Part 1 out of 4
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THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER INCIDENTS
BY H.G. WELLS
AUTHOR OF "THE TIME MACHINE"
METHUEN & CO.
36 ESSEX STREET, STRAND
H.B. MARRIOTT WATSON
Most of the stories in this collection appeared originally in the
_Pall Mall Budget_, two were published in the _Pall Mall Gazette_,
and one in _St James's Gazette_. I desire to make the usual
acknowledgments. The third story in the book was, I find, reprinted
by the _Observatory_, and the "Lord of the Dynamos" by the Melbourne
I. THE STOLEN BACILLUS
II. THE FLOWERING OF THE STRANGE ORCHID
III. IN THE AVU OBSERVATORY
IV. THE TRIUMPHS OF A TAXIDERMIST
V. A DEAL IN OSTRICHES
VI. THROUGH A WINDOW
VII. THE TEMPTATION OF HARRINGAY
VIII. THE FLYING MAN
IX. THE DIAMOND MAKER
X. AEPYORNIS ISLAND
XI. THE REMARKABLE CASE OF DAVIDSON'S EYES
XII. THE LORD OF THE DYNAMOS
XIII. THE HAMMERPOND PARK BURGLARY
XIV. A MOTH--_GENUS NOVO_
XV. THE TREASURE IN THE FOREST
THE STOLEN BACILLUS
"This again," said the Bacteriologist, slipping a glass slide under
the microscope, "is a preparation of the celebrated Bacillus of
cholera--the cholera germ."
The pale-faced man peered down the microscope. He was evidently not
accustomed to that kind of thing, and held a limp white hand over his
disengaged eye. "I see very little," he said.
"Touch this screw," said the Bacteriologist; "perhaps the microscope
is out of focus for you. Eyes vary so much. Just the fraction of a
turn this way or that."
"Ah! now I see," said the visitor. "Not so very much to see after all.
Little streaks and shreds of pink. And yet those little particles,
those mere atomies, might multiply and devastate a city! Wonderful!"
He stood up, and releasing the glass slip from the microscope, held
it in his hand towards the window. "Scarcely visible," he said,
scrutinising the preparation. He hesitated. "Are these--alive? Are
they dangerous now?"
"Those have been stained and killed," said the Bacteriologist. "I
wish, for my own part, we could kill and stain every one of them in
"I suppose," the pale man said with a slight smile, "that you scarcely
care to have such things about you in the living--in the active
"On the contrary, we are obliged to," said the Bacteriologist. "Here,
for instance--" He walked across the room and took up one of several
sealed tubes. "Here is the living thing. This is a cultivation of the
actual living disease bacteria." He hesitated, "Bottled cholera, so to
A slight gleam of satisfaction appeared momentarily in the face of the
"It's a deadly thing to have in your possession," he said, devouring
the little tube with his eyes. The Bacteriologist watched the morbid
pleasure in his visitor's expression. This man, who had visited
him that afternoon with a note of introduction from an old friend,
interested him from the very contrast of their dispositions. The lank
black hair and deep grey eyes, the haggard expression and nervous
manner, the fitful yet keen interest of his visitor were a novel
change from the phlegmatic deliberations of the ordinary scientific
worker with whom the Bacteriologist chiefly associated. It was perhaps
natural, with a hearer evidently so impressionable to the lethal
nature of his topic, to take the most effective aspect of the matter.
He held the tube in his hand thoughtfully. "Yes, here is the
pestilence imprisoned. Only break such a little tube as this into a
supply of drinking-water, say to these minute particles of life that
one must needs stain and examine with the highest powers of the
microscope even to see, and that one can neither smell nor taste--say
to them, 'Go forth, increase and multiply, and replenish the
cisterns,' and death--mysterious, untraceable death, death swift and
terrible, death full of pain and indignity--would be released upon
this city, and go hither and thither seeking his victims. Here he
would take the husband from the wife, here the child from its mother,
here the statesman from his duty, and here the toiler from his
trouble. He would follow the water-mains, creeping along streets,
picking out and punishing a house here and a house there where they
did not boil their drinking-water, creeping into the wells of the
mineral-water makers, getting washed into salad, and lying dormant in
ices. He would wait ready to be drunk in the horse-troughs, and by
unwary children in the public fountains. He would soak into the soil,
to reappear in springs and wells at a thousand unexpected places. Once
start him at the water supply, and before we could ring him in, and
catch him again, he would have decimated the metropolis."
He stopped abruptly. He had been told rhetoric was his weakness.
"But he is quite safe here, you know--quite safe."
The pale-faced man nodded. His eyes shone. He cleared his throat.
"These Anarchist--rascals," said he, "are fools, blind fools--to use
bombs when this kind of thing is attainable. I think--"
A gentle rap, a mere light touch of the finger-nails was heard at the
door. The Bacteriologist opened it. "Just a minute, dear," whispered
When he re-entered the laboratory his visitor was looking at his
watch. "I had no idea I had wasted an hour of your time," he said.
"Twelve minutes to four. I ought to have left here by half-past three.
But your things were really too interesting. No, positively I cannot
stop a moment longer. I have an engagement at four."
He passed out of the room reiterating his thanks, and the
Bacteriologist accompanied him to the door, and then returned
thoughtfully along the passage to his laboratory. He was musing on the
ethnology of his visitor. Certainly the man was not a Teutonic type
nor a common Latin one. "A morbid product, anyhow, I am afraid," said
the Bacteriologist to himself. "How he gloated on those cultivations
of disease-germs!" A disturbing thought struck him. He turned to the
bench by the vapour-bath, and then very quickly to his writing-table.
Then he felt hastily in his pockets, and then rushed to the door. "I
may have put it down on the hall table," he said.
"Minnie!" he shouted hoarsely in the hall.
"Yes, dear," came a remote voice.
"Had I anything in my hand when I spoke to you, dear, just now?"
"Nothing, dear, because I remember--"
"Blue ruin!" cried the Bacteriologist, and incontinently ran to the
front door and down the steps of his house to the street.
Minnie, hearing the door slam violently, ran in alarm to the
window. Down the street a slender man was getting into a cab. The
Bacteriologist, hatless, and in his carpet slippers, was running and
gesticulating wildly towards this group. One slipper came off, but
he did not wait for it. "He has gone _mad_!" said Minnie; "it's that
horrid science of his"; and, opening the window, would have called
after him. The slender man, suddenly glancing round, seemed struck
with the same idea of mental disorder. He pointed hastily to the
Bacteriologist, said something to the cabman, the apron of the cab
slammed, the whip swished, the horse's feet clattered, and in a moment
cab, and Bacteriologist hotly in pursuit, had receded up the vista of
the roadway and disappeared round the corner.
Minnie remained straining out of the window for a minute. Then she
drew her head back into the room again. She was dumbfounded. "Of
course he is eccentric," she meditated. "But running about London--in
the height of the season, too--in his socks!" A happy thought struck
her. She hastily put her bonnet on, seized his shoes, went into the
hall, took down his hat and light overcoat from the pegs, emerged upon
the doorstep, and hailed a cab that opportunely crawled by. "Drive
me up the road and round Havelock Crescent, and see if we can find a
gentleman running about in a velveteen coat and no hat."
"Velveteen coat, ma'am, and no 'at. Very good, ma'am." And the cabman
whipped up at once in the most matter-of-fact way, as if he drove to
this address every day in his life.
Some few minutes later the little group of cabmen and loafers that
collects round the cabmen's shelter at Haverstock Hill were startled
by the passing of a cab with a ginger-coloured screw of a horse,
They were silent as it went by, and then as it receded--"That's 'Arry
'Icks. Wot's _he_ got?" said the stout gentleman known as Old Tootles.
"He's a-using his whip, he is, _to_ rights," said the ostler boy.
"Hullo!" said poor old Tommy Byles; "here's another bloomin' loonatic.
Blowed if there aint."
"It's old George," said old Tootles, "and he's drivin' a loonatic,
_as_ you say. Aint he a-clawin' out of the keb? Wonder if he's after
The group round the cabmen's shelter became animated. Chorus: "Go it,
George!" "It's a race." "You'll ketch 'em!" "Whip up!"
"She's a goer, she is!" said the ostler boy.
"Strike me giddy!" cried old Tootles. "Here! _I'm_ a-goin' to begin
in a minute. Here's another comin'. If all the kebs in Hampstead aint
gone mad this morning!"
"It's a fieldmale this time," said the ostler boy.
"She's a followin' _him_" said old Tootles. "Usually the other way
"What's she got in her 'and?"
"Looks like a 'igh 'at."
"What a bloomin' lark it is! Three to one on old George," said the
ostler boy. "Nexst!"
Minnie went by in a perfect roar of applause. She did not like it but
she felt that she was doing her duty, and whirled on down Haverstock
Hill and Camden Town High Street with her eyes ever intent on the
animated back view of old George, who was driving her vagrant husband
so incomprehensibly away from her.
The man in the foremost cab sat crouched in the corner, his arms
tightly folded, and the little tube that contained such vast
possibilities of destruction gripped in his hand. His mood was a
singular mixture of fear and exultation. Chiefly he was afraid of
being caught before he could accomplish his purpose, but behind this
was a vaguer but larger fear of the awfulness of his crime. But his
exultation far exceeded his fear. No Anarchist before him had ever
approached this conception of his. Ravachol, Vaillant, all those
distinguished persons whose fame he had envied dwindled into
insignificance beside him. He had only to make sure of the water
supply, and break the little tube into a reservoir. How brilliantly
he had planned it, forged the letter of introduction and got into the
laboratory, and how brilliantly he had seized his opportunity! The
world should hear of him at last. All those people who had sneered at
him, neglected him, preferred other people to him, found his company
undesirable, should consider him at last. Death, death, death! They
had always treated him as a man of no importance. All the world had
been in a conspiracy to keep him under. He would teach them yet what
it is to isolate a man. What was this familiar street? Great Saint
Andrew's Street, of course! How fared the chase? He craned out of the
cab. The Bacteriologist was scarcely fifty yards behind. That was bad.
He would be caught and stopped yet. He felt in his pocket for money,
and found half-a-sovereign. This he thrust up through the trap in the
top of the cab into the man's face. "More," he shouted, "if only we
The money was snatched out of his hand. "Right you are," said the
cabman, and the trap slammed, and the lash lay along the glistening
side of the horse. The cab swayed, and the Anarchist, half-standing
under the trap, put the hand containing the little glass tube upon the
apron to preserve his balance. He felt the brittle thing crack, and
the broken half of it rang upon the floor of the cab. He fell back
into the seat with a curse, and stared dismally at the two or three
drops of moisture on the apron.
"Well! I suppose I shall be the first. _Phew_! Anyhow, I shall be a
Martyr. That's something. But it is a filthy death, nevertheless. I
wonder if it hurts as much as they say."
Presently a thought occurred to him--he groped between his feet. A
little drop was still in the broken end of the tube, and he drank that
to make sure. It was better to make sure. At any rate, he would not
Then it dawned upon him that there was no further need to escape the
Bacteriologist. In Wellington Street he told the cabman to stop, and
got out. He slipped on the step, and his head felt queer. It was rapid
stuff this cholera poison. He waved his cabman out of existence, so to
speak, and stood on the pavement with his arms folded upon his breast
awaiting the arrival of the Bacteriologist. There was something tragic
in his pose. The sense of imminent death gave him a certain dignity.
He greeted his pursuer with a defiant laugh.
"Vive l'Anarchie! You are too late, my friend. I have drunk it. The
cholera is abroad!"
The Bacteriologist from his cab beamed curiously at him through his
spectacles. "You have drunk it! An Anarchist! I see now." He was about
to say something more, and then checked himself. A smile hung in the
corner of his mouth. He opened the apron of his cab as if to descend,
at which the Anarchist waved him a dramatic farewell and strode off
towards Waterloo Bridge, carefully jostling his infected body against
as many people as possible. The Bacteriologist was so preoccupied with
the vision of him that he scarcely manifested the slightest surprise
at the appearance of Minnie upon the pavement with his hat and shoes
and overcoat. "Very good of you to bring my things," he said,
and remained lost in contemplation of the receding figure of the
"You had better get in," he said, still staring. Minnie felt
absolutely convinced now that he was mad, and directed the cabman home
on her own responsibility. "Put on my shoes? Certainly dear," said
he, as the cab began to turn, and hid the strutting black figure,
now small in the distance, from his eyes. Then suddenly something
grotesque struck him, and he laughed. Then he remarked, "It is really
very serious, though."
"You see, that man came to my house to see me, and he is an Anarchist.
No--don't faint, or I cannot possibly tell you the rest. And I wanted
to astonish him, not knowing he was an Anarchist, and took up a
cultivation of that new species of Bacterium I was telling you of,
that infest, and I think cause, the blue patches upon various monkeys;
and like a fool, I said it was Asiatic cholera. And he ran away with
it to poison the water of London, and he certainly might have made
things look blue for this civilised city. And now he has swallowed it.
Of course, I cannot say what will happen, but you know it turned
that kitten blue, and the three puppies--in patches, and the
sparrow--bright blue. But the bother is, I shall have all the trouble
and expense of preparing some more.
"Put on my coat on this hot day! Why? Because we might meet Mrs
Jabber. My dear, Mrs Jabber is not a draught. But why should I wear a
coat on a hot day because of Mrs--. Oh! _very_ well."
THE FLOWERING OF THE STRANGE ORCHID
The buying of orchids always has in it a certain speculative flavour.
You have before you the brown shrivelled lump of tissue, and for
the rest you must trust your judgment, or the auctioneer, or your
good-luck, as your taste may incline. The plant may be moribund or
dead, or it may be just a respectable purchase, fair value for your
money, or perhaps--for the thing has happened again and again--there
slowly unfolds before the delighted eyes of the happy purchaser, day
after day, some new variety, some novel richness, a strange twist
of the labellum, or some subtler colouration or unexpected mimicry.
Pride, beauty, and profit blossom together on one delicate green
spike, and, it may be, even immortality. For the new miracle of Nature
may stand in need of a new specific name, and what so convenient as
that of its discoverer? "Johnsmithia"! There have been worse names.
It was perhaps the hope of some such happy discovery that made
Winter-Wedderburn such a frequent attendant at these sales--that hope,
and also, maybe, the fact that he had nothing else of the slightest
interest to do in the world. He was a shy, lonely, rather ineffectual
man, provided with just enough income to keep off the spur of
necessity, and not enough nervous energy to make him seek any exacting
employments. He might have collected stamps or coins, or translated
Horace, or bound books, or invented new species of diatoms. But, as it
happened, he grew orchids, and had one ambitious little hothouse.
"I have a fancy," he said over his coffee, "that something is going to
happen to me to-day." He spoke--as he moved and thought--slowly.
"Oh, don't say _that_!" said his housekeeper--who was also his remote
cousin. For "something happening" was a euphemism that meant only one
thing to her.
"You misunderstand me. I mean nothing unpleasant ... though what I do
mean I scarcely know.
"To-day," he continued, after a pause, "Peters' are going to sell a
batch of plants from the Andamans and the Indies. I shall go up and
see what they have. It may be I shall buy something good, unawares.
That may be it."
He passed his cup for his second cupful of coffee.
"Are these the things collected by that poor young fellow you told me
of the other day?" asked his cousin as she filled his cup.
"Yes," he said, and became meditative over a piece of toast.
"Nothing ever does happen to me," he remarked presently, beginning
to think aloud. "I wonder why? Things enough happen to other people.
There is Harvey. Only the other week; on Monday he picked up sixpence,
on Wednesday his chicks all had the staggers, on Friday his cousin
came home from Australia, and on Saturday he broke his ankle. What a
whirl of excitement!--compared to me."
"I think I would rather be without so much excitement," said his
housekeeper. "It can't be good for you."
"I suppose it's troublesome. Still ... you see, nothing ever happens
to me. When I was a little boy I never had accidents. I never fell in
love as I grew up. Never married.... I wonder how it feels to have
something happen to you, something really remarkable.
"That orchid-collector was only thirty-six--twenty years younger than
myself--when he died. And he had been married twice and divorced once;
he had had malarial fever four times, and once he broke his thigh. He
killed a Malay once, and once he was wounded by a poisoned dart And in
the end he was killed by jungle-leeches. It must have all been
very troublesome, but then it must have been very interesting, you
know--except, perhaps, the leeches."
"I am sure it was not good for him," said the lady, with conviction.
"Perhaps not." And then Wedderburn looked at his watch. "Twenty-three
minutes past eight I am going up by the quarter to twelve train,
so that there is plenty of time. I think I shall wear my alpaca
jacket--it is quite warm enough--and my grey felt hat and brown shoes.
He glanced out of the window at the serene sky and sunlit garden, and
then nervously at his cousin's face.
"I think you had better take an umbrella if you are going to London,"
she said in a voice that admitted of no denial. "There's all between
here and the station coming back."
When he returned he was in a state of mild excitement. He had made a
purchase. It was rare that he could make up his mind quickly enough to
buy, but this time he had done so.
"There are Vandas," he said, "and a Dendrobe and some Palaeonophis."
He surveyed his purchases lovingly as he consumed his soup. They were
laid out on the spotless tablecloth before him, and he was telling his
cousin all about them as he slowly meandered through his dinner. It
was his custom to live all his visits to London over again in the
evening for her and his own entertainment.
"I knew something would happen to-day. And I have bought all these.
Some of them--some of them--I feel sure, do you know, that some of
them will be remarkable. I don't know how it is, but I feel just
as sure as if someone had told me that some of these will turn out
"That one"--he pointed to a shrivelled rhizome--"was not identified.
It may be a Palaeonophis--or it may not. It may be a new species,
or even a new genus. And it was the last that poor Batten ever
"I don't like the look of it," said his housekeeper. "It's such an
"To me it scarcely seems to have a shape."
"I don't like those things that stick out," said his housekeeper.
"It shall be put away in a pot to-morrow."
"It looks," said the housekeeper, "like a spider shamming dead."
Wedderburn smiled and surveyed the root with his head on one side. "It
is certainly not a pretty lump of stuff. But you can never judge of
these things from their dry appearance. It may turn out to be a very
beautiful orchid indeed. How busy I shall be to-morrow! I must see
to-night just exactly what to do with these things, and to-morrow I
shall set to work."
"They found poor Batten lying dead, or dying, in a mangrove swamp--I
forget which," he began again presently, "with one of these very
orchids crushed up under his body. He had been unwell for some days
with some kind of native fever, and I suppose he fainted. These
mangrove swamps are very unwholesome. Every drop of blood, they say,
was taken out of him by the jungle-leeches. It may be that very plant
that cost him his life to obtain."
"I think none the better of it for that."
"Men must work though women may weep," said Wedderburn with profound
"Fancy dying away from every comfort in a nasty swamp! Fancy being ill
of fever with nothing to take but chlorodyne and quinine--if men were
left to themselves they would live on chlorodyne and quinine--and no
one round you but horrible natives! They say the Andaman islanders are
most disgusting wretches--and, anyhow, they can scarcely make good
nurses, not having the necessary training. And just for people in
England to have orchids!"
"I don't suppose it was comfortable, but some men seem to enjoy that
kind of thing," said Wedderburn. "Anyhow, the natives of his party
were sufficiently civilised to take care of all his collection until
his colleague, who was an ornithologist, came back again from the
interior; though they could not tell the species of the orchid and had
let it wither. And it makes these things more interesting."
"It makes them disgusting. I should be afraid of some of the malaria
clinging to them. And just think, there has been a dead body lying
across that ugly thing! I never thought of that before. There! I
declare I cannot eat another mouthful of dinner."
"I will take them off the table if you like, and put them in the
window-seat. I can see them just as well there."
The next few days he was indeed singularly busy in his steamy little
hothouse, fussing about with charcoal, lumps of teak, moss, and all
the other mysteries of the orchid cultivator. He considered he was
having a wonderfully eventful time. In the evening he would talk about
these new orchids to his friends, and over and over again he reverted
to his expectation of something strange.
Several of the Vandas and the Dendrobium died under his care, but
presently the strange orchid began to show signs of life. He was
delighted and took his housekeeper right away from jam-making to see
it at once, directly he made the discovery.
"That is a bud," he said, "and presently there will be a lot of leaves
there, and those little things coming out here are aerial rootlets."
"They look to me like little white fingers poking out of the brown,"
said his housekeeper. "I don't like them."
"I don't know. They look like fingers trying to get at you. I can't
help my likes and dislikes."
"I don't know for certain, but I don't _think_ there are any orchids I
know that have aerial rootlets quite like that. It may be my fancy, of
course. You see they are a little flattened at the ends."
"I don't like 'em," said his housekeeper, suddenly shivering and
turning away. "I know it's very silly of me--and I'm very sorry,
particularly as you like the thing so much. But I can't help thinking
of that corpse."
"But it may not be that particular plant. That was merely a guess of
His housekeeper shrugged her shoulders. "Anyhow I don't like it," she
Wedderburn felt a little hurt at her dislike to the plant. But that
did not prevent his talking to her about orchids generally, and this
orchid in particular, whenever he felt inclined.
"There are such queer things about orchids," he said one day;
"such possibilities of surprises. You know, Darwin studied their
fertilisation, and showed that the whole structure of an ordinary
orchid-flower was contrived in order that moths might carry the pollen
from plant to plant. Well, it seems that there are lots of orchids
known the flower of which cannot possibly be used for fertilisation in
that way. Some of the Cypripediums, for instance; there are no insects
known that can possibly fertilise them, and some of them have never be
found with seed."
"But how do they form new plants?"
"By runners and tubers, and that kind of outgrowth. That is easily
explained. The puzzle is, what are the flowers for?
"Very likely," he added, "_my_ orchid may be something extraordinary
in that way. If so I shall study it. I have often thought of making
researches as Darwin did. But hitherto I have not found the time, or
something else has happened to prevent it. The leaves are beginning to
unfold now. I do wish you would come and see them!"
But she said that the orchid-house was so hot it gave her the
headache. She had seen the plant once again, and the aerial rootlets,
which were now some of them more than a foot long, had unfortunately
reminded her of tentacles reaching out after something; and they got
into her dreams, growing after her with incredible rapidity. So that
she had settled to her entire satisfaction that she would not see that
plant again, and Wedderburn had to admire its leaves alone. They were
of the ordinary broad form, and a deep glossy green, with splashes and
dots of deep red towards the base. He knew of no other leaves quite
like them. The plant was placed on a low bench near the thermometer,
and close by was a simple arrangement by which a tap dripped on the
hot-water pipes and kept the air steamy. And he spent his afternoons
now with some regularity meditating on the approaching flowering of
this strange plant.
And at last the great thing happened. Directly he entered the little
glass house he knew that the spike had burst out, although his great
_Palaeonophis Lowii_ hid the corner where his new darling stood.
There was a new odour in the air, a rich, intensely sweet scent, that
overpowered every other in that crowded, steaming little greenhouse.
Directly he noticed this he hurried down to the strange orchid. And,
behold! the trailing green spikes bore now three great splashes of
blossom, from which this overpowering sweetness proceeded. He stopped
before them in an ecstasy of admiration.
The flowers were white, with streaks of golden orange upon the petals;
the heavy labellum was coiled into an intricate projection, and a
wonderful bluish purple mingled there with the gold. He could see at
once that the genus was altogether a new one. And the insufferable
scent! How hot the place was! The blossoms swam before his eyes.
He would see if the temperature was right. He made a step towards the
thermometer. Suddenly everything appeared unsteady. The bricks on the
floor were dancing up and down. Then the white blossoms, the green
leaves behind them, the whole greenhouse, seemed to sweep sideways,
and then in a curve upward.
* * * * *
At half-past four his cousin made the tea, according to their
invariable custom. But Wedderburn did not come in for his tea.
"He is worshipping that horrid orchid," she told herself, and waited
ten minutes. "His watch must have stopped. I will go and call him."
She went straight to the hothouse, and, opening the door, called his
name. There was no reply. She noticed that the air was very close, and
loaded with an intense perfume. Then she saw something lying on the
bricks between the hot-water pipes.
For a minute, perhaps, she stood motionless.
He was lying, face upward, at the foot of the strange orchid. The
tentacle-like aerial rootlets no longer swayed freely in the air, but
were crowded together, a tangle of grey ropes, and stretched tight
with their ends closely applied to his chin and neck and hands.
She did not understand. Then she saw from under one of the exultant
tentacles upon his cheek there trickled a little thread of blood.
With an inarticulate cry she ran towards him, and tried to pull him
away from the leech-like suckers. She snapped two of these tentacles,
and their sap dripped red.
Then the overpowering scent of the blossom began to make her head
reel. How they clung to him! She tore at the tough ropes, and he and
the white inflorescence swam about her. She felt she was fainting,
knew she must not. She left him and hastily opened the nearest door,
and, after she had panted for a moment in the fresh air, she had a
brilliant inspiration. She caught up a flower-pot and smashed in the
windows at the end of the green-house. Then she re-entered. She tugged
now with renewed strength at Wedderburn's motionless body, and brought
the strange orchid crashing to the floor. It still clung with the
grimmest tenacity to its victim. In a frenzy, she lugged it and him
into the open air.
Then she thought of tearing through the sucker rootlets one by one,
and in another minute she had released him and was dragging him away
from the horror.
He was white and bleeding from a dozen circular patches.
The odd-job man was coming up the garden, amazed at the smashing of
glass, and saw her emerge, hauling the inanimate body with red-stained
hands. For a moment he thought impossible things.
"Bring some water!" she cried, and her voice dispelled his fancies.
When, with unnatural alacrity, he returned with the water, he found
her weeping with excitement, and with Wedderburn's head upon her knee,
wiping the blood from his face.
"What's the matter?" said Wedderburn, opening his eyes feebly, and
closing them again at once.
"Go and tell Annie to come out here to me, and then go for Doctor
Haddon at once," she said to the odd-job man so soon as he brought the
water; and added, seeing he hesitated, "I will tell you all about it
when you come back."
Presently Wedderburn opened his eyes again, and, seeing that he was
troubled by the puzzle of his position, she explained to him, "You
fainted in the hothouse."
"And the orchid?"
"I will see to that," she said.
Wedderburn had lost a good deal of blood, but beyond that he had
suffered no very great injury. They gave him brandy mixed with some
pink extract of meat, and carried him upstairs to bed. His housekeeper
told her incredible story in fragments to Dr Haddon. "Come to the
orchid-house and see," she said.
The cold outer air was blowing in through the open door, and the
sickly perfume was almost dispelled. Most of the torn aerial rootlets
lay already withered amidst a number of dark stains upon the bricks.
The stem of the inflorescence was broken by the fall of the plant, and
the flowers were growing limp and brown at the edges of the petals.
The doctor stooped towards it, then saw that one of the aerial
rootlets still stirred feebly, and hesitated.
The next morning the strange orchid still lay there, black now and
putrescent. The door banged intermittently in the morning breeze, and
all the array of Wedderburn's orchids was shrivelled and prostrate.
But Wedderburn himself was bright and garrulous upstairs in the glory
of his strange adventure.
IN THE AVU OBSERVATORY
The observatory at Avu, in Borneo, stands on the spur of the mountain.
To the north rises the old crater, black at night against the
unfathomable blue of the sky. From the little circular building, with
its mushroom dome, the slopes plunge steeply downward into the black
mysteries of the tropical forest beneath. The little house in which
the observer and his assistant live is about fifty yards from the
observatory, and beyond this are the huts of their native attendants.
Thaddy, the chief observer, was down with a slight fever. His
assistant, Woodhouse, paused for a moment in silent contemplation of
the tropical night before commencing his solitary vigil. The night
was very still. Now and then voices and laughter came from the native
huts, or the cry of some strange animal was heard from the midst of
the mystery of the forest. Nocturnal insects appeared in ghostly
fashion out of the darkness, and fluttered round his light. He
thought, perhaps, of all the possibilities of discovery that still
lay in the black tangle beneath him; for to the naturalist the virgin
forests of Borneo are still a wonderland full of strange questions and
half-suspected discoveries. Woodhouse carried a small lantern in his
hand, and its yellow glow contrasted vividly with the infinite series
of tints between lavender-blue and black in which the landscape was
painted. His hands and face were smeared with ointment against the
attacks of the mosquitoes.
Even in these days of celestial photography, work done in a purely
temporary erection, and with only the most primitive appliances in
addition to the telescope, still involves a very large amount of
cramped and motionless watching. He sighed as he thought of the
physical fatigues before him, stretched himself, and entered the
The reader is probably familiar with the structure of an ordinary
astronomical observatory. The building is usually cylindrical in
shape, with a very light hemispherical roof capable of being turned
round from the interior. The telescope is supported upon a stone
pillar in the centre, and a clockwork arrangement compensates for the
earth's rotation, and allows a star once found to be continuously
observed. Besides this, there is a compact tracery of wheels and
screws about its point of support, by which the astronomer adjusts it.
There is, of course, a slit in the movable roof which follows the eye
of the telescope in its survey of the heavens. The observer sits or
lies on a sloping wooden arrangement, which he can wheel to any part
of the observatory as the position of the telescope may require.
Within it is advisable to have things as dark as possible, in order to
enhance the brilliance of the stars observed.
The lantern flared as Woodhouse entered his circular den, and the
general darkness fled into black shadows behind the big machine, from
which it presently seemed to creep back over the whole place again as
the light waned. The slit was a profound transparent blue, in which
six stars shone with tropical brilliance, and their light lay, a
pallid gleam, along the black tube of the instrument. Woodhouse
shifted the roof, and then proceeding to the telescope, turned first
one wheel and then another, the great cylinder slowly swinging into a
new position. Then he glanced through the finder, the little
companion telescope, moved the roof a little more, made some further
adjustments, and set the clockwork in motion. He took off his jacket,
for the night was very hot, and pushed into position the uncomfortable
seat to which he was condemned for the next four hours. Then with a
sigh he resigned himself to his watch upon the mysteries of space.
There was no sound now in the observatory, and the lantern waned
steadily. Outside there was the occasional cry of some animal in alarm
or pain, or calling to its mate, and the intermittent sounds of the
Malay and Dyak servants. Presently one of the men began a queer
chanting song, in which the others joined at intervals. After this it
would seem that they turned in for the night, for no further sound
came from their direction, and the whispering stillness became more
and more profound.
The clockwork ticked steadily. The shrill hum of a mosquito explored
the place and grew shriller in indignation at Woodhouse's ointment.
Then the lantern went out and all the observatory was black.
Woodhouse shifted his position presently, when the slow movement of
the telescope had carried it beyond the limits of his comfort.
He was watching a little group of stars in the Milky Way, in one of
which his chief had seen or fancied a remarkable colour variability.
It was not a part of the regular work for which the establishment
existed, and for that reason perhaps Woodhouse was deeply interested.
He must have forgotten things terrestrial. All his attention was
concentrated upon the great blue circle of the telescope field--a
circle powdered, so it seemed, with an innumerable multitude of stars,
and all luminous against the blackness of its setting. As he watched
he seemed to himself to become incorporeal, as if he too were floating
in the ether of space. Infinitely remote was the faint red spot he was
Suddenly the stars were blotted out. A flash of blackness passed, and
they were visible again.
"Queer," said Woodhouse. "Must have been a bird."
The thing happened again, and immediately after the great tube
shivered as though it had been struck. Then the dome of the
observatory resounded with a series of thundering blows. The stars
seemed to sweep aside as the telescope--which had been undamped--swung
round and away from the slit in the roof.
"Great Scott!" cried Woodhouse. "What's this?"
Some huge vague black shape, with a flapping something like a wing,
seemed to be struggling in the aperture of the roof. In another moment
the slit was clear again, and the luminous haze of the Milky Way shone
warm and bright.
The interior of the roof was perfectly black, and only a scraping
sound marked the whereabouts of the unknown creature.
Woodhouse had scrambled from the seat to his feet. He was trembling
violently and in a perspiration with the suddenness of the occurrence.
Was the thing, whatever it was, inside or out? It was big, whatever
else it might be. Something shot across the skylight, and the
telescope swayed. He started violently and put his arm up. It was
in the observatory, then, with him. It was clinging to the roof,
apparently. What the devil was it? Could it see him?
He stood for perhaps a minute in a state of stupefaction. The beast,
whatever it was, clawed at the interior of the dome, and then
something flapped almost into his face, and he saw the momentary
gleam of starlight on a skin like oiled leather. His water-bottle was
knocked off his little table with a smash.
The sense of some strange bird-creature hovering a few yards from his
face in the darkness was indescribably unpleasant to Woodhouse. As his
thought returned he concluded that it must be some night-bird or large
bat. At any risk he would see what it was, and pulling a match from
his pocket, he tried to strike it on the telescope seat. There was a
smoking streak of phosphorescent light, the match flared for a moment,
and he saw a vast wing sweeping towards him, a gleam of grey-brown
fur, and then he was struck in the face and the match knocked out of
his hand. The blow was aimed at his temple, and a claw tore sideways
down to his cheek. He reeled and fell, and he heard the extinguished
lantern smash. Another blow followed as he fell. He was partly
stunned, he felt his own warm blood stream out upon his face.
Instinctively he felt his eyes had been struck at, and, turning over
on his face to protect them, tried to crawl under the protection of
the telescope. He was struck again upon the back, and he heard his
jacket rip, and then the thing hit the roof of the observatory. He
edged as far as he could between the wooden seat and the eyepiece of
the instrument, and turned his body round so that it was chiefly his
feet that were exposed. With these he could at least kick. He was
still in a mystified state. The strange beast banged about in the
darkness, and presently clung to the telescope, making it sway and the
gear rattle. Once it flapped near him, and he kicked out madly and
felt a soft body with his feet. He was horribly scared now. It must be
a big thing to swing the telescope like that. He saw for a moment the
outline of a head black against the starlight, with sharply-pointed
upstanding ears and a crest between them. It seemed to him to be as
big as a mastiffs. Then he began to bawl out as loudly as he could for
At that the thing came down upon him again. As it did so his hand
touched something beside him on the floor. He kicked out, and the
next moment his ankle was gripped and held by a row of keen teeth. He
yelled again, and tried to free his leg by kicking with the other.
Then he realised he had the broken water-bottle at his hand, and,
snatching it, he struggled into a sitting posture, and feeling in the
darkness towards his foot, gripped a velvety ear, like the ear of a
big cat. He had seized the water-bottle by its neck and brought it
down with a shivering crash upon the head of the strange beast. He
repeated the blow, and then stabbed and jobbed with the jagged end of
it, in the darkness, where he judged the face might be.
The small teeth relaxed their hold, and at once Woodhouse pulled his
leg free and kicked hard. He felt the sickening feel of fur and bone
giving under his boot. There was a tearing bite at his arm, and he
struck over it at the face, as he judged, and hit damp fur.
There was a pause; then he heard the sound of claws and the dragging
of a heavy body away from him over the observatory floor. Then there
was silence, broken only by his own sobbing breathing, and a sound
like licking. Everything was black except the parallelogram of the
blue skylight with the luminous dust of stars, against which the end
of the telescope now appeared in silhouette. He waited, as it seemed,
an interminable time. Was the thing coming on again? He felt in his
trouser-pocket for some matches, and found one remaining. He tried
to strike this, but the floor was wet, and it spat and went out. He
cursed. He could not see where the door was situated. In his struggle
he had quite lost his bearings. The strange beast, disturbed by the
splutter of the match, began to move again. "Time!" called Woodhouse,
with a sudden gleam of mirth, but the thing was not coming at him
again. He must have hurt it, he thought, with the broken bottle. He
felt a dull pain in his ankle. Probably he was bleeding there. He
wondered if it would support him if he tried to stand up. The night
outside was very still. There was no sound of any one moving. The
sleepy fools had not heard those wings battering upon the dome, nor
his shouts. It was no good wasting strength in shouting. The monster
flapped its wings and startled him into a defensive attitude. He hit
his elbow against the seat, and it fell over with a crash. He cursed
this, and then he cursed the darkness.
Suddenly the oblong patch of starlight seemed to sway to and fro. Was
he going to faint? It would never do to faint. He clenched his fists
and set his teeth to hold himself together. Where had the door got
to? It occurred to him he could get his bearings by the stars visible
through the skylight. The patch of stars he saw was in Sagittarius and
south-eastward; the door was north--or was it north by west? He tried
to think. If he could get the door open he might retreat. It might be
the thing was wounded. The suspense was beastly. "Look here!" he said,
"if you don't come on, I shall come at you."
Then the thing began clambering up the side of the observatory, and
he saw its black outline gradually blot out the skylight. Was it in
retreat? He forgot about the door, and watched as the dome shifted and
creaked. Somehow he did not feel very frightened or excited now. He
felt a curious sinking sensation inside him. The sharply-defined patch
of light, with the black form moving across it, seemed to be growing
smaller and smaller. That was curious. He began to feel very thirsty,
and yet he did not feel inclined to get anything to drink. He seemed
to be sliding down a long funnel.
He felt a burning sensation in his throat, and then he perceived it
was broad daylight, and that one of the Dyak servants was looking at
him with a curious expression. Then there was the top of Thaddy's face
upside down. Funny fellow, Thaddy, to go about like that! Then he
grasped the situation better, and perceived that his head was on
Thaddy's knee, and Thaddy was giving him brandy. And then he saw the
eyepiece of the telescope with a lot of red smears on it. He began to
"You've made this observatory in a pretty mess," said Thaddy.
The Dyak boy was beating up an egg in brandy. Woodhouse took this and
sat up. He felt a sharp twinge of pain. His ankle was tied up, so were
his arm and the side of his face. The smashed glass, red-stained,
lay about the floor, the telescope seat was overturned, and by the
opposite wall was a dark pool. The door was open, and he saw the grey
summit of the mountain against a brilliant background of blue sky.
"Pah!" said Woodhouse. "Who's been killing calves here? Take me out of
Then he remembered the Thing, and the fight he had had with it.
"What _was_ it?" he said to Thaddy--"The Thing I fought with?"
"_You_ know that best," said Thaddy. "But, anyhow, don't worry
yourself now about it. Have some more to drink."
Thaddy, however, was curious enough, and it was a hard struggle
between duty and inclination to keep Woodhouse quiet until he was
decently put away in bed, and had slept upon the copious dose of
meat-extract Thaddy considered advisable. They then talked it over
"It was," said Woodhouse, "more like a big bat than anything else in
the world. It had sharp, short ears, and soft fur, and its wings were
leathery. Its teeth were little, but devilish sharp, and its jaw could
not have been very strong or else it would have bitten through my
"It has pretty nearly," said Thaddy.
"It seemed to me to hit out with its claws pretty freely. That
is about as much as I know about the beast. Our conversation was
intimate, so to speak, and yet not confidential."
"The Dyak chaps talk about a Big Colugo, a Klang-utang--whatever
that may be. It does not often attack man, but I suppose you made it
nervous. They say there is a Big Colugo and a Little Colugo, and a
something else that sounds like gobble. They all fly about at night.
For my own part I know there are flying foxes and flying lemurs about
here, but they are none of them very big beasts."
"There are more things in heaven and earth," said Woodhouse--and
Thaddy groaned at the quotation--"and more particularly in the forests
of Borneo, than are dreamt of in our philosophies. On the whole, if
the Borneo fauna is going to disgorge any more of its novelties upon
me, I should prefer that it did so when I was not occupied in the
observatory at night and alone."
THE TRIUMPHS OF A TAXIDERMIST
Here are some of the secrets of taxidermy. They were told me by the
taxidermist in a mood of elation. He told me them in the time between
the first glass of whisky and the fourth, when a man is no longer
cautious and yet not drunk. We sat in his den together; his library it
was, his sitting and his eating-room--separated by a bead curtain, so
far as the sense of sight went, from the noisome den where he plied
He sat on a deck chair, and when he was not tapping refractory bits of
coal with them, he kept his feet--on which he wore, after the manner
of sandals, the holy relics of a pair of carpet slippers--out of the
way upon the mantel-piece, among the glass eyes. And his trousers,
by-the-by--though they have nothing to do with his triumphs--were a
most horrible yellow plaid, such as they made when our fathers wore
side-whiskers and there were crinolines in the land. Further, his hair
was black, his face rosy, and his eye a fiery brown; and his coat was
chiefly of grease upon a basis of velveteen. And his pipe had a bowl
of china showing the Graces, and his spectacles were always askew, the
left eye glaring nakedly at you, small and penetrating; the right,
seen through a glass darkly, magnified and mild. Thus his discourse
ran: "There never was a man who could stuff like me, Bellows, never. I
have stuffed elephants and I have stuffed moths, and the things have
looked all the livelier and better for it. And I have stuffed human
beings--chiefly amateur ornithologists. But I stuffed a nigger once.
"No, there is no law against it. I made him with all his fingers out
and used him as a hat-rack, but that fool Homersby got up a quarrel
with him late one night and spoilt him. That was before your time. It
is hard to get skins, or I would have another.
"Unpleasant? I don't see it. Seems to me taxidermy is a promising
third course to burial or cremation. You could keep all your dear ones
by you. Bric-a-brac of that sort stuck about the house would be as
good as most company, and much less expensive. You might have them
fitted up with clockwork to do things.
"Of course they would have to be varnished, but they need not shine
more than lots of people do naturally. Old Manningtree's bald head....
Anyhow, you could talk to them without interruption. Even aunts. There
is a great future before taxidermy, depend upon it. There is fossils
He suddenly became silent.
"No, I don't think I ought to tell you that." He sucked at his pipe
thoughtfully. "Thanks, yes. Not too much water.
"Of course, what I tell you now will go no further. You know I have
made some dodos and a great auk? No! Evidently you are an amateur at
taxidermy. My dear fellow, half the great auks in the world are about
as genuine as the handkerchief of Saint Veronica, as the Holy Coat of
Treves. We make 'em of grebes' feathers and the like. And the great
auk's eggs too!"
"Yes, we make them out of fine porcelain. I tell you it is worth
while. They fetch--one fetched L300 only the other day. That one was
really genuine, I believe, but of course one is never certain. It is
very fine work, and afterwards you have to get them dusty, for no one
who owns one of these precious eggs has ever the temerity to clean the
thing. That's the beauty of the business. Even if they suspect an egg
they do not like to examine it too closely. It's such brittle capital
at the best.
"You did not know that taxidermy rose to heights like that. My boy, it
has risen higher. I have rivalled the hands of Nature herself. One of
the _genuine_ great auks"--his voice fell to a whisper--one of the
_genuine_ great auks _was made by me_."
"No. You must study ornithology, and find out which it is yourself.
And what is more, I have been approached by a syndicate of dealers
to stock one of the unexplored skerries to the north of Iceland with
specimens. I may--some day. But I have another little thing in hand
just now. Ever heard of the dinornis?
"It is one of those big birds recently extinct in New Zealand. 'Moa'
is its common name, so called because extinct: there is no moa now.
See? Well, they have got bones of it, and from some of the marshes
even feathers and dried bits of skin. Now, I am going to--well, there
is no need to make any bones about it--going to _forge_ a complete
stuffed moa. I know a chap out there who will pretend to make the find
in a kind of antiseptic swamp, and say he stuffed it at once, as it
threatened to fall to pieces. The feathers are peculiar, but I have
got a simply lovely way of dodging up singed bits of ostrich plume.
Yes, that is the new smell you noticed. They can only discover the
fraud with a microscope, and they will hardly care to pull a nice
specimen to bits for that.
"In this way, you see, I give my little push in the advancement of
"But all this is merely imitating Nature. I have done more than that
in my time. I have--beaten her."
He took his feet down from the mantel-board, and leant over
confidentially towards me. "I have _created_ birds," he said in a low
voice. "_New_ birds. Improvements. Like no birds that was ever seen
He resumed his attitude during an impressive silence.
"Enrich the universe; _rath_-er. Some of the birds I made were new
kinds of humming birds, and very beautiful little things, but some of
them were simply rum. The rummest, I think, was the _Anomalopteryx
Jejuna. Jejunus-a-um_--empty--so called because there was really
nothing in it; a thoroughly empty bird--except for stuffing. Old
Javvers has the thing now, and I suppose he is almost as proud of it
as I am. It is a masterpiece, Bellows. It has all the silly clumsiness
of your pelican, all the solemn want of dignity of your parrot,
all the gaunt ungainliness of a flamingo, with all the extravagant
chromatic conflict of a mandarin duck. _Such_ a bird. I made it out
of the skeletons of a stork and a toucan and a job lot of feathers.
Taxidermy of that kind is just pure joy, Bellows, to a real artist in
"How did I come to make it? Simple enough, as all great inventions
are. One of those young genii who write us Science Notes in the papers
got hold of a German pamphlet about the birds of New Zealand, and
translated some of it by means of a dictionary and his mother-wit--he
must have been one of a very large family with a small mother--and he
got mixed between the living apteryx and the extinct anomalopteryx;
talked about a bird five feet high, living in the jungles of the North
Island, rare, shy, specimens difficult to obtain, and so on. Javvers,
who even for a collector, is a miraculously ignorant man, read these
paragraphs, and swore he would have the thing at any price. Raided
the dealers with enquiries. It shows what a man can do by
persistence--will-power. Here was a bird-collector swearing he would
have a specimen of a bird that did not exist, that never had existed,
and which for very shame of its own profane ungainliness, probably
would not exist now if it could help itself. And he got it. _He got
"Have some more whisky, Bellows?" said the taxidermist, rousing
himself from a transient contemplation of the mysteries of will-power
and the collecting turn of mind. And, replenished, he proceeded to
tell me of how he concocted a most attractive mermaid, and how an
itinerant preacher, who could not get an audience because of it,
smashed it because it was idolatry, or worse, at Burslem Wakes. But
as the conversation of all the parties to this transaction,
creator, would-be preserver, and destroyer, was uniformly unfit for
publication, this cheerful incident must still remain unprinted.
The reader unacquainted with the dark ways of the collector may
perhaps be inclined to doubt my taxidermist, but so far as great auks'
eggs, and the bogus stuffed birds are concerned, I find that he has
the confirmation of distinguished ornithological writers. And the note
about the New Zealand bird certainly appeared in a morning paper of
unblemished reputation, for the Taxidermist keeps a copy and has shown
it to me.
A DEAL IN OSTRICHES
"Talking of the prices of birds, I've seen an ostrich that cost three
hundred pounds," said the Taxidermist, recalling his youth of travel.
"Three hundred pounds!"
He looked at me over his spectacles. "I've seen another that was
refused at four."
"No," he said, "it wasn't any fancy points. They was just plain
ostriches. A little off colour, too--owing to dietary. And there
wasn't any particular restriction of the demand either. You'd have
thought five ostriches would have ruled cheap on an East Indiaman. But
the point was, one of 'em had swallowed a diamond.
"The chap it got it off was Sir Mohini Padishah, a tremendous swell, a
Piccadilly swell you might say up to the neck of him, and then an ugly
black head and a whopping turban, with this diamond in it. The blessed
bird pecked suddenly and had it, and when the chap made a fuss it
realised it had done wrong, I suppose, and went and mixed itself with
the others to preserve its _incog_. It all happened in a minute. I was
among the first to arrive, and there was this heathen going over his
gods, and two sailors and the man who had charge of the birds laughing
fit to split. It was a rummy way of losing a jewel, come to think of
it. The man in charge hadn't been about just at the moment, so that he
didn't know which bird it was. Clean lost, you see. I didn't feel half
sorry, to tell you the truth. The beggar had been swaggering over his
blessed diamond ever since he came aboard.
"A thing like that goes from stem to stern of a ship in no time. Every
one was talking about it. Padishah went below to hide his feelings.
At dinner--he pigged at a table by himself, him and two other
Hindoos--the captain kind of jeered at him about it, and he got very
excited. He turned round and talked into my ear. He would not buy the
birds; he would have his diamond. He demanded his rights as a British
subject. His diamond must be found. He was firm upon that. He would
appeal to the House of Lords. The man in charge of the birds was one
of those wooden-headed chaps you can't get a new idea into anyhow. He
refused any proposal to interfere with the birds by way of medicine.
His instructions were to feed them so-and-so and treat them so-and-so,
and it was as much as his place was worth not to feed them so-and-so
and treat them so-and-so. Padishah had wanted a stomach-pump--though
you can't do that to a bird, you know. This Padishah was full of bad
law, like most of these blessed Bengalis, and talked of having a lien
on the birds, and so forth. But an old boy, who said his son was a
London barrister, argued that what a bird swallowed became _ipso
facto_ part of the bird, and that Padishah's only remedy lay in
an action for damages, and even then it might be possible to show
contributory negligence. He hadn't any right of way about an ostrich
that didn't belong to him. That upset Padishah extremely, the more so
as most of us expressed an opinion that that was the reasonable view.
There wasn't any lawyer aboard to settle the matter, so we all talked
pretty free. At last, after Aden, it appears that he came round to the
general opinion, and went privately to the man in charge and made an
offer for all five ostriches.
"The next morning there was a fine shindy at breakfast. The man hadn't
any authority to deal with the birds, and nothing on earth would
induce him to sell; but it seems he told Padishah that a Eurasian
named Potter had already made him an offer, and on that Padishah
denounced Potter before us all. But I think the most of us thought it
rather smart of Potter, and I know that when Potter said that he'd
wired at Aden to London to buy the birds, and would have an answer at
Suez, I cursed pretty richly at a lost opportunity.
"At Suez, Padishah gave way to tears--actual wet tears--when Potter
became the owner of the birds, and offered him two hundred and fifty
right off for the five, being more than two hundred per cent. on what
Potter had given. Potter said he'd be hanged if he parted with a
feather of them--that he meant to kill them off one by one and find
the diamond; but afterwards, thinking it over, he relented a little.
He was a gambling hound, was this Potter, a little queer at cards, and
this kind of prize-packet business must have suited him down to the
ground. Anyhow, he offered, for a lark, to sell the birds separately
to separate people by auction at a starting price of L80 for a bird.
But one of them, he said, he meant to keep for luck.
"You must understand this diamond was a valuable one--a little Jew
chap, a diamond merchant, who was with us, had put it at three or
four thousand when Padishah had shown it to him--and this idea of an
ostrich gamble caught on. Now it happened that I'd been having a
few talks on general subjects with the man who looked after these
ostriches, and quite incidentally he'd said one of the birds was
ailing, and he fancied it had indigestion. It had one feather in its
tail almost all white, by which I knew it, and so when, next day, the
auction started with it, I capped Padishah's eighty-five by ninety.
I fancy I was a bit too sure and eager with my bid, and some of the
others spotted the fact that I was in the know. And Padishah went for
that particular bird like an irresponsible lunatic. At last the Jew
diamond merchant got it for L175, and Padishah said L180 just after
the hammer came down--so Potter declared. At any rate the Jew merchant
secured it, and there and then he got a gun and shot it. Potter made a
Hades of a fuss because he said it would injure the sale of the other
three, and Padishah, of course, behaved like an idiot; but all of us
were very much excited. I can tell you I was precious glad when that
dissection was over, and no diamond had turned up--precious glad. I'd
gone to one-forty on that particular bird myself.
"The little Jew was like most Jews--he didn't make any great fuss over
bad luck; but Potter declined to go on with the auction until it was
understood that the goods could not be delivered until the sale was
over. The little Jew wanted to argue that the case was exceptional,
and as the discussion ran pretty even, the thing was postponed until
the next morning. We had a lively dinner-table that evening, I can
tell you, but in the end Potter got his way, since it would stand to
reason he would be safer if he stuck to all the birds, and that we
owed him some consideration for his sportsmanlike behaviour. And the
old gentleman whose son was a lawyer said he'd been thinking the thing
over and that it was very doubtful if, when a bird had been opened and
the diamond recovered, it ought not to be handed back to the
proper owner. I remember I suggested it came under the laws of
treasure-trove--which was really the truth of the matter. There was a
hot argument, and we settled it was certainly foolish to kill the bird
on board the ship. Then the old gentleman, going at large through his
legal talk, tried to make out the sale was a lottery and illegal,
and appealed to the captain; but Potter said he sold the birds _as_
ostriches. He didn't want to sell any diamonds, he said, and didn't
offer that as an inducement. The three birds he put up, to the best of
his knowledge and belief, did _not_ contain a diamond. It was in the
one he kept--so he hoped.
"Prices ruled high next day all the same. The fact that now there were
four chances instead of five of course caused a rise. The blessed
birds averaged 227, and, oddly enough, this Padishah didn't secure one
of 'em--not one. He made too much shindy, and when he ought to have
been bidding he was talking about liens, and, besides, Potter was a
bit down on him. One fell to a quiet little officer chap, another to
the little Jew, and the third was syndicated by the engineers. And
then Potter seemed suddenly sorry for having sold them, and said he'd
flung away a clear thousand pounds, and that very likely he'd draw a
blank and that he always had been a fool, but when I went and had a
bit of a talk to him, with the idea of getting him to hedge on his
last chance, I found he'd already sold the bird he'd reserved to a
political chap that was on board, a chap who'd been studying Indian
morals and social questions in his vacation. That last was the three
hundred pounds bird. Well, they landed three of the blessed creatures
at Brindisi--though the old gentleman said it was a breach of the
Customs regulations--and Potter and Padishah landed too. The Hindoo
seemed half mad as he saw his blessed diamond going this way and
that, so to speak. He kept on saying he'd get an injunction--he had
injunction on the brain--and giving his name and address to the chaps
who'd bought the birds, so that they'd know where to send the diamond.
None of them wanted his name and address, and none of them would give
their own. It was a fine row I can tell you--on the platform. They all
went off by different trains. I came on to Southampton, and there
I saw the last of the birds, as I came ashore; it was the one the
engineers bought, and it was standing up near the bridge, in a kind of
crate, and looking as leggy and silly a setting for a valuable diamond
as ever you saw--if it _was_ a setting for a valuable diamond.
"_How did it end_? Oh! like that. Well--perhaps. Yes, there's one more
thing that may throw light on it. A week or so after landing I was
down Regent-street doing a bit of shopping, and who should I see
arm-in-arm and having a purple time of it but Padishah and Potter. If
you come to think of it--
"Yes. _I've_ thought that. Only, you see, there's no doubt the diamond
was real. And Padishah was an eminent Hindoo. I've seen his name
in the papers--often. But whether the bird swallowed the diamond
certainly is another matter, as you say."
THROUGH A WINDOW
After his legs were set, they carried Bailey into the study and put
him on a couch before the open window. There he lay, a live--even a
feverish man down to the loins, and below that a double-barrelled
mummy swathed in white wrappings. He tried to read, even tried to
write a little, but most of the time he looked out of the window.
He had thought the window cheerful to begin with, but now he thanked
God for it many times a day. Within, the room was dim and grey, and
in the reflected light the wear of the furniture showed plainly. His
medicine and drink stood on the little table, with such litter as the
bare branches of a bunch of grapes or the ashes of a cigar upon a
green plate, or a day old evening paper. The view outside was flooded
with light, and across the corner of it came the head of the acacia,
and at the foot the top of the balcony-railing of hammered iron. In
the foreground was the weltering silver of the river, never quiet and
yet never tiresome. Beyond was the reedy bank, a broad stretch of
meadow land, and then a dark line of trees ending in a group of
poplars at the distant bend of the river, and, upstanding behind them,
a square church tower.
Up and down the river, all day long, things were passing. Now a string
of barges drifting down to London, piled with lime or barrels of beer;
then a steam-launch, disengaging heavy masses of black smoke, and
disturbing the whole width of the river with long rolling waves; then
an impetuous electric launch, and then a boatload of pleasure-seekers,
a solitary sculler, or a four from some rowing club. Perhaps the river
was quietest of a morning or late at night. One moonlight night some
people drifted down singing, and with a zither playing--it sounded
very pleasantly across the water.
In a few days Bailey began to recognise some of the craft; in a week
he knew the intimate history of half-a-dozen. The launch _Luzon_, from
Fitzgibbon's, two miles up, would go fretting by, sometimes three or
four times a day, conspicuous with its colouring of Indian-red and
yellow, and its two Oriental attendants; and one day, to Bailey's vast
amusement, the house-boat _Purple Emperor_ came to a stop outside, and
breakfasted in the most shameless domesticity. Then one afternoon, the
captain of a slow-moving barge began a quarrel with his wife as they
came into sight from the left, and had carried it to personal violence
before he vanished behind the window-frame to the right. Bailey
regarded all this as an entertainment got up to while away his
illness, and applauded all the more moving incidents. Mrs Green,
coming in at rare intervals with his meals, would catch him clapping
his hands or softly crying, "Encore!" But the river players had other
engagements, and his encore went unheeded.
"I should never have thought I could take such an interest in things
that did not concern me," said Bailey to Wilderspin, who used to come
in in his nervous, friendly way and try to comfort the sufferer by
being talked to. "I thought this idle capacity was distinctive of
little children and old maids. But it's just circumstances. I simply
can't work, and things have to drift; it's no good to fret and
struggle. And so I lie here and am as amused as a baby with a rattle,
at this river and its affairs.
"Sometimes, of course, it gets a bit dull, but not often.
"I would give anything, Wilderspin, for a swamp--just one swamp--once.
Heads swimming and a steam launch to the rescue, and a chap or so
hauled out with a boat-hook.... There goes Fitzgibbon's launch! They
have a new boat-hook, I see, and the little blackie is still in the
dumps. I don't think he's very well, Wilderspin. He's been like that
for two or three days, squatting sulky-fashion and meditating over the
churning of the water. Unwholesome for him to be always staring at the
frothy water running away from the stern."
They watched the little steamer fuss across the patch of sunlit river,
suffer momentary occultation from the acacia, and glide out of sight
behind the dark window-frame.
"I'm getting a wonderful eye for details," said Bailey: "I spotted
that new boat-hook at once. The other nigger is a funny little chap.
He never used to swagger with the old boat-hook like that."
"Malays, aren't they?" said Wilderspin.
"Don't know," said Bailey. "I thought one called all that sort of
Then he began to tell Wilderspin what he knew of the private affairs
of the houseboat, _Purple Emperor_. "Funny," he said, "how these
people come from all points of the compass--from Oxford and Windsor,
from Asia and Africa--and gather and pass opposite the window just
to entertain me. One man floated out of the infinite the day before
yesterday, caught one perfect crab opposite, lost and recovered a
scull, and passed on again. Probably he will never come into my life
again. So far as I am concerned, he has lived and had his little
troubles, perhaps thirty--perhaps forty--years on the earth, merely
to make an ass of himself for three minutes in front of my window.
Wonderful thing, Wilderspin, if you come to think of it."
"Yes," said Wilderspin; "_isn't_ it?"
A day or two after this Bailey had a brilliant morning. Indeed,
towards the end of the affair, it became almost as exciting as any
window show very well could be. We will, however, begin at the
Bailey was all alone in the house, for his housekeeper had gone into
the town three miles away to pay bills, and the servant had her
holiday. The morning began dull. A canoe went up about half-past nine,
and later a boat-load of camping men came down. But this was mere
margin. Things became cheerful about ten o'clock.
It began with something white fluttering in the remote distance where
the three poplars marked the river bend. "Pocket-handkerchief," said
Bailey, when he saw it "No. Too big! Flag perhaps."
However, it was not a flag, for it jumped about. "Man in whites
running fast, and this way," said Bailey. "That's luck! But his whites
are precious loose!"
Then a singular thing happened. There was a minute pink gleam among
the dark trees in the distance, and a little puff of pale grey that
began to drift and vanish eastward. The man in white jumped and
continued running. Presently the report of the shot arrived.
"What the devil!" said Bailey. "Looks as if someone was shooting at
He sat up stiffly and stared hard. The white figure was coming along
the pathway through the corn. "It's one of those niggers from the
Fitzgibbon's," said Bailey; "or may I be hanged! I wonder why he keeps
sawing with his arm."
Then three other figures became indistinctly visible against the dark
background of the trees.
Abruptly on the opposite bank a man walked into the picture. He was
black-bearded, dressed in flannels, had a red belt, and a vast grey
felt hat. He walked, leaning very much forward and with his hands
swinging before him. Behind him one could see the grass swept by the
towing-rope of the boat he was dragging. He was steadfastly regarding
the white figure that was hurrying through the corn. Suddenly he
stopped. Then, with a peculiar gesture, Bailey could see that he began
pulling in the tow-rope hand over hand. Over the water could be heard
the voices of the people in the still invisible boat.
"What are you after, Hagshot?" said someone.
The individual with the red belt shouted something that was inaudible,
and went on lugging in the rope, looking over his shoulder at the
advancing white figure as he did so. He came down the bank, and the
rope bent a lane among the reeds and lashed the water between his
Then just the bows of the boat came into view, with the towing-mast
and a tall, fair-haired man standing up and trying to see over the
bank. The boat bumped unexpectedly among the reeds, and the tall,
fair-haired man disappeared suddenly, having apparently fallen back
into the invisible part of the boat. There was a curse and some
indistinct laughter. Hagshot did not laugh, but hastily clambered into
the boat and pushed off. Abruptly the boat passed out of Bailey's
But it was still audible. The melody of voices suggested that its
occupants were busy telling each other what to do.
The running figure was drawing near the bank. Bailey could now see
clearly that it was one of Fitzgibbon's Orientals, and began to
realise what the sinuous thing the man carried in his hand might
be. Three other men followed one another through the corn, and the
foremost carried what was probably the gun. They were perhaps two
hundred yards or more behind the Malay.
"It's a man hunt, by all that's holy!" said Bailey.
The Malay stopped for a moment and surveyed the bank to the right.
Then he left the path, and, breaking through the corn, vanished in
that direction. The three pursuers followed suit, and their heads and
gesticulating arms above the corn, after a brief interval, also went
out of Bailey's field of vision.
Bailey so far forgot himself as to swear. "Just as things were getting
lively!" he said. Something like a woman's shriek came through the
air. Then shouts, a howl, a dull whack upon the balcony outside that
made Bailey jump, and then the report of a gun.
"This is precious hard on an invalid," said Bailey.
But more was to happen yet in his picture. In fact, a great deal more.
The Malay appeared again, running now along the bank up stream.
His stride had more swing and less pace in it than before. He was
threatening someone ahead with the ugly krees he carried. The blade,
Bailey noticed, was dull--it did not shine as steel should.
Then came the tall, fair man, brandishing a boat-hook, and after him
three other men in boating costume, running clumsily with oars.
The man with the grey hat and red belt was not with them. After an
interval the three men with the gun reappeared, still in the corn,
but now near the river bank. They emerged upon the towing-path,
and hurried after the others. The opposite bank was left blank and
The sick-room was disgraced by more profanity. "I would give my life
to see the end of this," said Bailey. There were indistinct shouts up
stream. Once they seemed to be coming nearer, but they disappointed
Bailey sat and grumbled. He was still grumbling when his eye caught
something black and round among the waves. "Hullo!" he said. He looked
narrowly and saw two triangular black bodies frothing every now and
then about a yard in front of this.
He was still doubtful when the little band of pursuers came into sight
again, and began to point to this floating object. They were talking
eagerly. Then the man with the gun took aim.
"He's swimming the river, by George!" said Bailey.
The Malay looked round, saw the gun, and went under. He came up so
close to Bailey's bank of the river that one of the bars of the
balcony hid him for a moment. As he emerged the man with the gun
fired. The Malay kept steadily onward--Bailey could see the wet hair
on his forehead now and the krees between his teeth--and was presently
hidden by the balcony.
This seemed to Bailey an unendurable wrong. The man was lost to him
for ever now, so he thought. Why couldn't the brute have got himself
decently caught on the opposite bank, or shot in the water?
"It's worse than Edwin Drood," said Bailey.
Over the river, too, things had become an absolute blank. All seven
men had gone down stream again, probably to get the boat and follow
across. Bailey listened and waited. There was silence. "Surely it's
not over like this," said Bailey.
Five minutes passed--ten minutes. Then a tug with two barges went up
stream. The attitudes of the men upon these were the attitudes of
those who see nothing remarkable in earth, water, or sky. Clearly the
whole affair had passed out of sight of the river. Probably the hunt
had gone into the beech woods behind the house.
"Confound it!" said Bailey. "To be continued again, and no chance this
time of the sequel. But this is hard on a sick man."
He heard a step on the staircase behind him and looking round saw the
door open. Mrs Green came in and sat down, panting. She still had her
bonnet on, her purse in her hand, and her little brown basket upon her
arm. "Oh, there!" she said, and left Bailey to imagine the rest.
"Have a little whisky and water, Mrs Green, and tell me about it,"
Sipping a little, the lady began to recover her powers of explanation.
One of those black creatures at the Fitzgibbon's had gone mad, and
was running about with a big knife, stabbing people. He had killed
a groom, and stabbed the under-butler, and almost cut the arm off a
"Running amuck with a krees," said Bailey. "I thought that was it."
And he was hiding in the wood when she came through it from the town.
"What! Did he run after you?" asked Bailey, with a certain touch of
glee in his voice.
"No, that was the horrible part of it," Mrs Green explained. She had
been right through the woods and had _never known he was there_. It
was only when she met young Mr Fitzgibbon carrying his gun in the
shrubbery that she heard anything about it. Apparently, what upset
Mrs Green was the lost opportunity for emotion. She was determined,
however, to make the most of what was left her.
"To think he was there all the time!" she said, over and over again.
Bailey endured this patiently enough for perhaps ten minutes. At last
he thought it advisable to assert himself. "It's twenty past one, Mrs
Green," he said. "Don't you think it time you got me something to
This brought Mrs Green suddenly to her knees.
"Oh Lord, sir!" she said. "Oh! don't go making me go out of this room,
sir, till I know he's caught. He might have got into the house, sir.
He might be creeping, creeping, with that knife of his, along the
passage this very--"
She broke off suddenly and glared over him at the window. Her lower
jaw dropped. Bailey turned his head sharply.
For the space of half a second things seemed just as they were. There
was the tree, the balcony, the shining river, the distant church
tower. Then he noticed that the acacia was displaced about a foot to
the right, and that it was quivering, and the leaves were rustling.
The tree was shaken violently, and a heavy panting was audible.
In another moment a hairy brown hand had appeared and clutched the
balcony railings, and in another the face of the Malay was peering
through these at the man on the couch. His expression was an
unpleasant grin, by reason of the krees he held between his teeth,
and he was bleeding from an ugly wound in his cheek. His hair wet to
drying stuck out like horns from his head. His body was bare save for
the wet trousers that clung to him. Bailey's first impulse was to
spring from the couch, but his legs reminded him that this was
By means of the balcony and tree the man slowly raised himself until
he was visible to Mrs Green. With a choking cry she made for the door
and fumbled with the handle.
Bailey thought swiftly and clutched a medicine bottle in either
hand. One he flung, and it smashed against the acacia. Silently and
deliberately, and keeping his bright eyes fixed on Bailey, the Malay
clambered into the balcony. Bailey, still clutching his second bottle,
but with a sickening, sinking feeling about his heart, watched first
one leg come over the railing and then the other.
It was Bailey's impression that the Malay took about an hour to get
his second leg over the rail. The period that elapsed before the
sitting position was changed to a standing one seemed enormous--days,
weeks, possibly a year or so. Yet Bailey had no clear impression of
anything going on in his mind during that vast period, except a vague
wonder at his inability to throw the second medicine bottle. Suddenly
the Malay glanced over his shoulder. There was the crack of a rifle.
He flung up his arms and came down upon the couch. Mrs Green began a
dismal shriek that seemed likely to last until Doomsday. Bailey stared
at the brown body with its shoulder blade driven in, that writhed
painfully across his legs and rapidly staining and soaking the
spotless bandages. Then he looked at the long krees, with the reddish
streaks upon its blade, that lay an inch beyond the trembling brown
fingers upon the floor. Then at Mrs Green, who had backed hard against
the door and was staring at the body and shrieking in gusty outbursts
as if she would wake the dead. And then the body was shaken by one
last convulsive effort.
The Malay gripped the krees, tried to raise himself with his left
hand, and collapsed. Then he raised his head, stared for a moment
at Mrs Green, and twisting his face round looked at Bailey. With a
gasping groan the dying man succeeded in clutching the bed clothes
with his disabled hand, and by a violent effort, which hurt Bailey's
legs exceedingly, writhed sideways towards what must be his last
victim. Then something seemed released in Bailey's mind and he brought
down the second bottle with all his strength on to the Malay's face.
The krees fell heavily upon the floor.
"Easy with those legs," said Bailey, as young Fitzgibbon and one of
the boating party lifted the body off him.
Young Fitzgibbon was very white in the face. "I didn't mean to kill
him," he said.
"It's just as well," said Bailey.
THE TEMPTATION OF HARRINGAY
It is quite impossible to say whether this thing really happened. It
depends entirely on the word of R.M. Harringay, who is an artist.
Following his version of the affair, the narrative deposes that
Harringay went into his studio about ten o'clock to see what he could
make of the head that he had been working at the day before. The
head in question was that of an Italian organ-grinder, and Harringay
thought--but was not quite sure--that the title would be the "Vigil."
So far he is frank, and his narrative bears the stamp of truth. He
had seen the man expectant for pennies, and with a promptness that
suggested genius, had had him in at once.
"Kneel. Look up at that bracket," said Harringay. "As if you expected
"Don't _grin_!" said Harringay. "I don't want to paint your gums. Look
as though you were unhappy."
Now, after a night's rest, the picture proved decidedly
unsatisfactory. "It's good work," said Harringay. "That little bit in
the neck ... But."
He walked about the studio and looked at the thing from this point and
from that. Then he said a wicked word. In the original the word is
"Painting," he says he said. "Just a painting of an organ-grinder--a
mere portrait. If it was a live organ-grinder I wouldn't mind. But
somehow I never make things alive. I wonder if my imagination is
wrong." This, too, has a truthful air. His imagination _is_ wrong.
"That creative touch! To take canvas and pigment and make a man--as
Adam was made of red ochre! But this thing! If you met it walking
about the streets you would know it was only a studio production. The
little boys would tell it to 'Garnome and git frimed.' Some little
touch ... Well--it won't do as it is."
He went to the blinds and began to pull them down. They were made of
blue holland with the rollers at the bottom of the window, so that you
pull them down to get more light. He gathered his palette, brushes,
and mahl stick from his table. Then he turned to the picture and put a
speck of brown in the corner of the mouth; and shifted his attention
thence to the pupil of the eye. Then he decided that the chin was a
trifle too impassive for a vigil.
Presently he put down his impedimenta, and lighting a pipe surveyed
the progress of his work. "I'm hanged if the thing isn't sneering at
me," said Harringay, and he still believes it sneered.
The animation of the figure had certainly increased, but scarcely in
the direction he wished. There was no mistake about the sneer. "Vigil
of the Unbeliever," said Harringay. "Rather subtle and clever that!
But the left eyebrow isn't cynical enough."
He went and dabbed at the eyebrow, and added a little to the lobe of
the ear to suggest materialism. Further consideration ensued. "Vigil's
off, I'm afraid," said Harringay. "Why not Mephistopheles? But that's
a bit _too_ common. 'A Friend of the Doge,'--not so seedy. The armour
won't do, though. Too Camelot. How about a scarlet robe and call him
'One of the Sacred College'? Humour in that, and an appreciation of
Middle Italian History."
"There's always Benvenuto Cellini," said Harringay; "with a clever
suggestion of a gold cup in one corner. But that would scarcely suit
He describes himself as babbling in this way in order to keep down an
unaccountably unpleasant sensation of fear. The thing was certainly
acquiring anything but a pleasing expression. Yet it was as certainly
becoming far more of a living thing than it had been--if a sinister
one--far more alive than anything he had ever painted before. "Call it
'Portrait of a Gentleman,'" said Harringay;--"A Certain Gentleman."
"Won't do," said Harringay, still keeping up his courage. "Kind of
thing they call Bad Taste. That sneer will have to come out. That
gone, and a little more fire in the eye--never noticed how warm his
eye was before--and he might do for--? What price Passionate Pilgrim?
But that devilish face won't do--_this_ side of the Channel.
"Some little inaccuracy does it," he said; "eyebrows probably too
oblique,"--therewith pulling the blind lower to get a better light,
and resuming palette and brushes.
The face on the canvas seemed animated by a spirit of its own. Where
the expression of diablerie came in he found impossible to discover.
Experiment was necessary. The eyebrows--it could scarcely be the
eyebrows? But he altered them. No, that was no better; in fact, if
anything, a trifle more satanic. The corner of the mouth? Pah! more
than ever a leer--and now, retouched, it was ominously grim. The eye,
then? Catastrophe! he had filled his brush with vermilion instead of
brown, and yet he had felt sure it was brown! The eye seemed now to
have rolled in its socket, and was glaring at him an eye of fire. In a
flash of passion, possibly with something of the courage of panic, he
struck the brush full of bright red athwart the picture; and then a
very curious thing, a very strange thing indeed, occurred--if it _did_
_The diabolified Italian before him shut both his eyes, pursed his
mouth, and wiped the colour off his face with his hand_.
Then the _red eye_ opened again, with a sound like the opening of
lips, and the face smiled. "That was rather hasty of you," said the
Harringay states that, now that the worst had happened, his
self-possession returned. He had a saving persuasion that devils were
"Why do you keep moving about then," he said, "making faces and all
that--sneering and squinting, while I am painting you?"
"I don't," said the picture.
"You _do_," said Harringay.
"It's yourself," said the picture.
"It's _not_ myself," said Harringay.
"It _is_ yourself," said the picture. "No! don't go hitting me with
paint again, because it's true. You have been trying to fluke an
expression on my face all the morning. Really, you haven't an idea
what your picture ought to look like."
"I have," said Harringay.
"You have _not_," said the picture: "You _never_ have with your
pictures. You always start with the vaguest presentiment of what you
are going to do; it is to be something beautiful--you are sure of
that--and devout, perhaps, or tragic; but beyond that it is all
experiment and chance. My dear fellow! you don't think you can paint a
picture like that?"
Now it must be remembered that for what follows we have only
"I shall paint a picture exactly as I like," said Harringay, calmly.
This seemed to disconcert the picture a little. "You can't paint a
picture without an inspiration," it remarked.
"But I _had_ an inspiration--for this."
"Inspiration!" sneered the sardonic figure; "a fancy that came from
your seeing an organ-grinder looking up at a window! Vigil! Ha, ha!
You just started painting on the chance of something coming--that's
what you did. And when I saw you at it I came. I want a talk with
"Art, with you," said the picture,--"it's a poor business. You potter.
I don't know how it is, but you don't seem able to throw your soul
into it. You know too much. It hampers you. In the midst of your
enthusiasms you ask yourself whether something like this has not been
done before. And ..."
"Look here," said Harringay, who had expected something better than
criticism from the devil. "Are you going to talk studio to me?" He
filled his number twelve hoghair with red paint.
"The true artist," said the picture, "is always an ignorant man. An
artist who theorises about his work is no longer artist but critic.
Wagner ... I say!--What's that red paint for?"
"I'm going to paint you out," said Harringay. "I don't want to hear
all that Tommy Rot. If you think just because I'm an artist by trade
I'm going to talk studio to you, you make a precious mistake."
"One minute," said the picture, evidently alarmed. "I want to make
you an offer--a genuine offer. It's right what I'm saying. You lack
inspirations. Well. No doubt you've heard of the Cathedral of Cologne,
and the Devil's Bridge, and--"
"Rubbish," said Harringay. "Do you think I want to go to perdition
simply for the pleasure of painting a good picture, and getting it
slated. Take that."
His blood was up. His danger only nerved him to action, so he says.
So he planted a dab of vermilion in his creature's mouth. The Italian
spluttered and tried to wipe it off--evidently horribly surprised. And
then--according to Harringay--there began a very remarkable struggle,
Harringay splashing away with the red paint, and the picture wriggling
about and wiping it off as fast as he put it on. "_Two_ masterpieces,"
said the demon. "Two indubitable masterpieces for a Chelsea artist's
soul. It's a bargain?" Harringay replied with the paint brush.
For a few minutes nothing could be heard but the brush going and the
spluttering and ejaculations of the Italian. A lot of the strokes he
caught on his arm and hand, though Harringay got over his guard often
enough. Presently the paint on the palette gave out and the two
antagonists stood breathless, regarding each other. The picture was
so smeared with red that it looked as if it had been rolling about
a slaughterhouse, and it was painfully out of breath and very
uncomfortable with the wet paint trickling down its neck. Still, the
first round was in its favour on the whole. "Think," it said, sticking
pluckily to its point, "two supreme masterpieces--in different styles.
Each equivalent to the Cathedral..."
"_I_ know," said Harringay, and rushed out of the studio and along the
passage towards his wife's boudoir.
In another minute he was back with a large tin of enamel--Hedge
Sparrow's Egg Tint, it was, and a brush. At the sight of that
the artistic devil with the red eye began to scream. "_Three_
Harringay delivered cut two across the demon, and followed with
a thrust in the eye. There was an indistinct rumbling. "_Four_
masterpieces," and a spitting sound.
But Harringay had the upper hand now and meant to keep it. With rapid,
bold strokes he continued to paint over the writhing canvas, until at
last it was a uniform field of shining Hedge Sparrow tint. Once the
mouth reappeared and got as far as "Five master--" before he filled
it with enamel; and near the end the red eye opened and glared at him
indignantly. But at last nothing remained save a gleaming panel of
drying enamel. For a little while a faint stirring beneath the surface
puckered it slightly here and there, but presently even that died away
and the thing was perfectly still.
Then Harringay--according to Harringay's account--lit his pipe and sat
down and stared at the enamelled canvas, and tried to make out clearly
what had happened. Then he walked round behind it, to see if the back
of it was at all remarkable. Then it was he began to regret he had not
photographed the Devil before he painted him out.
This is Harringay's story--not mine. He supports it by a small canvas
(24 by 20) enamelled a pale green, and by violent asseverations. It is
also true that he never has produced a masterpiece, and in the opinion
of his intimate friends probably never will.
THE FLYING MAN
The Ethnologist looked at the _bhimraj_ feather thoughtfully. "They
seemed loth to part with it," he said.
"It is sacred to the Chiefs," said the lieutenant; "just as yellow
silk, you know, is sacred to the Chinese Emperor."
The Ethnologist did not answer. He hesitated. Then opening the topic
abruptly, "What on earth is this cock-and-bull story they have of a
The lieutenant smiled faintly. "What did they tell you?"
"I see," said the Ethnologist, "that you know of your fame."
The lieutenant rolled himself a cigarette. "I don't mind hearing about
it once more. How does it stand at present?"
"It's so confoundedly childish," said the Ethnologist, becoming
irritated. "How did you play it off upon them?"
The lieutenant made no answer, but lounged back in his folding-chair,
"Here am I, come four hundred miles out of my way to get what is left
of the folk-lore of these people, before they are utterly demoralised
by missionaries and the military, and all I find are a lot of
impossible legends about a sandy-haired scrub of an infantry
lieutenant. How he is invulnerable--how he can jump over
elephants--how he can fly. That's the toughest nut. One old gentleman
described your wings, said they had black plumage and were not quite
as long as a mule. Said he often saw you by moonlight hovering over
the crests out towards the Shendu country.--Confound it, man!"
The lieutenant laughed cheerfully. "Go on," he said. "Go on."
The Ethnologist did. At last he wearied. "To trade so," he said, "on
these unsophisticated children of the mountains. How could you bring
yourself to do it, man?"
"I'm sorry," said the lieutenant, "but truly the thing was forced upon
me. I can assure you I was driven to it. And at the time I had not the
faintest idea of how the Chin imagination would take it. Or curiosity.
I can only plead it was an indiscretion and not malice that made me
replace the folk-lore by a new legend. But as you seem aggrieved, I
will try and explain the business to you.
"It was in the time of the last Lushai expedition but one, and Walters
thought these people you have been visiting were friendly. So, with an
airy confidence in my capacity for taking care of myself, he sent me
up the gorge--fourteen miles of it--with three of the Derbyshire men
and half a dozen Sepoys, two mules, and his blessing, to see what
popular feeling was like at that village you visited. A force of
ten--not counting the mules--fourteen miles, and during a war! You saw
"_Road_!" said the Ethnologist.
"It's better now than it was. When we went up we had to wade in
the river for a mile where the valley narrows, with a smart stream
frothing round our knees and the stones as slippery as ice. There it
was I dropped my rifle. Afterwards the Sappers blasted the cliff with
dynamite and made the convenient way you came by. Then below, where
those very high cliffs come, we had to keep on dodging across the
river--I should say we crossed it a dozen times in a couple of miles.
"We got in sight of the place early the next morning. You know how
it lies, on a spur halfway between the big hills, and as we began to
appreciate how wickedly quiet the village lay under the sunlight, we
came to a stop to consider.
"At that they fired a lump of filed brass idol at us, just by way of a
welcome. It came twanging down the slope to the right of us where the
boulders are, missed my shoulder by an inch or so, and plugged the
mule that carried all the provisions and utensils. I never heard such
a death-rattle before or since. And at that we became aware of a
number of gentlemen carrying matchlocks, and dressed in things like
plaid dusters, dodging about along the neck between the village and
the crest to the east.
"'Right about face,' I said. 'Not too close together.'
"And with that encouragement my expedition of ten men came round and
set off at a smart trot down the valley again hitherward. We did not
wait to save anything our dead had carried, but we kept the second
mule with us--he carried my tent and some other rubbish--out of a
feeling of friendship.