The Germ Growers/Chapter 8
Early the next morning Jack and I were ready for a scramble over the cliff. We wished to have a quiet talk together, and we wished further, although we had not yet named the wish one to another, to ascertain as far as possible whether or not we were in effect prisoners. There was one fact which told heavily against any such notion. That was the large quantity of portable provisions which had been deliberately put in our way. For we could each carry, without inconvenience, enough to last us for a long time, quite long enough to enable us to push westward as far as the coast, or to go back eastward as far as the wire. Nevertheless, I was firmly of opinion that we would not be permitted to escape, and that if we attempted to our lives would not be worth much. As I learned afterwards, Jack was of the same opinion. The events of this morning removed doubt on the subject.
We found quite a practicable ascent of the cliff on the side of the stair which was further from the platform. And, after climbing this, we found a fairly even space of several hundred yards, and then an easy descent upon the other side. We did not, however, attempt the descent, but sat down and talked. Jack began—
"Bob," he said, "we must keep cool, for we are playing for very high stakes."
"For life and death, you think."
"More than that, perhaps. I wonder what selling your soul meant in the old times?"
"I suppose," I said, "whatever else it meant, it meant acting dishonourably or treacherously for the sake of some personal gain."
"But some fellows have sold their souls who could never be persuaded to act either treacherously or dishonourably for the sake of any personal gain."
"I daresay," said I, not seeing nor caring what he was driving at."Now, Bob, if I were the devil, and if I wanted to get you to sell me your soul, I know what I should do."
I was getting a little vexed, but I replied simply—"Well, what would you do?"
"I would endeavour to pique your curiosity, and then I would show you that you could gratify it by putting yourself in my power, and then I would have your body even if you still insisted on keeping your soul."
"And which do you think it would be?"
"Well, I should have to be satisfied with your body, except in one event."
"And, pray, what would that be?"
"I might by the exhibition of some special or unaccounted-for power gain such influence over you as to get you to put your conscience at my disposal. Then you would be mine soul and body."
I was beginning to get vexed partly because I suppose I saw more truth in what he said than I liked, so I said shortly—
"What do you mean just now by all this?"
"I think our friend, the signor, is the devil himself. I don't mean any fee-faw-fum. I daresay there are a good many other men as much devils as he is, but he has all the power which great and special practical knowledge gives a man, and he is as full of malice as an egg is full of meat, and he is up to some very big villainy and, what is more to the purpose, he has a design upon you."
"He has done us no harm that I can see."
"He has done us a great deal of harm; he is persuading you to trust yourself to him, and he is worthy of no trust whatever, d—n him."
Now this from Jack was rather startling; for he was not in the least prone to use bad language. I never heard "the Englishman's prayer" from his lips before or since. But his earnestness irritated me more than his profanity surprised me.
"Don't you see," I said rather sullenly, "that if your hypothesis is correct your prayer is rather superfluous?"
"Well, yes, it is superfluous," he said with a harsh laugh quite unlike him; "he is damned already sure enough."
"I don't see much sign of damnation about him," I said, "not if misery be an essential park of damnation.""Well, yes, the misery that comes of malice, and if ever malice and misery were written in a man's face, they were written in his yesterday when they missed those men. And mark me," Jack added, raising his voice, "his damnation has got something to do with the loss of those men."
I was now getting very angry, so I rose to my feet and said hastily—"If we have nothing to talk about, don't you think that we may as well go back?"
Jack rose and said, "No, Bob, we'll not go back yet awhile. Don't be vexed with me, old fellow. You are in more danger than I am, but your danger is mine." As he said this I saw the same expression on his face which I had seen yesterday, an expression of kindness and anxiety, and it had much the same effect on me now.
"Jack," I said, "forgive me, I declare I believe you are partly right; I believe there is some devilish influence at work trying to set me against you. I caught myself yesterday despising you for not being clever, and there were two devils in that, for you are twice as clever as I am, and even if you were not you are ten times as good."
"Ah Bob, my boy, there is plenty of reason to suspect me of stupidity without supposing that the devil is in the dance.
'Nec deus (or diabolus) intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus.'
You see I have a stock verse or two to quote at a pinch. But although I don't see as far, perhaps, into the game as you, it may be that just for that reason I see the near points a little more clearly. Now sit down again and tell me what you think of it all."
We didn't sit but kept walking up and down. "I don't know what to think," I said; "I was nearly sure yesterday that I was either mad or dreaming, but I have given over thinking that. I suppose there is a desperate and widely spread conspiracy against civilised society, and that these men are in it. You talk about fee-faw-fum, but I remembered some things yesterday while we were in that car that made me feel as if the whole world were nothing but what you call fee-faw-fum."
"What were they, Bob?"
I told him all that I have written in the first two chapters of this book. He listened most attentively, and made me repeat two or three times over parts of the conversation between the two doctors. But when I wound up my story by telling him that I had recognised James Redpath among the men on the platform, he stopped suddenly, turned right round and looked at me. "Good heavens!" he said. And then after a pause, "Do you think that you saw him carried away that morning from your Welsh village?""I didn't see him, but I have little doubt that I saw the shadow of the car in which he was carried away."
"Do you think that we have stumbled on your friend Dr. Leopold's non-human intelligence? and that there is a manufactory of black death or plague somewhere in the neighbourhood?"
"I have hardly a doubt of these men's malignity, but there is one thing I am surer of. Now that I am here I want to know all about the matter—and I mean to. Mr. Leopold may have stumbled upon half a truth."
"Well, my position is just the reverse of yours. I am curious enough about the matter, but I am so sure of these men's desperate malignity that my first wish is that we should make our escape from this place. And mind," he went on to say, "if you want to burst them up that is the way to do it. If you and I get back to civilisation others will soon be on our track. And once there is a settlement of English colonists near here these men will be played out, and they know it. Don't you remember what the fellow himself said? He said that they could keep the blacks at a distance, but that it does not suit them to carry on their work—whatever it is—in the presence of civilised men!""I remember," said I; "but if you are right, depend upon it they have made up their minds that you and I will never leave this place alive."
"Not quite that," said he, "or they would have murdered us before now."
"Well, they were going to do so twice."
"Yes, but Signor Niccolo restrained them. You see Signor Niccolo has a design upon you; he wants to make you one of his men. He doesn't care much about me, but he is willing to throw me into the bargain. Now if you and I refuse to join him our lives will be the forfeit."
"And if we don't refuse?"
"Why then," said he, "more than our lives."
"Well then," said I, "what in the name of common sense do you think they are?"
"Well," he replied, "I don't altogether agree with Dr. Leopold. I can't quite believe in the 'non-human' business; these men are flesh and blood safe enough; though I confess I am startled to see so much applied science, so much in advance of ours, in the possession of men of such malignity as these are." He paused for a moment and then proceeded. "What you said just now is most likely right. They belong most likely to some brotherhood of conspirators, some advanced guard of Nihilists, or the like, who propose to make war upon civilised society.""What do you advise?"
"For all reasons the sooner we get away the better. My proposition is that we fill our pockets with these cakes of theirs and make a bolt of it the very first opportunity."
"Do you think we shall find an opportunity?"
"Well, the event will show. We may have to start in the dark and for a while to travel by night. But you see these cakes of theirs are meat and drink, and we can make a bee-line for the wire."
"Don't you think they will track us?"
"I doubt if they will be able. Their intelligence is very high, and their modes of procedure are very artificial; and the best trackers are men of mere instinct. Still I wish we could get hold of one of their cars; if we could, a few hours' start would save us."
"Look to the right," I said, "we are watched and followed now."
By this time the sun had risen a little way, the sky was clear, and here and there, slowly moving along the face of the cliff below us, were several shadows of the sort I have already more than once described. These plainly indicated the presence of several of the cars at no great distance from the ground, and at a lower level than the cliff on which we stood. Whether there were any or how many at a higher level no one could say just yet, and on the left everything lay still in shadow. We walked in the same direction, quickening our steps a little, the cliff all the while sloping downward slowly. Presently the sun was at a higher level than the ground we walked on, and the number of the shadows greatly increased, and there were very many now on all sides of us. Just then it seemed as if a cloud were passing over us quite near. We looked upward quickly, but there was no cloud, only a great shadow cast, as it would seem, by nothing. In a few seconds it was gone, and presently after we heard the swish—sh—sh right over us of the wing-like paddles, and we could even detect the small regular rattle of the machinery. It was evident that we were being closely guarded, and perhaps we were overheard.
Silently but with one impulse we turned and walked slowly back to the rooms that had been assigned to us.
We refreshed ourselves with food and we had an hour's rest before it was time to keep our appointment with our host. We agreed meanwhile to observe everything very closely and to compare notes at night.
"But," said I, "is it safe for us to separate?""Nothing, of course," Jack answered, "is altogether safe, but for a little while I think that we are not in any more danger apart than together."
"But you know, Jack, you said that you thought he had some special design on me and that he didn't want you. So he may have you quietly put out of the way if you go alone."
"He is bad enough for anything," was the answer, "but he knows that to put me out of the way would so disturb you as to baffle his designs upon you. Your attention would be entirely diverted from the matters in which you are now taking so deep an interest, and by means of which he hopes to secure you. He would have to put you out of the way too, and he doesn't want to do that. So he is going, as I have said, to throw me into the bargain."
"What course do you suggest then, when we are next left to ourselves?"
"You try to get an interview with—what's his name?—your old Welsh friend?"
"Just so, and I will try to pick up some information about the navigation of the cars."
At the appointed hour, which was rather early in the afternoon, we went together to the square, and we had hardly reached it when Signor Davelli arrived there too. His appearance was decidedly changed: his robe was ampler and longer, and this as well as his hat and sandals were apparently made of richer and lighter stuff than those which he had worn before, also there were various mottoes and devices wrought upon them. The devices were all of the sort I have before told you of, and the mottoes, or what I deemed such, were in a variety of characters, most of them altogether unknown to me. A few of them, however, were in languages that I knew. There was only one in English, and strange to say, I cannot remember what it was. On the front of the hat was an inscription in Hebrew characters, but so oddly formed that I did not at first recognise them. I am not much skilled in Hebrew but I have no doubt that the inscription was  written, however, in a character closely resembling that of the Palmyra inscriptions. As I came slowly to recognise the meaning of this inscription, it came to me much more forcibly (and with another sort of force), than if I had at once recognised it for what it was. And I would have at once recognised it if it had been in the ordinary square characters as I have written it here.
Signor Davelli's manner was, as I thought, very stately and even majestic, and yet at the same time quite easy and affable. Once or twice only I observed an air of effort, and even that seemed as of an effort graciously undertaken even if painful. Once or twice also a sort of spasm crossed his face as of self-repression of some sort. And once it seemed as if he were about to spring forward but checked himself, and his face then reminded me of the faces of his men yesterday in this very square when they first recognised our presence.
He bade us be seated, and he took a seat himself and began to talk to us. Our seats faced his and there was a pathway like a garden walk between us. I remember noticing as he began to speak that the same strange flowers and shrubs which I had seen outside grew in great abundance along this pathway.
Signor Davelli led the conversation quickly, but not at all with violence, to themes of an abstract character, and he presently settled down to the discussion of no less a subject than free will.
You would not thank me if I were to give you (supposing I could do so) a full account of all that he said. I will, therefore, not make any such attempt. I will only say that his remarks were bold and interesting, although he presented no aspect of the question which was absolutely new to me, and that he spoke apparently with strong feeling and fervour, and even sometimes with a bitter air of desperation. Then he looked at me with an air of inquiry.
After a long pause I said,
"I see, Signor Davelli, that you are not a materialist."
"Materialist?" he said, with a very unpleasant mixture of smile and sneer. "No; materialism is very well for a beginning; but one must face the facts at last if one is to deal with them at all successfully."
"But," said I, "some teach that matter is the very ultimate of all fact."
"It is perhaps well," he said, with a renewal of the same sneer and smile, "that they should teach so, but you and I know better; matter is evidence of the fact, but not the fact itself."
"And free will in your view is real?"
"Yes, it is real, doubtless, although so given as to make it for all but the very boldest practically unreal."
"So given, you say; it is a gift then?"
"Yes, it is a gift, if you call that 'given' which you use at your peril."
"And who gives it?" said I.
"Never mind that," he said, with a bitter scowl, which recalled for the moment, his malignant expression of the day but one before. "Call Him the Giver: a cursed way of giving is His. You know that you can use His gift if you dare, and you know that if you dare use it as you please He will scald you with what His bond-slaves call 'the vials of His wrath'; that I think is the phrase."
"Perhaps," I said, "the scalding is one's own doing: power to use the gift is power to use it rightly or wrongly: if one choose to use it wrongly one takes the consequences.""Right and wrong," he said, "what are they?" and he spoke now with great coolness and without a sign of sneer; "trace back the ideas to their origin. Right is what I will, and wrong is what I will not. So it is with the Giver, and why should it not be so with you and me?" I observed that as he said this some of the mottoes on his dress grew bright and even flashed. Among them was that in Hebrew letters which I told you of just now. "But I know there are slaves," he went on to say, "slaves (you surely are not one of them) who are afraid of liberty, and who are jealous of those who are not afraid of it. And these," he said, and here the scowl returned, "these make use of such words as right and wrong to perpetuate the tyrannous rule of Him who gives with a curse, and who takes again with a fresh curse."
"Is He," I said, "the tyrant on whom you are making war?"
"Oh, yes," he said, "for all tyrants hold from Him; they are His hired bullies whom he pampers and lashes as you might lash and pamper your dog."
"You say that He gives and takes, will He take the gift of the freedom of will from you?"
If I had foreseen the effect which this question would have produced, I should certainly have been afraid to have asked it. His face became at once full of deadly fury and frenzy; "Yes," he said, "curse Him! He will at last if He can!" And then he sprang up and caught at the air with both his hands, just like the hands, in the device of which I have told you, grasping at the forked lightning.
In a moment, however, he resumed the quiet, stately and affable air, which he had worn before, and he sat down, and began to talk again quite calmly.
"Yes," he said, "free will is no doubt real to the bold and desperate spirit. To all others it is in effect unreal. To make it in effect real to all, every free being ought to be able to do as he will, not only without let or hindrance, but also without what you I suppose would call penal consequences."
"It seems to me," I said, "that our little world is too limited for such freedom as you desire. We should speedily come into collision with each other if there were no limit of any sort to our freedom."
"Yes, if your world were the only world."
I did not notice at the time his use of the pronoun "your" for "our." I only replied, "If our world were multiplied a hundred thousand fold, and I can well believe that there may be a hundred thousand such worlds, still the limits of habitable space must ultimately be a limit to freedom so that it cannot be unconditional."
"There are no limits," he said, "to habitable space."
I began to think that he was a very clever madman, and I said nothing.
"For such as you," he continued, "the limit exists, but not for me, nor for such as I."
Now I was sure he was mad, and I still kept silence.
"Nor yet for you," he added, "either, if you have courage enough to overleap the limit."
Now I began to be afraid that the form of mania which affected him was homicidal, and that he would presently require me, as he said, "to overleap the limit." But he rose to his feet with such a collected air, and looked so full of proud intellect and power that I began to change my mind and to think that I was going mad myself.
He spoke again, stretching out his hand, "Space is unlimited, and wherever space is there is a dwelling-place for me. This form in which I live here is but my dress, which I assume when I come to live among you. I can put it off and live in space, I can put it on again and come back to you. See here!"
Both his hands were now stretched upward, and his eyes were fixed on me with a domineering gaze, and mine on him with a mixture of wonder and of dread. Then he looked away straight out into the southern sky.
Suppose now a great mass of metal to be so quickly molten and vaporized that it has no time to fall to the earth as fluid before it rises into the air as gas. That was how it seemed to happen to the body of this extraordinary man. As I looked at him I saw no longer his body, but a great mass of apparently fluid substance, moved with a continuous ripple all through. Then it increased in volume vastly and spread upward like the smoke from an immense furnace. And as it spread it became thinner and finer, and still thinner and finer, until presently there was not the slightest trace of it any longer to be distinguished. How long a time it took to complete this transformation I could not at all guess from my experience of it. As far as my recollection of that goes, it might have occupied hours, but I know from external facts such as the shadows of the trees and the clouds that it could have been little more than five minutes at most, and on comparing notes afterwards with Jack I became inclined to believe that although I had certainly observed a succession of changes the whole transformation and disappearance was practically instantaneous.
Jack and I said not a word, we were both quite stupefied for the moment. Partly recovering ourselves we both walked up to the spot where Signor Davelli had stood, and we saw what seemed to be the remains of the sandals, hat, and coat, which he had worn. Jack took them up one after another, looked at them, and handed them to me. The texture of none of them was in any way destroyed. But they were now wholly colourless, and not the least trace of any letter or device was anywhere to be seen on them.
After the lapse of about ten minutes a slight explosion was heard a little way over our heads, and then a slight vapour appeared in the air very widely spread. Then I saw the same changes as before but in reverse order. The vapour thickened into smoke, the smoke became condensed into a fluid rapidly rippling throughout. This presently settled down over the spot where the discarded dress was lying, and became solidified; and as I looked I saw Signor Davelli with the same pose and attitude as before his disappearance, and with the same dress bearing the very same inscriptions and devices.
As before, I am inclined to believe that the reappearance and transformation, although presented to me as a succession of changes, were practically instantaneous.
I stood looking at him, transfixed with wonder and horror. He signed to me to sit down; then he sat down himself, and began to speak again quite gently and persuasively. Jack stood for a minute or two as if in hesitation about something; then he, too, sat down and listened.
Signor Davelli. Do not be alarmed, there is no occasion for alarm nor even for surprise. Nothing has been done but what is quite as fully susceptible of explanation as any simple chemical experiment.
Easterley. That can hardly be so. Much even of what we saw yesterday far exceeded any results of experimental science known to me, but I could readily believe it all to be explicable upon principles which I have studied, and which I partly understand. But the experiment which I have just witnessed (if I may call it an experiment) surely implies principles which far transcend any with which I am in the slightest degree acquainted.
Davelli. "Transcend" them, yes, but are nevertheless closely related to them, and are never at variance with them. But I can put you through an experience quite similar to that which I have myself just undergone. You shall judge for yourself then."
He came quite near me, and went on to speak in a tone at once masterful and persuasive.
"You shall experience my power," he said, "and you shall criticise it. I will send you hence and back in quite a little time. You will remember what you see, and you shall compare it with what you know of your own world, and you shall say then whether it is not worth your while to come and join us. If you join us you will know nothing of what you call death, for death cannot touch the dwellers in space."
As he said these last words I felt a shudder pass through me; it reminded me of something, I knew not what, but afterwards I remembered."Cannot death touch you?" I said. "Not even when you are dwelling here with us?"
"No," he replied; "anything that would kill you would simply drive us back into space."
I have a very trustworthy instinct as to the truth or falsehood of those who speak to me, and I felt now that Signor Davelli was speaking the truth in this particular, but that he was deceiving me somehow.
"Do you propose," I said, "to send me among the dwellers in space and to fetch me back now?"
I detected just the faintest turn of his eye towards Jack, and as he answered I knew that he was lying, and that if need were he would lie more.
"You cannot acquire at once," he said, "the powers of a dweller in space. But I shall send you out of this world and I will fetch you back, and your journey will help you to acquire the power to become a dweller in space by-and-by."
I distrusted him profoundly and I was not without fear of him. It was fear, however, that I could not easily define. Certainly it was not fear of death, for I feel quite sure that he was not going to kill me. I felt a consuming desire to know all about him, and I was willing to risk much in order to satisfy my desire. I felt also the influence of his masterful will. My distrust of him weighed one way, and the strength of his will the other way, and my lust of knowledge turned the scale.
So I said, "Send me where you will then."
The words were scarce out of my mouth when he raised his hand, and in a moment I lost all power of active motion, and could neither see nor hear, although my consciousness not only remained but became abnormally distinct.
Of course I had never experienced exactly such a state, but I remember once, in my college days, I had mastered a very abstract philosophical discussion, and I lay down on the hearthrug and thought it over until my power of thought seemed to merge into something clearer and fuller, and once later in life I stood on the deck of a ship gazing on the ocean—
"Until the sea and sky
Seemed one, and I seemed one with them and all
Seemed one, and there was only one, and time
And space and thought were one eternity."
On both of these occasions I experienced something not unlike the intensely vivid consciousness which I experienced now.
It was mainly a consciousness of expectancy. The events of the last few days seemed to hang before my mind like a semi-transparent veil which was trembling under the action of the hand that was about to withdraw it in order to discover something wonderful behind.
Then I seemed to be borne onward, I knew not whither, with an inconceivably rapid motion. Then again I lay at rest. Then my power of sight returned, and I think my power of hearing, but there was at first nothing to hear. I seemed to be lying on a hard bank within the mouth of a cave not far below the surface of what seemed to be the earth. A light streamed into the cave, and I could see right opposite me a tract of mountain, wild and rugged beyond all description. The light was not diffused except within the cave. The space outside the cave's mouth seemed quite dark, and then the rugged mountain side beyond shone out quite brilliantly. Looking round I saw nothing but barren rock, and I could hear no sound either around or above, but as I moved my head from side to side I heard a sound from beneath as of a dull "thud, thud," and then a sound strangely like whispering voices.
I had been in a sitting position and I had lain back, and so now I looked up into the sky, and, notwithstanding the apparent daylight, I saw the stars quite plainly, and a monstrous moon, a little past the new phase, nearly overhead, with very distinct markings upon it. I watched steadily the markings near the edge, and I saw that they were moving very slowly, like the minute hand of a huge clock. Looking steadily still, I recognised the markings. I was looking at the earth. I could even distinguish some of the coasts and seas and islands, as it seemed to me, quite plainly recognisable. Now I knew where I was and I started to my feet. I had intended to stand up, but the force which I had exerted with that purpose in view made me bound several feet from the ground, so that my head reached beyond the edge of the cave. I felt as if my breath were suddenly stopped, and I fell back gasping to the ground again.
Then I gave myself up for lost, but in a moment sight and hearing again left me, and the strangely vivid consciousness came back. Then I felt a sense of rapid motion, and presently I found myself sitting on the bench with Signor Davelli bending over me and Jack standing by. Immediately I glanced at the shadows round me, and I saw in a moment that my journey, whatever was its nature, had lasted much longer than Signor Davelli's. I knew at once that he had deceived me, that my lust of knowledge was baulked, and that I had been no nearer to his world than I was now.
I cried out, "You have shown me the moon, perhaps in trance, perhaps you have transferred me there. But what of that? You've shown me nothing of the dwellers in space."
"Be quiet," he said, lifting his hand, and again using the same tone, masterful and yet persuasive, "you have done very well for once;" and then he added in a lower and quite different tone, "and so have I."
I never could make you understand the mixture of contending feelings which began to harass me now. No one, I think, could understand it without undergoing it. I was astonished at what had happened to myself, and yet I was grievously disappointed.
Even if I had been sure that I had been actually transferred to the surface of the moon, that would have seemed as nothing to me now. For what I had looked for was a far greater thing. I had long learned to regard the ether which pervades the interplanatory spaces as the hidden storehouse of material out of which the visible worlds are made, and yet the ether is utterly impalpable to any of the senses, and we know of its existence only by roundabout processes of reasoning, and I had been fool enough to believe that I was going to be put in possession of powers of sense which would enable me to examine the ether just as one might examine any of the ordinary material with which we are familiar. I thought I was going to have a near view of the secret forces which lie behind all mechanical, chemical, and electrical action. And what, in view of such a prospect, did I care about seeing the surface of the moon, even if I did really see it? I knew that on the surface of the moon I should only see, under different conditions, the same sort of material as that with which I was already familiar. And I felt sure, or nearly sure, besides, that I had not seen anything but some picture which this wonderful and mysterious being contrived to impress upon my mind.
Besides, I felt sure now that he was deliberately deceiving me, and the sense of horror and repulsion with which he had more or less affected me from the first were now very greatly increased.
Besides, I felt that his power over me was great and was growing greater, and I began to doubt if I could ever shake it off.
But, above all—and now for the first time a bitter sense of remorse filled me on account of my own action in respect of him—I saw that I had been paltering with my conscience, and playing with right and wrong, for the sake of mere intellectual attainment. I knew that I had been doing this ever since this man or devil had first spoken to me. And I felt that my own words deliberately spoken but a little while ago had brought my wrong-doing to a crisis. I felt now that when the words, "Send me where you will, then," had passed my lips I had put myself, to what extent I knew not, within the power of one whom I deeply suspected of some horrible plot against humanity.
I must not say that I was overwhelmed by these feelings, for stronger than any of them was the resolve I now made, with the whole force of my being, that I would never again surrender my will to him on any pretext whatever. And yet I felt very nearly in despair, for I could not but seriously doubt if I had now the power to keep this resolve. I feared that I might be like the drunkard who has taken the first glass.I suppose there is hardly a man anywhere who has never really prayed. And so I think every reader will understand me when I say, that I lifted up my heart to God silently, and on the moment, with far deeper energy and fervour and self-distrust than ever I thought possible before.
Just then I became aware that Signor Davelli's eyes were off me and that he was talking to Jack: his manner to him was quite courteous and gracious. He was, as it seemed, apologising to him.
"You must pardon me," said he; "I am afraid that my interest in your friend's conversation has diverted my attention unduly from my other guest." Then, after a slight pause, he added, "Now I propose to take your friend to-morrow on an aerial journey, to see the other extremity of the valley, and some of the operations there. I can only take one at a time: you will probably like to come again. But, for to-morrow, how shall we provide for your amusement? we shall be back early in the afternoon."
Jack replied civilly, but with an air of indifference which I thought was feigned, "I should be glad of an opportunity of examining some of the curious engines that we have seen yonder." He pointed as he spoke in the direction of the platform."Very well," was the reply; "I will see that you have a guide." As he spoke he took an odd-looking little instrument from a pocket at his girdle, and whistled upon it. The resulting sound consisted of a few recurring notes, with a wild, odd strain of music in them.
In a few moments a man appeared. He came from some place towards the further end of the valley, and he was no doubt one of those whom we had seen on this very square the day before. Signor Davelli spoke to the man. "You will meet this gentleman," he said, "here, to-morrow; his name is Mr. Wilbraham. Meet him at whatever hour he pleases, and show him whatever he wishes to see." Then he spoke a few words in the same strange language as before, and accompanied his words with the same sort of action.
Then he turned to me and said, "Will you meet me here at nine o'clock to-morrow, and I will take you to see what we are doing at the further end of the valley?"
I hesitated for a moment, and then I said, "Yes, I will meet you."Whether my hesitation, or anything in my tone, indicated that I meant not to commit myself to more than to meet him, I cannot say, but as I spoke a scowl passed over his face. It came and went in a moment, and then he said, "Very well," rather curtly, to me. And then, addressing us both in the same gracious manner as before, "And now you are tired," he said, "and it is getting late; I hope you find your quarters convenient and your commissariat sufficient."
We assured him on both points briefly, made our parting salutation, and retired. I may here mention that the salutations which passed between us and him were never anything more than a formal inclination of the head.
Two more facts must be put on record before I close the account of this eventful day.
We met near the foot of the great stairway the man whom I supposed to be James Redpath. He appeared to be engaged in setting right some detail of the machinery made use of by the workers on the platform. I could not but think as I looked upon him that he had all the appearance of being a machine himself, worked by an intellect not his own. Yet he was evidently working with a will.
I stepped forward and stood before him, having first made a sign to Jack.
"James Redpath," I said; "surely it must be James Redpath?"
He started, and looked at me with a surly scowl, but said nothing. The name (of course I used his real name) seemed to remind him of something, but there was no recognition in his eyes. "Don't you remember Bob Easterley?" I said. He looked at me and then his eyes wandered. There was a muddled, wicked look about him, such as you will sometimes see in the eyes of a very bad-tempered man when he is drunk. "Don't you remember Penruddock?" I said, again of course using the real name. He started again, and I thought he brightened, but it was a queer sort of brightening.
"Penruddock?" he said. "Penruddock and Bob Easterly: curse him and curse the little beggar!" And then he gave a nasty laugh. His voice was thick, like the voice of a man half stupefied with drink or suffering from active brain disease. I thought at first that the name Penruddock had awakened no recollection in his mind, but that he mistook it for the name of a man. Since then, however, I have thought that perhaps "the little beggar" was the boy that he was cruel to, and that the name of Penruddock had reminded him of the matter. Anyhow he turned and looked steadily at me and said slowly, "Oh, so the governor has got you; I wish you joy of the governor." And then he laughed a coarse, harsh kind of laugh. It was not loud, and there was not much expression in it, but what there was was cruel. Then he made as if to pass us, and we let him pass: there was nothing to be got out of him. I am not absolutely sure to this day whether he was James Redpath or not.
That night Jack and I talked long and earnestly. I told him as I have told you my latest thoughts about the matter, and then we talked of our engagements for the coming day.
Wilbraham. There's a crisis near, Bob. It is as likely to come to-morrow as not.
Easterly. How do you think it will come?
Wilbraham. Well, this way. Davelli, I think, overrates the power that he has contrived to get over you. The disappointment you speak of, and your distrust of him and resolve against him have somehow checked the effect of his action on your will, and he does not know that. Not knowing it, he will reveal some villainy to you to-morrow. You will revolt and he will try to kill you. If you are on your guard you may escape yet. The minute you defy him shoot him through the body.
Easterly. What harm will that do him?
Wilbraham. Not much, but some. Did you notice what he said yesterday?
Easterly. Yes, and he was telling the truth. The shot would probably send him to his own place, but he will be back again presently.Wilbraham. Yes, but meanwhile you will have got a start, and if you are in one of the cars and can manage it you may escape.
Easterly. Not very likely; but supposing I did, what is to become of you?
Wilbraham. I shall be working for myself all the time. Look here: this fellow who is to guide me will either try to kill me or to put me in the way of killing myself. I believe that he has instructions to that effect. I'll watch him, and if I see any treachery I'll send him to his own place and make off if only I can manage the car. For I intend that he shall take me into one of the cars. Then I will try to join you and we shall have perhaps a start of an hour or so before they get back and make ready to follow us.
I didn't see much chance of success in his plan. You couldn't look at it anywhere, I thought, without finding a flaw in it, and I told him as much.
"Never mind," said he, "it is the unlikely thing that happens: let us be on the watch."
Easterly. On the watch, certainly; but look here, Jack: you and I are in imminent danger of death, but I am in danger of worse than death.
Wilbraham. Yesterday, perhaps; but not now, Bob.
Easterly. In one sense, more now than yesterday. I have given him power over me to-day; not so much perhaps as he thinks—you may be right there—but more than I may now be able to withstand. Besides, mark me, he is not going to bring things to a crisis yet.
Wilbraham. Well, if he is not, we shall bring things to a crisis ourselves, and we shall defy him. Then let him kill us if he can. I shouldn't wonder if he couldn't after all. Anyhow, I shall learn something to-morrow, and don't you put yourself in his power any more.
Easterly. I have told you that I am not sure if I can escape him now, but, God helping me, I will do my best.
There our talk ceased for the night, and I may as well say at once that the crisis did not come next day, and that it was not left either to Signor Davelli or to ourselves to bring it about. If it had been so left I do not think this book would ever have been written.
We were now sitting in the inner chamber, from one of the windows of which you could see the door of the outer chamber. The inner chamber opened into the outer, and the outer chamber, without any porch or passage, opened upon the path which led either to the square or the great stairway. As I sat near the window I saw a bright light shining upon the outer door, so that no one could go in or out without being plainly seen. I started up at once and looked for a shadow, for it occurred to me immediately that this light was thrown from one of the invisible cars. But there was no moonlight, for the moon was just then hidden by clouds, and so there was no shadow except such as the light itself might cause. But presently, by walking backward from the window and again towards it, and then this way and that way before it, I discovered a star which appeared and disappeared as I walked. On further inspection it became evident that when the star disappeared it was hidden by some object which, though dark itself, was nevertheless that from which the light before the door proceeded. There could be no doubt that the light in question was thrown from one of the cars, and that the car from which it was thrown was not a hundred feet from the ground."Look," I said, "look! we are closely watched even here." But Jack was already fast asleep. I threw myself upon my bed and lay for hours broad awake.
- "As gods," Gen. iii. 5.
- "Nay, then God be wi' you, an you talk in blank verse."—J.W.