a very great number of steps,
almost covered at one point with dead: the steps I began to count, but
left off, then the dead, and left off. Finally, at the top, which must
be even higher than the Castle, I came to a great open space laid out
with gravel-walks, and saw fortifications, barracks, a citadel. I did
not know the town, except by passings-through, and was surprised at the
breadth of view. Between me and the Castle to the east lay the district
of crowding houses, brick and ragstone, mixed in the distance with vague
azure haze; and to the right the harbour, the sea, with their ships; and
visible around me on the heights seven or eight dead, biting the dust;
the sun now high and warm, with hardly a cloud in the sky; and yonder a
mist, which was the coast of France.

It seemed too big for one poor man.

My head nodded. I sat on a bench, black-painted and hard, the seat and
back of horizontal boards, with intervals; and as I looked, I nodded,
heavy-headed and weary: for it was too big for me. And as I nodded, with
forehead propped on my left hand, and the packet of pemmican cakes in my
right, there was in my head, somehow, an old street-song of my
childhood: and I groaned it sleepily, like coronachs and drear funereal
nenias, dirging; and the packet beat time in my right hand, falling and
raising, falling heavily and rising, in time.

I'll buy the ring,
You'll rear the kids:
Servants to wait on our ting, ting, ting.
. . . . .
. . . . .
Ting, ting,
Won't we be happy?
Ting, ting,
That shall be it:
I'll buy the ring,
You'll rear the kids:
Servants to wait on our ting, ting, ting.
. . . . .
. . . . .

So maundering, I fell forward upon my face, and for twenty-three hours,
the living undistinguished from the dead, I slept there.

* * * * *

I was awakened by drizzle, leapt up, looked at a silver chronometer
which, attached by a leather to my belt, I carried in my
breeches-pocket, and saw that it was 10 A.M. The sky was dark, and a
moaning wind--almost a new thing now to me--had arisen.

I ate some pemmican, for I had a reluctance--needless as it turned
out--to touch any of the thousand luxuries here, sufficient no doubt,
in a town like Dover alone, to last me five or six hundred years, if I
could live so long; and, having eaten, I descended The Shaft, and spent
the whole day, though it rained and blustered continually, in wandering
about. Reasoning, in my numb way, from the number of ships on the sea, I
expected to find the town over-crowded with dead: but this was not so;
and I should say, at a venture, that not a thousand English, nor fifteen
thousand foreigners, were in it: for that westward rage and stampede
must have operated here also, leaving the town empty but for the ever
new-coming hosts.

The first thing which I did was to go into an open grocer's shop, which
was also a post and telegraph office, with the notion, I suppose, to get
a message through to London. In the shop a single gas-light was burning
its last, and this, with that near the pier, were the only two that I
saw: and ghastly enough they looked, transparently wannish, and as it
were ashamed, like blinking night-things overtaken by the glare of day.
I conjectured that they had so burned and watched during months, or
years: for they were now blazing diminished, with streaks and rays in
the flame, as if by effort, and if these were the only two, they must
have needed time to all-but exhaust the works. Before the counter lay a
fashionably-dressed negro with a number of tied parcels scattered about
him, and on the counter an empty till, and behind it a tall thin woman
with her face resting sideways in the till, fingers clutching the outer
counter-rim, and such an expression of frantic terror as I never saw. I
got over the counter to a table behind a wire-gauze, and, like a numb
fool, went over the Morse alphabet in my mind before touching the
transmitting key, though I knew no code-words, and there, big enough to
be seen, was the ABC dial, and who was to answer my message I did not
ask myself: for habit was still strong upon me, and my mind refused to
reason from what I saw to what I did not see; but the moment I touched
the key, and peered greedily at the galvanometer-needle at my right, I
saw that it did not move, for no current was passing; and with a kind of
fright, I was up, leapt, and got away from the place, though there was a
great number of telegrams about the receiver which, if I had been in my
senses, I would have stopped and read.

Turning the corner of the next street, I saw wide-open the door of a
substantial large house, and went in. From bottom to top there was no
one there, except one English girl, sitting back in an easy-chair in the
drawing-room, which was richly furnished with Valenciennes curtains and
azure-satin things. She was a girl of the lowest class, hardly clad in
black rags, and there she lay with hanging jaw, in a very crooked and
awkward pose, a jemmy at her feet, in her left hand a roll of
bank-notes, and in her lap three watches. In fact, the bodies which I
saw here were, in general, either those of new-come foreigners, or else
of the very poor, the very old, or the very young.

But what made me remember this house was that I found here on one of the
sofas a newspaper: _The Kent Express_; and sitting unconscious of my
dead neighbour, I pored a long while over what was written there.

It said in a passage which I tore out and kept:

'Telegraphic communication with Tilsit, Insterburg, Warsaw, Cracow,
Przemysl, Gross Wardein, Karlsburg, and many smaller towns lying
immediately eastward of the 21st parallel of longitude has ceased during
the night. In some at least of them there must have been operators still
at their duty, undrawn into the great westward-rushing torrent: but as
all messages from Western Europe have been answered only by that dread
mysterious silence which, just three months and two days since,
astounded the world in the case of Eastern New Zealand, we can only
assume that these towns, too, have been added to the long and mournful
list; indeed, after last evening's Paris telegrams we might have
prophesied with some certainty, not merely their overthrow, but even the
hour of it: for the rate-uniformity of the slow-riding vapour which is
touring our globe is no longer doubtful, and has even been definitely
fixed by Professor Craven at 100-1/2 miles per day, or 4 miles 330 yards
per hour. Its nature, its origin, remains, of course, nothing but matter
of conjecture: for it leaves no living thing behind it: nor, God knows,
is that of any moment now to us who remain. The rumour that it is
associated with an odour of almonds is declared, on high authority, to
be improbable; but the morose purple of its impending gloom has been
attested by tardy fugitives from the face of its rolling and smoky

'Is this the end? We do not, and cannot, believe it. Will the pure sky
which we to-day see above us be invaded in nine days, or less, by this
smoke of the Pit of Darkness? In spite of the assurances of the
scientists, we still doubt. For, if so, to what purpose that long drama
of History, in which we seem to see the Hand of the Dramaturgist?
Surely, the end of a Fifth Act should be obvious, satisfying to one's
sense of the complete: but History, so far, long as it has been,
resembles rather a Prologue than a Fifth Act. Can it be that the
Manager, utterly dissatisfied, would sweep all off, and 'hang up' the
piece for ever? Certainly, the sins of mankind have been as scarlet: and
if the fair earth which he has turned into Hell, send forth now upon him
the smoke of Hell, little the wonder. But we cannot yet believe. There
is a sparing strain in nature, and through the world, as a thread, is
spun a silence which smiles, and on the end of events we find placarded
large the words: "Why were ye afraid?" A dignified Hope, therefore--even
now, when we cower beneath this worldwide shadow of the wings of the
Condor of Death--becomes us: and, indeed, we see such an attitude among
some of the humblest of our people, from whose heart ascends the cry:
"Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." Here, therefore, O Lord! O
Lord, look down, and save!

'But even as we thus write of hope, Reason, if we would hear her,
whispers us "fool": and inclement is the sky of earth. No more ships can
New York Harbour contain, and whereas among us men die weekly of
privations by the hundred thousand, yonder across the sea they perish by
the million: for where the rich are pinched, how can the poor live?
Already 700 out of the 1000 millions of our race have perished, and the
empires of civilisation have crumbled like sand-castles in a horror of
anarchy. Thousands upon thousands of unburied dead, anticipating the
more deliberate doom that comes and smokes, and rides and comes and
comes, and does not fail, encumber the streets of London, Manchester,
Liverpool. The guides of the nation have fled; the father stabs his
child, and the wife her husband, for a morsel of food; the fields lie
waste; wanton crowds carouse in our churches, universities, palaces,
banks and hospitals; we understand that late last night three
territorial regiments, the Munster Fusiliers, and the Lotian and East
Lancashire Regiments, riotously disbanded themselves, shooting two
officers; infectious diseases, as we all know, have spread beyond limit;
in several towns the police seem to have disappeared, and, in nearly
all, every vestige of decency; the results following upon the sudden
release of the convicts appear to be monstrous in the respective
districts; and within three short months Hell seems to have acquired
this entire planet, sending forth Horror, like a rabid wolf, and
Despair, like a disastrous sky, to devour and confound her. Hear,
therefore, O Lord, and forgive our iniquities! O Lord, we beseech Thee!
Look down, O Lord, and spare!'

* * * * *

When I had read this, and the rest of the paper, which had one whole
sheet-side blank, I sat a long hour there, eyeing a little patch of the
purple ash on a waxed board near the corner where the girl sat with her
time-pieces, so useless in her Eternity; and there was not a feeling in
me, except a pricking of curiosity, which afterwards became morbid and
ravenous, to know something more of that cloud, or smoke, of which this
man spoke, of its dates, its origin, its nature, its minute details.
Afterwards, I went down, and entered several houses, searching for more
papers, but did not find any; then I found a paper-shop which was open,
with boards outside, but either it had been deserted, or printing must
have stopped about the date of the paper which I had read, for the only
three news-papers there were dated long prior, and I did not read them.

Now it was raining, and a blustering autumn day it was, distributing the
odours of the world, and bringing me continual mixed whiffs of flowers
and the hateful stench of decay. But I would not mind it much.

I wandered and wandered, till I was tired of spahi and bashi-bazouk, of
Greek and Catalan, of Russian 'pope' and Coptic abuna, of dragoman and
Calmuck, of Egyptian maulawi and Afghan mullah, Neapolitan and sheik,
and the nightmare of wild poses, colours, stuffs and garbs, the
yellow-green kefie of the Bedouin, shawl-turbans of Baghdad, the
voluminous rose-silk tob of women, and face-veils, and stark distorted
nakedness, and sashes of figured muslin, and the workman's cords, and
the red tarboosh. About four, for very weariness, I was sitting on a
door-steep, bent beneath the rain; but soon was up again, fascinated no
doubt by this changing bazaar of sameness, its chance combinations and
permutations, and novelty in monotony. About five I was at a station,
marked Harbour Station, in and about which lay a considerable crowd, but
not one train. I sat again, and rested, rose and roamed again; soon
after six I found myself at another station, called 'Priory'; and here I
saw two long trains, both crowded, one on a siding, and one at the

I examined both engines, and found them of the old boiler steam-type
with manholes, heaters, autoclaves, feed-pump, &c., now rare in western
countries, except England. In one there was no water, but in that at the
platform, the float-lever, barely tilted toward the float, showed that
there was some in the boiler. Of this one I overhauled all the
machinery, and found it good, though rusted. There was plenty of fuel,
and oil, which I supplemented from a near shop: and during ninety
minutes my brain and hands worked with an intelligence as it were
automatic, of their own motion. After three journeys across the station
and street, I saw the fire blaze well, and the manometer move; when the
lever of the safety-valve, whose load I lightened by half an atmosphere,
lifted, I jumped down, and tried to disconnect the long string of
carriages from the engine: but failed, the coupling being an automatic
arrangement new to me; nor did I care. It was now very dark; but there
was still oil for bull's-eye and lantern, and I lit them. I forgot
nothing. I rolled driver and stoker--the guard was absent--one to the
platform, one upon the rails: and I took their place there. At about
8.30 I ran out from Dover, my throttle-valve pealing high a long
falsetto through the bleak and desolate night.

* * * * *

My aim was London. But even as I set out, my heart smote me: I knew
nothing of the metals, their junctions, facing-points, sidings,
shuntings, and complexities. Even as to whether I was going toward, or
away from, London, I was not sure. But just in proportion as my first
timorousness of the engine hardened into familiarity and self-sureness,
I quickened speed, wilfully, with an obstinacy deaf and blind.

Finally, from a mere crawl at first, I was flying at a shocking
velocity, while something, tongue in cheek, seemed to whisper me: 'There
must be other trains blocking the lines, at stations, in yards, and
everywhere--it is a maniac's ride, a ride of death, and Flying
Dutchman's frenzy: remember your dark five-deep brigade of passengers,
who rock and bump together, and will suffer in a collision.' But with
mulish stubbornness I thought: 'They wished to go to London'; and on I
raged, not wildly exhilarated, so far as I can remember, nor lunatic,
but feeling the dull glow of a wicked and morose Unreason urge in my
bosom, while I stoked all blackened at the fire, or saw the vague mass
of dead horse or cow, running trees and fields, and dark homestead and
deep-slumbering farm, flit ghostly athwart the murky air, as the
half-blind saw 'men like trees walking.'

Long, however, it did not last: I could not have been twenty miles from
Dover when, on a long reach of straight lines, I made out before me a
tarpaulined mass opposite a signal-point: and at once callousness
changed to terror within me. But even as I plied the brake, I felt that
it was too late: I rushed to the gangway to make a wild leap down an
embankment to the right, but was thrown backward by a quick series of
rough bumps, caused by eight or ten cattle which lay there across the
lines: and when I picked myself up, and leapt, some seconds before the
impact, the speed must have considerably slackened, for I received no
fracture, but lay in semi-coma in a patch of yellow-flowered whin on
level ground, and was even conscious of a fire on the lines forty yards
away, and, all the night, of vague thunder sounding from somewhere.

* * * * *

About five, or half-past, in the morning I was sitting up, rubbing my
eyes, in a dim light mixed with drizzle. I could see that the train of
my last night's debauch was a huddled-up chaos of fallen carriages and
disfigured bodies. A five-barred gate on my left opened into a hedge,
and swung with creaks: two yards from my feet lay a little shaggy pony
with swollen wan abdomen, the very picture of death, and also about me a
number of dead wet birds.

I picked myself up, passed through the gate, and walked up a row of
trees to a house at their end. I found it to be a little country-tavern
with a barn, forming one house, the barn part much larger than the
tavern part. I went into the tavern by a small side-door--behind the
bar--into a parlour--up a little stair--into two rooms: but no one was
there. I then went round into the barn, which was paved with
cobble-stones, and there lay a dead mare and foal, some fowls, with two
cows. A ladder-stair led to a closed trap-door in the floor above. I
went up, and in the middle of a wilderness of hay saw nine
people--labourers, no doubt--five men and four women, huddled together,
and with them a tin-pail containing the last of some spirit; so that
these had died merry.

I slept three hours among them, and afterwards went back to the tavern,
and had some biscuits of which I opened a new tin, with some ham, jam
and apples, of which I made a good meal, for my pemmican was gone.

Afterwards I went following the rail-track on foot, for the engines of
both the collided trains were smashed. I knew northward from southward
by the position of the sun: and after a good many stoppages at houses,
and by railway-banks, I came, at about eleven in the night, to a great
and populous town.

By the Dane John and the Cathedral, I immediately recognised it as
Canterbury, which I knew quite well. And I walked up Castle Street to
the High Street, conscious for the first time of that
regularly-repeated sound, like a sob or groan, which was proceeding from
my throat. As there was no visible moon, and these old streets very dim,
I had to pick my way, lest I should desecrate the dead with my foot, and
they all should rise with hue and cry to hunt me. However, the bodies
here were not numerous, most, as before, being foreigners: and these,
scattered about this strict old English burg that mourning dark night,
presented such a scene of the baneful wrath of God, and all abomination
of desolation, as broke me quite down at one place, where I stood in
travail with jeremiads and sore sobbings and lamentations, crying out
upon it all, God knows.

Only when I stood at the west entrance of the Cathedral I could discern,
spreading up the dark nave, to the lantern, to the choir, a
phantasmagorical mass of forms: I went a little inward, and striking
three matches, peered nearer: the two transepts, too, seemed
crowded--the cloister-doorway was blocked--the southwest porch thronged,
so that a great congregation must have flocked hither shortly before
their fate overtook them.

Here it was that I became definitely certain that the after-odour of the
poison was not simply lingering in the air, but was being more or less
given off by the bodies: for the blossomy odour of this church actually
overcame that other odour, the whole rather giving the scent of old
mouldy linens long embalmed in cedars.

Well, away with stealthy trot I ran from the abysmal silence of that
place, and in Palace Street near made one of those sudden immoderate
rackets that seemed to outrage the universe, and left me so woefully
faint, decrepit, and gasping for life (the noise of the train was
different, for there I was flying, but here a captive, and which way I
ran was capture). Passing in Palace Street, I saw a little lampshop, and
wanting a lantern, tried to get in, but the door was locked; so, after
going a few steps, and kicking against a policeman's truncheon, I
returned to break the window-glass. I knew that it would make a fearful
noise, and for some fifteen or twenty minutes stood hesitating: but
never could I have dreamed, my good God, of _such_ a noise, so
passionate, so dominant, so divulgent, and, O Heaven, so long-lasting:
for I seemed to have struck upon the weak spot of some planet, which
came suddenly tumbling, with protracted bellowing and _debacle_, about
my ears. It was a good hour before I would climb in; but then quickly
found what I wanted, and some big oil-cans; and till one or two in the
morning, the innovating flicker of my lantern went peering at random
into the gloomy nooks of the town.

Under a deep old Gothic arch that spanned a pavered alley, I saw the
little window of a little house of rubble, and between the two
diamond-paned sashes rags tightly beaten in, the idea evidently being to
make the place air-tight against the poison. When I went in I found the
door of that room open, though it, too, apparently, had been stuffed at
the edges; and on the threshold an old man and woman lay low. I
conjectured that, thus protected, they had remained shut in, till either
hunger, or the lack of oxygen in the used-up air, drove them forth,
whereupon the poison, still active, must have instantly ended them. I
found afterwards that this expedient of making air-tight had been widely
resorted to; and it might well have proved successful, if both the
supply of inclosed air, and of food, had been anywhere commensurate with
the durability of the poisonous state.

Weary, weary as I grew, some morbid persistence sustained me, and I
would not rest. About four in the morning I was at a station again,
industriously bending, poor wretch, at the sooty task of getting another
engine ready for travel. This time, when steam was up, I succeeded in
uncoupling the carriages from the engine, and by the time morning
broke, I was lightly gliding away over the country, whither I did not
know, but making for London.

* * * * *

Now I went with more intelligence and caution, and got on very well,
travelling seven days, never at night, except it was very clear, never
at more than twenty or twenty-five miles, and crawling through tunnels.
I do not know the maze into which the train took me, for very soon after
leaving Canterbury it must have gone down some branch-line, and though
the names were marked at stations, that hardly helped me, for of their
situation relatively to London I was seldom sure. Moreover, again and
again was my progress impeded by trains on the metals, when I would have
to run back to a shunting-point or a siding, and, in two instances,
these being far behind, changed from my own to the impeding engine. On
the first day I travelled unhindered till noon, when I stopped in open
country that seemed uninhabited for ages, only that half a mile to the
left, on a shaded sward, was a large stone house of artistic design,
coated with tinted harling, the roof of red Ruabon tiles, and timbered
gables. I walked to it after another row with putting out the fire and
arranging for a new one, the day being bright and mild, with great
masses of white cloud in the sky. The house had an outer and an inner
hall, three reception rooms, fine oil-paintings, a kind of museum, and a
large kitchen. In a bed-room above-stairs I found three women with
servants' caps, and a footman, arranged in a strange symmetrical way,
head to head, like rays of a star. As I stood looking at them, I could
have sworn, my good God, that I heard someone coming up the stairs. But
it was some slight creaking of the breeze in the house, augmented a
hundredfold to my inflamed and fevered hearing: for, used for years now
to this silence of Eternity, it is as though I hear all sounds through
an ear-trumpet. I went down, and after eating, and drinking some
clary-water, made of brandy, sugar, cinnamon, and rose water, which I
found in plenty, I lay down on a sofa in the inner hall, and slept a
quiet sleep until near midnight.

I went out then, still possessed with the foolish greed to reach London,
and after getting the engine to rights, went off under a clear black sky
thronged with worlds and far-sown spawn, some of them, I thought,
perhaps like this of mine, whelmed and drowned in oceans of silence,
with one only inhabitant to see it, and hear its silence. And all the
long night I travelled, stopping twice only, once to get the coal from
an engine which had impeded me, and once to drink some water, which I
took care, as always, should be running water. When I felt my head nod,
and my eyes close about 5 A.M., I threw myself, just outside the arch of
a tunnel upon a grassy bank, pretty thick with stalks and flowers, the
workings of early dawn being then in the east: and there, till near
eleven, slept.

On waking, I noticed that the country now seemed more like Surrey than
Kent: there was that regular swell and sinking of the land; but, in
fact, though it must have been either, it looked like neither, for
already all had an aspect of return to a state of wild nature, and I
could see that for a year at the least no hand had tended the soil. Near
before me was a stretch of lucerne of such extraordinary growth, that I
was led during that day and the succeeding one to examine the condition
of vegetation with some minuteness, and nearly everywhere I detected a
certain hypertrophie tendency in stamens, calycles, pericarps, and
pistils, in every sort of bulbiferous growth that I looked at, in the
rushes, above all, the fronds, mosses, lichens, and all cryptogamia, and
in the trefoils, clover especially, and some creepers. Many
crop-fields, it was clear, had been prepared, but not sown; some had
not been reaped: and in both cases I was struck with their appearance of
rankness, as I was also when in Norway, and was all the more surprised
that this should be the case at a time when a poison, whose action is
the arrest of oxidation, had traversed the earth; I could only conclude
that its presence in large volumes in the lower strata of the atmosphere
had been more or less temporary, and that the tendency to exuberance
which I observed was due to some principle by which Nature acts with
freer energy and larger scope in the absence of man.

Two yards from the rails I saw, when I got up, a little rill beside a
rotten piece of fence, barely oozing itself onward under masses of foul
and stagnant fungoids: and here there was a sudden splash, and life: and
I caught sight of the hind legs of a diving young frog. I went and lay
on my belly, poring over the clear dulcet little water, and presently
saw two tiny bleaks, or ablets, go gliding low among the swaying
moss-hair of the bottom-rocks, and thought how gladly would I be one of
them, with my home so thatched and shady, and my life drowned in their
wide-eyed reverie. At any rate, these little creatures are alive, the
batrachians also, and, as I found the next day, pupae and chrysales of
one sort or another, for, to my deep emotion, I saw a little white
butterfly staggering in the air over the flower-garden of a rustic
station named Butley.

* * * * *

It was while I was lying there, poring upon that streamlet, that a
thought came into my head: for I said to myself: 'If now I be here
alone, alone, alone... alone, alone... one on the earth... and my girth
have a spread of 25,000 miles... what will happen to my mind? Into what
kind of creature shall I writhe and change? I may live two years so!
What will have happened then? I may live five years--ten! What will have
happened after the five? the ten? I may live twenty, thirty, forty...'

Already, already, there are things that peep and sprout within me...!

* * * * *

I wanted food and fresh running water, and walked from the engine half a
mile through fields of lucerne whose luxuriance quite hid the
foot-paths, and reached my shoulder. After turning the brow of a hill, I
came to a park, passing through which I saw some dead deer and three
persons, and emerged upon a terraced lawn, at the end of which stood an
Early English house of pale brick with copings, plinths, stringcourses
of limestone, and spandrels of carved marble; and some distance from the
porch a long table, or series of tables, in the open air, still spread
with cloths that were like shrouds after a month of burial; and the
table had old foods on it, and some lamps; and all around it, and all on
the lawn, were dead peasants. I seemed to know the house, probably from
some print which I may have seen, but I could not make out the
escutcheon, though I saw from its simplicity that it must be very
ancient. Right across the facade spread still some of the letters in
evergreens of the motto: 'Many happy returns of the day,' so that
someone must have come of age, or something, for inside all was gala,
and it was clear that these people had defied a fate which they, of
course, foreknew. I went nearly throughout the whole spacious place of
thick-carpeted halls, marbles, and famous oils, antlers and arras, and
gilt saloons, and placid large bed-chambers: and it took me an hour.
There were here not less than a hundred and eighty people. In the first
of a vista of three large reception-rooms lay what could only have been
a number of quadrille parties, for to the _coup d'oeil_ they presented a
two-and-two appearance, made very repulsive by their jewels and
evening-dress. I had to steel my heart to go through this house, for I
did not know if these people were looking at me as soon as my back was
turned. Once I was on the very point of flying, for I was going up the
great central stairway, and there came a pelt of dead leaves against a
window-pane in a corridor just above on the first floor, which thrilled
me to the inmost soul. But I thought that if I once fled, they would all
be at me from behind, and I should be gibbering mad long, long before I
reached the outer hall, and so stood my ground, even defiantly
advancing. In a small dark bedroom in the north wing on the second
floor--that is to say, at the top of the house--I saw a tall young lady
and a groom, or wood-man, to judge by his clothes, horribly riveted in
an embrace on a settee, she with a light coronet on her head in
low-necked dress, and their lipless teeth still fiercely pressed
together. I collected in a bag a few delicacies from the under-regions
of this house, Lyons sausages, salami, mortadel, apples, roes, raisins,
artichokes, biscuits, a few wines, a ham, bottled fruit, pickles,
coffee, and so on, with a gold plate, tin-opener, cork-screw, fork, &c.,
and dragged them all the long way back to the engine before I could eat.

* * * * *

My brain was in such a way, that it was several days before the
perfectly obvious means of finding my way to London, since I wished to
go there, at all occurred to me; and the engine went wandering the
intricate railway-system of the south country, I having twice to water
her with a coal-bucket from a pool, for the injector was giving no water
from the tank under the coals, and I did not know where to find any near
tank-sheds. On the fifth evening, instead of into London, I ran into

* * * * *

That night, from eleven till the next day, there was a great storm over
England: let me note it down. And ten days later, on the 17th of the
month came another; and on the 23rd another; and I should be put to it
to count the great number since. And they do not resemble English
storms, but rather Arctic ones, in a certain very suggestive something
of personalness, and a carousing malice, and a Tartarus gloom, which I
cannot quite describe. That night at Guildford, after wandering about,
and becoming very weary, I threw myself upon a cushioned pew in an old
Norman church with two east apses, called St. Mary's, using a
Bible-cushion for pillow, and placing some distance away a little tin
lamp turned low, whose ray served me for _veilleuse_ through the night.
Happily I had taken care to close up everything, or, I feel sure, the
roof must have gone. Only one dead, an old lady in a chapel on the north
side of the chancel, whom I rather mistrusted, was there with me: and
there I lay listening: for, after all, I could not sleep a wink, while
outside vogued the immense tempest. And I communed with myself,
thinking: 'I, poor man, lost in this conflux of infinitudes and vortex
of the world, what can become of me, my God? For dark, ah dark, is the
waste void into which from solid ground I am now plunged a million
fathoms deep, the sport of all the whirlwinds: and it were better for me
to have died with the dead, and never to have seen the wrath and
turbulence of the Ineffable, nor to have heard the thrilling bleakness
of the winds of Eternity, when they pine, and long, and whimper, and
when they vociferate and blaspheme, and when they expostulate and
intrigue and implore, and when they despair and die, which ear of man
should never hear. For they mean to eat me up, I know, these Titanic
darknesses: and soon like a whiff I shall pass away, and leave the world
to them.' So till next morning I lay mumping, with shivers and
cowerings: for the shocks of the storm pervaded the locked church to my
very heart; and there were thunders that night, my God, like callings
and laughs and banterings, exchanged between distant hill-tops in Hell.

* * * * *

'Well, the next morning I went down the steep High Street, and found a
young nun at the bottom whom I had left the previous evening with a
number of girls in uniform opposite the Guildhall--half-way up the
street. She must have been spun down, arm over arm, for the wind was
westerly, and whereas I had left her completely dressed to her wimple
and beads, she was now nearly stripped, and her little flock scattered.
And branches of trees, and wrecked houses, and reeling clouds of dead
leaves were everywhere that wild morning.

This town of Guildford appeared to be the junction of an extraordinary
number of railway-lines, and before again setting out in the afternoon,
when the wind had lulled, having got an A B C guide, and a railway-map,
I decided upon my line, and upon a new engine, feeling pretty sure now
of making London, only thirty miles away. I then set out, and about five
o'clock was at Surbiton, near my aim; I kept on, expecting every few
minutes to see the great city, till darkness fell, and still, at
considerable risk, I went, as I thought, forward: but no London was
there. I had, in fact, been on a loop-line, and at Surbiton gone wrong
again; for the next evening I found myself at Wokingham, farther away
than ever.

I slept on a rug in the passage of an inn called The Rose, for there was
a wild, Russian-looking man, with projecting top-teeth, on a bed in the
house, whose appearance I did not like, and it was late, and I too tired
to walk further; and the next morning pretty early I set out again, and
at 10 A.M. was at Reading.

The notion of navigating the land by precisely the same means as the
sea, simple and natural as it was, had not at all occurred to me: but at
the first accidental sight of a compass in a little shop-window near the
river at Reading, my difficulties as to getting to any desired place in
the world vanished once and for all: for a good chart or map, the
compass, a pair of compasses, and, in the case of longer distances, a
quadrant, sextant or theodolite, with a piece of paper and pencil, were
all that were necessary to turn an engine into a land-ship, one choosing
the lines that ran nearest the direction of one's course, whenever they
did not run precisely.

Thus provided, I ran out from Reading about seven in the evening, while
there was still some light, having spent there some nine hours. This was
the town where I first observed that shocking crush of humanity, which
I afterwards met in every large town west of London. Here, I should say,
the English were quite equal in number to the foreigners: and there were
enough of both, God knows: for London must have poured many here. There
were houses, in every room of which, and on the stairs, the dead
actually overlay each other, and in the streets before them were points
where only on flesh, or under carriages, was it possible to walk. I went
into the great County Gaol, from which, as I had read, the prisoners had
been released two weeks before-hand, and there I found the same pressed
condition, cells occupied by ten or twelve, the galleries continuously
rough-paved with faces, heads, and old-clothes-shops of robes; and in
the parade-ground, against one wall, a mass of human stuff, like tough
grey clay mixed with rags and trickling black gore, where a crush as of
hydraulic power must have acted. At a corner between a gate and a wall
near the biscuit-factory of this town I saw a boy, whom I believe to
have been blind, standing jammed, at his wrist a chain-ring, and, at the
end of the chain, a dog; from his hap-hazard posture I conjectured that
he, and chain, and dog had been lifted from the street, and placed so,
by the storm of the 7th of the month; and what made it very curious was
that his right arm pointed a little outward just over the dog, so that,
at the moment when I first sighted him, he seemed a drunken fellow
setting his dog at me. In fact, all the dead I found much mauled and
stripped and huddled: and the earth seemed to be making an abortive
effort to sweep her streets.

Well, some little distance from Reading I saw a big flower-seed farm,
looking dead in some plots, and in others quite rank: and here again,
fluttering quite near the engine, two little winged aurelians in the
quiet evening air. I went on, passing a great number of crowded trains
on the down-line, two of them in collision, and very broken up, and one
exploded engine; even the fields and cuttings on either hand of the line
had a rather populous look, as if people, when trains and vehicles
failed, had set to trudging westward in caravans and streams. When I
came to a long tunnel near Slough, I saw round the foot of the arch an
extraordinary quantity of wooden _debris_, and as I went very slowly
through, was alarmed by the continuous bumping of the train, which, I
knew, was passing over bodies; at the other end were more _debris_; and
I easily guessed that a company of desperate people had made the tunnel
air-tight at the two arches, and provisioned themselves, with the hope
to live there till the day of destiny was passed; whereupon their
barricades must have been crashed through by some up-train and
themselves crushed, or else, other crowds, mad to share their cave of
refuge, had stormed the boardings. This latter, as I afterwards found,
was a very usual event.

I should very soon have got to London now, but, as my bad luck would
have it, I met a long up-train on the metals, with not one creature in
any part of it. There was nothing to do but to tranship, with all my
things, to its engine, which I found in good condition with plenty of
coal and water, and to set it going, a hateful labour: I being already
jet-black from hair to toes. However, by half-past ten I found myself
stopped by another train only a quarter of a mile from Paddington, and
walked the rest of the way among trains in which the standing dead still
stood, propped by their neighbours, and over metals where bodies were as
ordinary and cheap as waves on the sea, or twigs in a forest. I believe
that wild crowds had given chase on foot to moving trains, or fore-run
them in the frenzied hope of inducing them to stop.

I came to the great shed of glass and girders which is the station, the
night being perfectly soundless, moonless, starless, and the hour about

I found later that all the electric generating-stations, or all that I
visited, were intact; that is to say, must have been shut down before
the arrival of the doom; also that the gas-works had almost certainly
been abandoned some time previously: so that this city of dreadful
night, in which, at the moment when Silence choked it, not less than
forty to sixty millions swarmed and droned, must have more resembled
Tartarus and the foul shades of Hell than aught to which my fancy can
liken it.

For, coming nearer the platforms, I saw that trains, in order to move at
all, must have moved through a slough of bodies pushed from behind, and
forming a packed homogeneous mass on the metals: and I knew that they
_had_ moved. Nor could _I_ now move, unless I decided to wade: for flesh
was everywhere, on the roofs of trains, cramming the interval between
them, on the platforms, splashing the pillars like spray, piled on
trucks and lorries, a carnal quagmire; and outside, it filled the space
between a great host of vehicles, carpeting all that region of London.
And all here that odour of blossoms, which nowhere yet, save on one vile
ship, had failed, was now wholly overcome by another: and the thought
was in my head, my God, that if the soul of man had sent up to Heaven
the odour which his body gave to me, then it was not so strange that
things were as they were.

I got out from the station, with ears, God knows, that still awaited the
accustomed noising of this accursed town, habituated as I now was to all
the dumb and absent void of Soundlessness; and I was overwhelmed in a
new awe, and lost in a wilder woesomeness, when, instead of lights and
business, I saw the long street which I knew brood darker than Babylons
long desolate, and in place of its ancient noising, heard, my God, a
shocking silence, rising higher than I had ever heard it, and blending
with the silence of the inane, eternal stars in heaven.

* * * * *

I could not get into any vehicle for some time, for all thereabouts was
practically a mere block; but near the Park, which I attained by
stooping among wheels, and selecting my foul steps, I overhauled a
Daimler car, found in it two cylinders of petrol, lit the ignition-lamp,
removed with averted abhorrence three bodies, mounted, and broke that
populous stillness. And through streets nowhere empty of bodies I went
urging eastward my jolting, and spattered, and humming way.

That I should have persisted, with so much pains, to come to this
unbounded catacomb, seems now singular to me: for by that time I could
not have been sufficiently daft to expect to find another being like
myself on the earth, though I cherished, I remember, the irrational hope
of yet somewhere finding dog, or cat, or horse, to be with me, and would
anon think bitterly of Reinhardt, my Arctic dog, which my own hand had
shot. But, in reality, a morbid curiosity must have been within me all
the time to read the real truth of what had happened, so far as it was
known, or guessed, and to gloat upon all that drama, and cup of
trembling, and pouring out of the vials of the wrath of God, which must
have preceded the actual advent of the end of Time. This inquisitiveness
had, at every town which I reached, made the search for newspapers
uppermost in my mind; but, by bad luck, I had found only four, all of
them ante-dated to the one which I had read at Dover, though their dates
gave me some idea of the period when printing must have ceased, viz.
soon after the 17th July--about three months subsequent to my arrival at
the Pole--for none I found later than this date; and these contained
nothing scientific, but only orisons and despairings. On arriving,
therefore, at London, I made straight for the office of the _Times_,
only stopping at a chemist's in Oxford Street for a bottle of antiseptic
to hold near my nose, though, having once left the neighbourhood of
Paddington, I had hardly much need of this.

I made my way to the square where the paper was printed, to find that,
even there, the ground was closely strewn with calpac and pugaree, black
abayeh and fringed praying-shawl, hob-nail and sandal, figured lungi and
striped silk, all very muddled and mauled. Through the dark square to
the twice-dark building I passed, and found open the door of an
advertisement-office; but on striking a match, saw that it had been
lighted by electricity, and had therefore to retrace my stumbling steps,
till I came to a shop of lamps in a near alley, walking meantime with
timid cares that I might hurt no one--for in this enclosed neighbourhood
I began to feel strange tremors, and kept striking matches, which, so
still was the black air, hardly flickered.

When I returned to the building with a little lighted lamp, I at once
saw a file on a table, and since there were a number of dead there, and
I wished to be alone, I took the heavy mass of paper between my left arm
and side, and the lamp in my right hand; passed then behind a counter;
and then, to the right, up a stair which led me into a very great
building and complexity of wooden steps and corridors, where I went
peering, the lamp visibly trembling in my hand, for here also were the
dead. Finally, I entered a good-sized carpeted room with a baize-covered
table in the middle, and large smooth chairs, and on the table many
manuscripts impregnated with purple dust, and around were books in
shelves. This room had been locked upon a single man, a tall man in a
frock-coat, with a pointed grey beard, who at the last moment had
decided to fly from it, for he lay at the threshold, apparently fallen
dead the moment he opened the door. Him, by drawing his feet aside, I
removed, locked the door upon myself, sat at the table before the dusty
file, and, with the little lamp near, began to search.

I searched and read till far into the morning. But God knows, He

I had not properly filled the little reservoir with oil, and at about
three in the fore-day, it began to burn sullenly lower, letting sparks,
and turning the glass grey: and in my deepest chilly heart was the
question: 'Suppose the lamp goes out before the daylight....'

I knew the Pole, and cold, I knew them well: but to be frozen by panic,
my God! I read, I say, I searched, I would not stop: but I read that
night racked by terrors such as have never yet entered into the heart
of man to conceive. My flesh moved and crawled like a lake which, here
and there, the breeze ruffles. Sometimes for two, three, four minutes,
the profound interest of what I read would fix my mind, and then I would
peruse an entire column, or two, without consciousness of the meaning of
one single word, my brain all drawn away to the innumerable host of the
wan dead that camped about me, pierced with horror lest they should
start, and stand, and accuse me: for the grave and the worm was the
world; and in the air a sickening stirring of cerements and shrouds; and
the taste of the pale and insubstantial grey of ghosts seemed to infect
my throat, and faint odours of the loathsome tomb my nostrils, and the
toll of deep-toned passing-bells my ears; finally the lamp smouldered
very low, and my charnel fancy teemed with the screwing-down of coffins,
lych-gates and sextons, and the grating of ropes that lower down the
dead, and the first sound of the earth upon the lid of that strait and
gloomy home of the mortal; that lethal look of cold dead fingers I
seemed to see before me, the insipidness of dead tongues, the pout of
the drowned, and the vapid froths that ridge their lips, till my flesh
was moist as with the stale washing-waters of morgues and mortuaries,
and with such sweats as corpses sweat, and the mawkish tear that lies
on dead men's cheeks; for what is one poor insignificant man in his
flesh against a whole world of the disembodied, he alone with them, and
nowhere, nowhere another of his kind, to whom to appeal against them? I
read, and I searched: but God, God knows ... If a leaf of the paper,
which I slowly, warily, stealingly turned, made but one faintest rustle,
how did that _reveille_ boom in echoes through the vacant and haunted
chambers of my poor aching heart, my God! and there was a cough in my
throat which for a cruelly long time I would not cough, till it burst in
horrid clamour from my lips, sending crinkles of cold through my inmost
blood. For with the words which I read were all mixed up visions of
crawling hearses, wails, and lugubrious crapes, and piercing shrieks of
madness in strange earthy vaults, and all the mournfulness of the black
Vale of Death, and the tragedy of corruption. Twice during the ghostly
hours of that night the absolute and undeniable certainty that some
presence--some most gashly silent being--stood at my right elbow, so
thrilled me, that I leapt to my feet to confront it with clenched fists,
and hairs that bristled stiff in horror and frenzy. After that second
time I must have fainted; for when it was broad day, I found my dropped
head over the file of papers, supported on my arms. And I resolved then
never again after sunset to remain in any house: for that night was
enough to kill a horse, my good God; and that this is a haunted planet I

* * * * *

What I read in the _Times_ was not very definite, for how could it be?
but in the main it confirmed inferences which I had myself drawn, and
fairly satisfied my mind.

There had been a battle royal in the paper between my old collaborator
Professor Stanistreet and Dr. Martin Rogers, and never could I have
conceived such an indecorous piece of business, men like them calling
one another 'tyro,' 'dreamer,' and in one place 'block-head.'
Stanistreet denied that the perfumed odour of almonds attributed to the
advancing cloud could be due to anything but the excited fancy of the
reporting fugitives, because, said he, it was unknown that either Cn,
HCn, or K_4FeCn_6 had been given out by volcanoes, and the
destructiveness to life of the travelling cloud could only be owing to
CO and CO_2. To this Rogers, in an article characterised by
extraordinary heat, replied that he could not understand how even a
'tyro'(!) in chemical and geological phenomena would venture to rush
into print with the statement that HCn had not commonly been given out
by volcanoes: that it _had_ been, he said, was perfectly certain; though
whether it had been or not could not affect the decision of a reasoning
mind as to whether it was being: for that cyanogen, as a matter of fact,
was not rare in nature, though not directly occurring, being one of the
products of the common distillation of pit-coal, and found in roots,
peaches, almonds, and many tropical flora; also that it had been
actually pointed out as probable by more than one thinker that some salt
or salts of Cn, the potassic, or the potassic ferrocyanide, or both,
must exist in considerable stores in the earth at volcanic depths. In
reply to this, Stanistreet in a two-column article used the word
'dreamer,' and Rogers, when Berlin had been already silenced, finally
replied with his amazing 'block-head.' But, in my opinion, by far the
most learned and lucid of the scientific dicta was from the rather
unexpected source of Sloggett, of the Dublin Science and Art Department:
he, without fuss, accepted the statements of the fugitive eye-witnesses,
down to the assertion that the cloud, as it rolled travelling, seemed
mixed from its base to the clouds with languid tongues of purple flame,
rose-coloured at their edges. This, Sloggett explained, was the
characteristic flame of both cyanogen and hydrocyanic acid vapour,
which, being inflammable, may have become locally ignited in the passage
over cities, and only burned in that limited and languid way on account
of the ponderous volumes of carbonic anhydride with which they must, of
course, be mixed: the dark empurpled colour was due to the presence of
large quantities of the scoriae of the trappean rocks: basalts,
green-stone, trachytes, and the various porphyries. This article was
most remarkable for its clear divination, because written so early--not
long, in fact, after the cessation of telegraphic communication with
Australia and China; and at a date so early Sloggett stated that the
character of the devastation not only proved an eruption--another, but
far greater Krakatoa--probably in some South Sea region, but indicated
that its most active product must be, not CO, but potassic ferrocyanide
(K_4FeCn_6), which, undergoing distillation with the products of sulphur
in the heat of eruption, produced hydrocyanic acid (HCn); and this
volatile acid, he said, remaining in a vaporous state in all climates
above a temperature of 26.5 deg. C., might involve the entire earth, if the
eruption proved sufficiently powerful, travelling chiefly in a direction
contrary to the earth's west-to-east motion, the only regions which
would certainly be exempt being the colder regions of the Arctic
circles, where the vapour of the acid would assume the liquid state, and
fall as rain. He did not anticipate that vegetation would be permanently
affected, unless the eruption were of inconceivable duration and
activity, for though the poisonous quality of hydrocyanic acid consisted
in its sudden and complete arrest of oxidation, vegetation had two
sources of life--the soil as well as the air; with this exception, all
life, down to the lowest evolutionary forms, would disappear (here was
the one point in which he was somewhat at fault), until the earth
reproduced them. For the rest, he fixed the rate of the on-coming cloud
at from 100 to 105 miles a day; and the date of eruption, either the
14th, 15th, or 16th of April--which was either one, two, or three days
after the arrival of the _Boreal_ party at the Pole; and he concluded by
saying that, if the facts were as he had stated them, then he could
suggest no hiding-place for the race of man, unless such places as mines
and tunnels could be made air-tight; nor could even they be of use to
any considerable number, except in the event of the poisonous state of
the air being of very short duration.

* * * * *

I had thought of mines before: but in a very languid way, till this
article, and other things that I read, as it were struck my brain a slap
with the notion. For 'there,' I said, 'if anywhere, shall I find a

* * * * *

I went out from that building that morning feeling like a man bowed down
with age, for the depths of unutterable horror into which I had had
glimpses during that one night made me very feeble, and my steps
tottered, and my brain reeled.

I got out into Farringdon Street, and at the near Circus, where four
streets meet, had under my furthest range of vision nothing but four
fields of bodies, bodies, clad in a rag-shop of every faded colour, or
half-clad, or not clad at all, actually, in many cases, over-lying one
another, as I had seen at Reading, but here with a markedly more
skeleton appearance: for I saw the swollen-looking shoulders, sharp
hips, hollow abdomens, and stiff bony limbs of people dead from famine,
the whole having the grotesque air of some _macabre_ battle-field of
fallen marionettes. Mixed with these was an extraordinary number of
vehicles of all sorts, so that I saw that driving among them would be
impracticable, whereas the street which I had taken during the night
was fairly clear. I thought a minute what I should do: then went by a
parallel back-street, and came out to a shop in the Strand, where I
hoped to find all the information which I needed about the excavations
of the country. The shutters were up, and I did not wish to make any
noise among these people, though the morning was bright, it being about
ten o'clock, and it was easy to effect entrance, for I saw a crow-bar in
a big covered furniture-van near. I, therefore, went northward, till I
came to the British Museum, the cataloguing-system of which I knew well,
and passed in. There was no one at the library-door to bid me stop, and
in the great round reading-room not a soul, except one old man with a
bag of goitre hung at his neck, and spectacles, he lying up a
book-ladder near the shelves, a 'reader' to the last. I got to the
printed catalogues, and for an hour was upstairs among the dim sacred
galleries of this still place, and at the sight of certain Greek and
Coptic papyri, charters, seals, had such a dream of this ancient earth,
my good God, as even an angel's pen could not half express on paper.
Afterwards, I went away loaded with a good hundred-weight of
Ordnance-maps, which I had stuffed into a bag found in the cloak-room,
with three topographical books; I then, at an instrument-maker's in
Holborn, got a sextant and theodolite, and at a grocer's near the river
put into a sack-bag provisions to last me a week or two; at Blackfriars
Bridge wharf-station I found a little sharp white steamer of a few tons,
which happily was driven by liquid air, so that I had no troublesome
fire to light: and by noon I was cutting my solitary way up the Thames,
which flowed as before the ancient Britons were born, and saw it, and
built mud-huts there amid the primaeval forest; and afterwards the
Romans came, and saw it, and called it Tamesis, or Thamesis.

* * * * *

That night, as I lay asleep on the cabin-cushions of my little boat
under the lee of an island at Richmond, I had a clear dream, in which
something, or someone, came to me, and asked me a question: for it said:
'Why do you go seeking another man?--that you may fall upon him, and
kiss him? or that you may fall upon him, and murder him?' And I answered
sullenly in my dream: 'I would not murder him. I do not wish to murder

* * * * *

What was essential to me was to know, with certainty, whether I was
really alone: for some instinct began to whisper me: 'Find that out: be
sure, be sure: for without the assurance you can never be--yourself.'

I passed into the great Midland Canal, and went northward, leisurely
advancing, for I was in no hurry. The weather remained very warm, and
great part of the country was still dressed in autumn leaves. I have
written, I think, of the terrific character of the tempests witnessed in
England since my return: well, the calms were just as intense and novel.
This observation was forced upon me: and I could not but be surprised.
There seemed no middle course now: if there was a wind, it was a storm:
if there was not a storm, no leaf stirred, not a roughening zephyr ran
the water. I was reminded of maniacs that laugh now, and rave now--but
never smile, and never sigh.

On the fourth afternoon I passed by Leicester, and the next morning left
my pleasant boat, carrying maps and compass, and at a small station took
engine, bound for Yorkshire, where I loitered and idled away two foolish
months, sometimes travelling by steam-engine, sometimes by automobile,
sometimes by bicycle, and sometimes on foot, till the autumn was quite

* * * * *

There were two houses in London to which especially I had thought to
go: one in Harley Street, and one in Hanover Square: but when it came to
the point, I would not; and there was a little embowered home in
Yorkshire, where I was born, to which I thought to go: but I would not,
confining myself for many days to the eastern half of the county.

One morning, while passing on foot along the coast-wall from Bridlington
to Flambro', on turning my eyes from the sea, I was confronted by a
thing which for a moment or two struck me with the most profound
astonishment. I had come to a mansion, surrounded by trees, three
hundred yards from the cliffs: and there, on a path at the bottom of the
domain, right before me, was a board marked: 'Trespassers will be
Prosecuted.' At once a mad desire--the first which I had had--to laugh,
to roar with laughter, to send wild echoes of merriment clapping among
the chalk gullies, and abroad on the morning air, seized upon me: but I
kept it under, though I could not help smiling at this poor man, with
his little delusion that a part of the earth was his.

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