The Wonderful Visit, p.1H. G. Wells
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The Wonderful Visit
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By the Same Author
The Time Machine
DAILY CHRONICLE.--"Grips the imagination as it is only gripped by genuinely imaginative work.... A strikingly original performance."
SATURDAY REVIEW.--"A book of remarkable power and imagination, and a work of distinct and individual merit."
SPECTATOR.--"Mr Wells' fanciful and lively dream is well worth reading."
NATIONAL OBSERVER.--"A _tour de force_.... A fine piece of literature, strongly imagined, almost perfectly expressed."
GLASGOW HERALD.--"One of the best pieces of work I have read for many a day."
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Macmillan's Colonial Library
The Wonderful Visit
by H. G. Wells
Author of the "Time Machine"
LondonMacmillan and Co.and New York1895
_All rights reserved_
This Edition is intended for circulation only in India and the BritishColonies
TO THE MEMORY OF MY DEAR FRIEND, WALTER LOW.
THE NIGHT OF THE STRANGE BIRD 1
THE COMING OF THE STRANGE BIRD 4
THE HUNTING OF THE STRANGE BIRD 8
THE VICAR AND THE ANGEL 17
PARENTHESIS ON ANGELS 35
AT THE VICARAGE 38
THE MAN OF SCIENCE 50
THE CURATE 61
AFTER DINNER 76
THE VIOLIN 101
THE ANGEL EXPLORES THE VILLAGE 106
LADY HAMMERGALLOW'S VIEW 127
FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE ANGEL IN THE VILLAGE 135
MRS JEHORAM'S BREADTH OF VIEW 148
A TRIVIAL INCIDENT 154
THE WARP AND THE WOOF OF THINGS 156
THE ANGEL'S DEBUT 160
THE TROUBLE OF THE BARBED WIRE 186
DOCTOR CRUMP ACTS 199
SIR JOHN GOTCH ACTS 208
THE SEA CLIFF 213
MRS HINIJER ACTS 217
THE ANGEL IN TROUBLE 221
THE LAST DAY OF THE VISIT 229
THE EPILOGUE 248
THE WONDERFUL VISIT.
THE NIGHT OF THE STRANGE BIRD.
On the Night of the Strange Bird, many people at Sidderton (and somenearer) saw a Glare on the Sidderford moor. But no one in Sidderford sawit, for most of Sidderford was abed.
All day the wind had been rising, so that the larks on the moorchirruped fitfully near the ground, or rose only to be driven likeleaves before the wind. The sun set in a bloody welter of clouds, andthe moon was hidden. The glare, they say, was golden like a beam shiningout of the sky, not a uniform blaze, but broken all over by curvingflashes like the waving of swords. It lasted but a moment and left thenight dark and obscure. There were letters about it in _Nature_, and arough drawing that no one thought very like. (You may see it foryourself--the drawing that was unlike the glare--on page 42 of Vol.cclx. of that publication.)
None in Sidderford saw the light, but Annie, Hooker Durgan's wife, waslying awake, and she saw the reflection of it--a flickering tongue ofgold--dancing on the wall.
She, too, was one of those who heard the sound. The others who heard thesound were Lumpy Durgan, the half-wit, and Amory's mother. They said itwas a sound like children singing and a throbbing of harp strings,carried on a rush of notes like that which sometimes comes from anorgan. It began and ended like the opening and shutting of a door, andbefore and after they heard nothing but the night wind howling over themoor and the noise of the caves under Sidderford cliff. Amory's mothersaid she wanted to cry when she heard it, but Lumpy was only sorry hecould hear no more.
That is as much as anyone can tell you of the glare upon SidderfordMoor and the alleged music therewith. And whether these had any realconnexion with the Strange Bird whose history follows, is more than Ican say. But I set it down here for reasons that will be more apparentas the story proceeds.
THE COMING OF THE STRANGE BIRD.
Sandy Bright was coming down the road from Spinner's carrying a side ofbacon he had taken in exchange for a clock. He saw nothing of the lightbut he heard and saw the Strange Bird. He suddenly heard a flapping anda voice like a woman wailing, and being a nervous man and all alone, hewas alarmed forthwith, and turning (all a-tremble) saw something largeand black against the dim darkness of the cedars up the hill. It seemedto be coming right down upon him, and incontinently he dropped his baconand set off running, only to fall headlong.
He tried in vain--such was his state of mind--to remember the beginningof the Lord's Prayer. The strange bird flapped over him, somethinglarger than himself, with a vast spread of wings, and, as he thought,black. He screamed and gave himself up for lost. Then it went past him,sailing down the hill, and, soaring over the vicarage, vanished into thehazy valley towards Sidderford.
And Sandy Bright lay upon his stomach there, for ever so long, staringinto the darkness after the strange bird. At last he got upon his kneesand began to thank Heaven for his merciful deliverance, with his eyesdownhill. He went on down into the village, talking aloud and confessinghis sins as he went, lest the strange bird should come back. All whoheard him thought him drunk. But from that night he was a changed man,and had done with drunkenness and defrauding the revenue by sellingsilver ornaments without a licence. And the side of bacon lay upon thehillside until the tallyman from Portburdock found it in the morning.
The next who saw the Strange Bird was a solicitor's clerk at IpingHanger, who was climbing the hill before breakfast, to see the sunrise.Save for a few dissolving wisps of cloud the sky had been blown clearin the night. At first he thought it was an eagle he saw. It was nearthe zenith, and incredibly remote, a mere bright speck above the pinkcirri, and it seemed as if it fluttered and beat itself against the sky,as an imprisoned swallow might do against a window pane. Then down itcame into the shadow of the earth, sweeping in a great curve towardsPortburdock and round over the Hanger, and so vanishing behind the woodsof Siddermorton Park. It seemed larger than a man. Just before it washidden, the light of the rising sun smote over the edge of the downs andtouched its wings, and they flashed with the brightness of flames andthe colour of precious stones, and so passed, leaving the witness agape.
A ploughman going to his work, along under the stone wall ofSiddermorton Park, saw the Strange Bird flash over him for a moment andvanish among the hazy interstices of the beech trees. But he saw littleof the colour of the wings, witnessing only that its legs, which werelong, seemed pink and bare like naked flesh, and its body mottled white.It smote like an arrow through th
These were the first three eye-witnesses of the Strange Bird.
Now in these days one does not cower before the devil and one's ownsinfulness, or see strange iridiscent wings in the light of dawn, andsay nothing of it afterwards. The young solicitor's clerk told hismother and sisters at breakfast, and, afterwards, on his way to theoffice at Portburdock, spoke of it to the blacksmith of Hammerpond, andspent the morning with his fellow clerks marvelling instead of copyingdeeds. And Sandy Bright went to talk the matter over with Mr Jekyll, the"Primitive" minister, and the ploughman told old Hugh and afterwards thevicar of Siddermorton.
"They are not an imaginative race about here," said the Vicar ofSiddermorton, "I wonder how much of that was true. Barring that hethinks the wings were brown it sounds uncommonly like a Flamingo."
THE HUNTING OF THE STRANGE BIRD.
The Vicar of Siddermorton (which is nine miles inland from Siddermouthas the crow flies) was an ornithologist. Some such pursuit, botany,antiquity, folk-lore, is almost inevitable for a single man in hisposition. He was given to geometry also, propounding occasionallyimpossible problems in the _Educational Times_, but ornithology was his_forte_. He had already added two visitors to the list of occasionalBritish birds. His name was well-known in the columns of the _Zoologist_(I am afraid it may be forgotten by now, for the world moves apace). Andon the day after the coming of the Strange Bird, came first one and thenanother to confirm the ploughman's story and tell him, not that it hadany connection, of the Glare upon Sidderford moor.
Now, the Vicar of Siddermorton had two rivals in his scientificpursuits; Gully of Sidderton, who had actually seen the glare, and whoit was sent the drawing to _Nature_, and Borland the natural historydealer, who kept the marine laboratory at Portburdock. Borland, theVicar thought, should have stuck to his copepods, but instead he kept ataxidermist, and took advantage of his littoral position to pick up raresea birds. It was evident to anyone who knew anything of collecting thatboth these men would be scouring the country after the strange visitant,before twenty-four hours were out.
The Vicar's eye rested on the back of Saunders' British Birds, for hewas in his study at the time. Already in two places there was entered:"the only known British specimen was secured by the Rev. K. Hilyer,Vicar of Siddermorton." A third such entry. He doubted if any othercollector had that.
He looked at his watch--_two_. He had just lunched, and usually he"rested" in the afternoon. He knew it would make him feel verydisagreeable if he went out into the hot sunshine--both on the top ofhis head and generally. Yet Gully perhaps was out, prowling observant.Suppose it was something very good and Gully got it!
His gun stood in the corner. (The thing had iridiscent wings and pinklegs! The chromatic conflict was certainly exceedingly stimulating). Hetook his gun.
He would have gone out by the glass doors and verandah, and down thegarden into the hill road, in order to avoid his housekeeper's eye. Heknew his gun expeditions were not approved of. But advancing towards himup the garden, he saw the curate's wife and her two daughters, carryingtennis rackets. His curate's wife was a young woman of immense will, whoused to play tennis on his lawn, and cut his roses, differ from him ondoctrinal points, and criticise his personal behaviour all over theparish. He went in abject fear of her, was always trying to propitiateher. But so far he had clung to his ornithology....
However, he went out by the front door.
If it were not for collectors England would be full, so to speak, ofrare birds and wonderful butterflies, strange flowers and a thousandinteresting things. But happily the collector prevents all that, eitherkilling with his own hands or, by buying extravagantly, procuring peopleof the lower classes to kill such eccentricities as appear. It makeswork for people, even though Acts of Parliament interfere. In this way,for instance, he is killing off the chough in Cornwall, the Bath whitebutterfly, the Queen of Spain Fritillary; and can plume himself upon theextermination of the Great Auk, and a hundred other rare birds andplants and insects. All that is the work of the collector and his gloryalone. In the name of Science. And this is right and as it should be;eccentricity, in fact, is immorality--think over it again if you do notthink so now--just as eccentricity in one's way of thinking is madness(I defy you to find another definition that will fit all the cases ofeither); and if a species is rare it follows that it is not Fitted toSurvive. The collector is after all merely like the foot soldier in thedays of heavy armour--he leaves the combatants alone and cuts thethroats of those who are overthrown. So one may go through England fromend to end in the summer time and see only eight or ten commonplace wildflowers, and the commoner butterflies, and a dozen or so common birds,and never be offended by any breach of the monotony, any splash ofstrange blossom or flutter of unknown wing. All the rest have been"collected" years ago. For which cause we should all love Collectors,and bear in mind what we owe them when their little collections aredisplayed. These camphorated little drawers of theirs, their glass casesand blotting-paper books, are the graves of the Rare and the Beautiful,the symbols of the Triumph of Leisure (morally spent) over the Delightsof Life. (All of which, as you very properly remark, has nothingwhatever to do with the Strange Bird.)
There is a place on the moor where the black water shines among thesucculent moss, and the hairy sundew, eater of careless insects, spreadsits red-stained hungry hands to the God who gives his creatures--one tofeed another. On a ridge thereby grow birches with a silvery bark, andthe soft green of the larch mingles with the dark green fir. Thitherthrough the honey humming heather came the Vicar, in the heat of theday, carrying a gun under his arm, a gun loaded with swanshot for theStrange Bird. And over his disengaged hand he carried a pockethandkerchief wherewith, ever and again, he wiped his beady face.
He went by and on past the big pond and the pool full of brown leaveswhere the Sidder arises, and so by the road (which is at first sandy andthen chalky) to the little gate that goes into the park. There are sevensteps up to the gate and on the further side six down again--lest thedeer escape--so that when the Vicar stood in the gateway his head wasten feet or more above the ground. And looking where a tumult of brackenfronds filled the hollow between two groups of beech, his eye caughtsomething parti-coloured that wavered and went. Suddenly his facegleamed and his muscles grew tense; he ducked his head, clutched his gunwith both hands, and stood still. Then watching keenly, he came on downthe steps into the park, and still holding his gun in both hands, creptrather than walked towards the jungle of bracken.
Nothing stirred, and he almost feared that his eyes had played himfalse, until he reached the ferns and had gone rustling breast high intothem. Then suddenly rose something full of wavering colours, twentyyards or less in front of his face, and beating the air. In anothermoment it had fluttered above the bracken and spread its pinions wide.He saw what it was, his heart was in his mouth, and he fired out of puresurprise and habit.
There was a scream of superhuman agony, the wings beat the air twice,and the victim came slanting swiftly downward and struck the ground--astruggling heap of writhing body, broken wing and flying bloodstainedplumes--upon the turfy slope behind.
The Vicar stood aghast, with his smoking gun in his hand. It was no birdat all, but a youth with an extremely beautiful face, clad in a robe ofsaffron and with iridescent wings, across whose pinions great waves ofcolour, flushes of purple and crimson, golden green and intense blue,pursued one another as he writhed in his agony. Never had the Vicar seensuch gorgeous floods of colour, not stained glass windows, not the wingsof butterflies, not even the glories of crystals seen between prisms, nocolours on earth could compare with them. Twice the Angel raisedhimself, only to fall over sideways again. Then the beating of the wingsdiminished, the terrified face grew pale, the floods of colour abated,and suddenly with a sob he lay prone, and the changing hues of thebroken wings faded swiftly into one uniform dull grey hue.
"Oh! _what_ has happened to
"Dear me!" said the Vicar. "I had no idea." He came forward cautiously."Excuse me," he said, "I am afraid I have shot you."
It was the obvious remark.
The Angel seemed to become aware of his presence for the first time. Heraised himself by one hand, his brown eyes stared into the Vicar's.Then, with a gasp, and biting his nether lip, he struggled into asitting position and surveyed the Vicar from top to toe.
"A man!" said the Angel, clasping his forehead; "a man in the maddestblack clothes and without a feather upon him. Then I was not deceived. Iam indeed in the Land of Dreams!"
THE VICAR AND THE ANGEL.
Now there are some things frankly impossible. The weakest intellect willadmit this situation is impossible. The _Athenaeum_ will probably say asmuch should it venture to review this. Sunbespattered ferns, spreadingbeech trees, the Vicar and the gun are acceptable enough. But this Angelis a different matter. Plain sensible people will scarcely go on withsuch an extravagant book. And the Vicar fully appreciated thisimpossibility. But he lacked decision. Consequently he went on with it,as you shall immediately hear. He was hot, it was after dinner, he wasin no mood for mental subtleties. The Angel had him at a disadvantage,and further distracted him from the main issue by irrelevant iridescenceand a violent fluttering. For the moment it never occurred to the Vicarto ask whether the Angel was possible or not. He accepted him in theconfusion of the moment, and the mischief was done. Put yourself in hisplace, my dear _Athenaeum_. You go out shooting. You hit something. Thatalone would disconcert you. You find you have hit an Angel, and hewrithes about for a minute and then sits up and addresses you. He makesno apology for his own impossibility. Indeed, he carries the chargeclean into your camp. "A man!" he says, pointing. "A man in the maddestblack clothes and without a feather upon him. Then I was not deceived. Iam indeed in the Land of Dreams!" You _must_ answer him. Unless you taketo your heels. Or blow his brains out with your second barrel as anescape from the controversy.
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