Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 20 At the House In Great Portland Street

  • For a moment Kemp sat in silence, staring at the back of the headless figur_t the window. Then he started, struck by a thought, rose, took the Invisibl_an's arm, and turned him away from the outlook.
  • "You are tired," he said, "and while I sit, you walk about. Have my chair."
  • He placed himself between Griffin and the nearest window.
  • For a space Griffin sat silent, and then he resumed abruptly:
  • "I had left the Chesilstowe cottage already," he said, "when that happened. I_as last December. I had taken a room in London, a large unfurnished room in _ig ill-managed lodging-house in a slum near Great Portland Street. The roo_as soon full of the appliances I had bought with his money; the work wa_oing on steadily, successfully, drawing near an end. I was like a ma_merging from a thicket, and suddenly coming on some unmeaning tragedy. I wen_o bury him. My mind was still on this research, and I did not lift a finge_o save his character. I remember the funeral, the cheap hearse, the scan_eremony, the windy frost-bitten hillside, and the old college friend of hi_ho read the service over him—a shabby, black, bent old man with a snivellin_old.
  • "I remember walking back to the empty house, through the place that had onc_een a village and was now patched and tinkered by the jerry builders into th_gly likeness of a town. Every way the roads ran out at last into th_esecrated fields and ended in rubble heaps and rank wet weeds. I remembe_yself as a gaunt black figure, going along the slippery, shiny pavement, an_he strange sense of detachment I felt from the squalid respectability, th_ordid commercialism of the place.
  • "I did not feel a bit sorry for my father. He seemed to me to be the victim o_is own foolish sentimentality. The current cant required my attendance at hi_uneral, but it was really not my affair.
  • "But going along the High Street, my old life came back to me for a space, fo_ met the girl I had known ten years since. Our eyes met.
  • "Something moved me to turn back and talk to her. She was a very ordinar_erson.
  • "It was all like a dream, that visit to the old places. I did not feel the_hat I was lonely, that I had come out from the world into a desolate place. _ppreciated my loss of sympathy, but I put it down to the general inanity o_hings. Re-entering my room seemed like the recovery of reality. There wer_he things I knew and loved. There stood the apparatus, the experiment_rranged and waiting. And now there was scarcely a difficulty left, beyond th_lanning of details.
  • "I will tell you, Kemp, sooner or later, all the complicated processes. W_eed not go into that now. For the most part, saving certain gaps I chose t_emember, they are written in cypher in those books that tramp has hidden. W_ust hunt him down. We must get those books again. But the essential phase wa_o place the transparent object whose refractive index was to be lowere_etween two radiating centres of a sort of ethereal vibration, of which I wil_ell you more fully later. No, not those Röntgen vibrations—I don't know tha_hese others of mine have been described. Yet they are obvious enough. _eeded two little dynamos, and these I worked with a cheap gas engine. M_irst experiment was with a bit of white wool fabric. It was the stranges_hing in the world to see it in the flicker of the flashes soft and white, an_hen to watch it fade like a wreath of smoke and vanish.
  • "I could scarcely believe I had done it. I put my hand into the emptiness, an_here was the thing as solid as ever. I felt it awkwardly, and threw it on th_loor. I had a little trouble finding it again.
  • "And then came a curious experience. I heard a miaow behind me, and turning, saw a lean white cat, very dirty, on the cistern cover outside the window. _hought came into my head. 'Everything ready for you,' I said, and went to th_indow, opened it, and called softly. She came in, purring—the poor beast wa_tarving—and I gave her some milk. All my food was in a cupboard in the corne_f the room. After that she went smelling round the room, evidently with th_dea of making herself at home. The invisible rag upset her a bit; you shoul_ave seen her spit at it! But I made her comfortable on the pillow of m_ruckle-bed. And I gave her butter to get her to wash."
  • "And you processed her?"
  • "I processed her. But giving drugs to a cat is no joke, Kemp! And the proces_ailed."
  • "Failed!"
  • "In two particulars. These were the claws and the pigment stuff, what i_t?—at the back of the eye in a cat. You know?"
  • "Tapetum."
  • "Yes, the tapetum. It didn't go. After I'd given the stuff to bleach the bloo_nd done certain other things to her, I gave the beast opium, and put her an_he pillow she was sleeping on, on the apparatus. And after all the rest ha_aded and vanished, there remained two little ghosts of her eyes."
  • "Odd!"
  • "I can't explain it. She was bandaged and clamped, of course—so I had he_afe; but she woke while she was still misty, and miaowed dismally, an_omeone came knocking. It was an old woman from downstairs, who suspected m_f vivisecting—a drink-sodden old creature, with only a white cat to care fo_n all the world. I whipped out some chloroform, applied it, and answered th_oor. 'Did I hear a cat?' she asked. 'My cat?' 'Not here,' said I, ver_olitely. She was a little doubtful and tried to peer past me into the room; strange enough to her no doubt—bare walls, uncurtained windows, truckle-bed, with the gas engine vibrating, and the seethe of the radiant points, and tha_aint ghastly stinging of chloroform in the air. She had to be satisfied a_ast and went away again."
  • "How long did it take?" asked Kemp.
  • "Three or four hours—the cat. The bones and sinews and the fat were the las_o go, and the tips of the coloured hairs. And, as I say, the back part of th_ye, tough, iridescent stuff it is, wouldn't go at all.
  • "It was night outside long before the business was over, and nothing was to b_een but the dim eyes and the claws. I stopped the gas engine, felt for an_troked the beast, which was still insensible, and then, being tired, left i_leeping on the invisible pillow and went to bed. I found it hard to sleep. _ay awake thinking weak aimless stuff, going over the experiment over and ove_gain, or dreaming feverishly of things growing misty and vanishing about me, until everything, the ground I stood on, vanished, and so I came to tha_ickly falling nightmare one gets. About two, the cat began miaowing about th_oom. I tried to hush it by talking to it, and then I decided to turn it out.
  • I remember the shock I had when striking a light—there were just the roun_yes shining green—and nothing round them. I would have given it milk, but _adn't any. It wouldn't be quiet, it just sat down and miaowed at the door. _ried to catch it, with an idea of putting it out of the window, but i_ouldn't be caught, it vanished. Then it began miaowing in different parts o_he room. At last I opened the window and made a bustle. I suppose it went ou_t last. I never saw any more of it.
  • "Then—Heaven knows why—I fell thinking of my father's funeral again, and th_ismal windy hillside, until the day had come. I found sleeping was hopeless, and, locking my door after me, wandered out into the morning streets."
  • "You don't mean to say there's an invisible cat at large!" said Kemp.
  • "If it hasn't been killed," said the Invisible Man. "Why not?"
  • "Why not?" said Kemp. "I didn't mean to interrupt."
  • "It's very probably been killed," said the Invisible Man. "It was alive fou_ays after, I know, and down a grating in Great Titchfield Street; because _aw a crowd round the place, trying to see whence the miaowing came."
  • He was silent for the best part of a minute. Then he resumed abruptly:
  • "I remember that morning before the change very vividly. I must have gone u_reat Portland Street. I remember the barracks in Albany Street, and the hors_oldiers coming out, and at last I found the summit of Primrose Hill. It was _unny day in January—one of those sunny, frosty days that came before the sno_his year. My weary brain tried to formulate the position, to plot out a pla_f action.
  • "I was surprised to find, now that my prize was within my grasp, ho_nconclusive its attainment seemed. As a matter of fact I was worked out; th_ntense stress of nearly four years' continuous work left me incapable of an_trength of feeling. I was apathetic, and I tried in vain to recover th_nthusiasm of my first inquiries, the passion of discovery that had enabled m_o compass even the downfall of my father's grey hairs. Nothing seemed t_atter. I saw pretty clearly this was a transient mood, due to overwork an_ant of sleep, and that either by drugs or rest it would be possible t_ecover my energies.
  • "All I could think clearly was that the thing had to be carried through; th_ixed idea still ruled me. And soon, for the money I had was almost exhausted.
  • I looked about me at the hillside, with children playing and girls watchin_hem, and tried to think of all the fantastic advantages an invisible ma_ould have in the world. After a time I crawled home, took some food and _trong dose of strychnine, and went to sleep in my clothes on my unmade bed.
  • Strychnine is a grand tonic, Kemp, to take the flabbiness out of a man."
  • "It's the devil," said Kemp. "It's the palaeolithic in a bottle."
  • "I awoke vastly invigorated and rather irritable. You know?"
  • "I know the stuff."
  • "And there was someone rapping at the door. It was my landlord with threat_nd inquiries, an old Polish Jew in a long grey coat and greasy slippers. _ad been tormenting a cat in the night, he was sure—the old woman's tongue ha_een busy. He insisted on knowing all about it. The laws in this countr_gainst vivisection were very severe—he might be liable. I denied the cat.
  • Then the vibration of the little gas engine could be felt all over the house, he said. That was true, certainly. He edged round me into the room, peerin_bout over his German-silver spectacles, and a sudden dread came into my min_hat he might carry away something of my secret. I tried to keep between hi_nd the concentrating apparatus I had arranged, and that only made him mor_urious. What was I doing? Why was I always alone and secretive? Was it legal?
  • Was it dangerous? I paid nothing but the usual rent. His had always been _ost respectable house—in a disreputable neighbourhood. Suddenly my tempe_ave way. I told him to get out. He began to protest, to jabber of his righ_f entry. In a moment I had him by the collar; something ripped, and he wen_pinning out into his own passage. I slammed and locked the door and sat dow_uivering.
  • "He made a fuss outside, which I disregarded, and after a time he went away.
  • "But this brought matters to a crisis. I did not know what he would do, no_ven what he had the power to do. To move to fresh apartments would have mean_elay; altogether I had barely twenty pounds left in the world, for the mos_art in a bank—and I could not afford that. Vanish! It was irresistible. The_here would be an inquiry, the sacking of my room.
  • "At the thought of the possibility of my work being exposed or interrupted a_ts very climax, I became very angry and active. I hurried out with my thre_ooks of notes, my cheque-book—the tramp has them now—and directed them fro_he nearest Post Office to a house of call for letters and parcels in Grea_ortland Street. I tried to go out noiselessly. Coming in, I found my landlor_oing quietly upstairs; he had heard the door close, I suppose. You would hav_aughed to see him jump aside on the landing as came tearing after him. H_lared at me as I went by him, and I made the house quiver with the slammin_f my door. I heard him come shuffling up to my floor, hesitate, and go down.
  • I set to work upon my preparations forthwith.
  • "It was all done that evening and night. While I was still sitting under th_ickly, drowsy influence of the drugs that decolourise blood, there came _epeated knocking at the door. It ceased, footsteps went away and returned, and the knocking was resumed. There was an attempt to push something under th_oor—a blue paper. Then in a fit of irritation I rose and went and flung th_oor wide open. 'Now then?' said I.
  • "It was my landlord, with a notice of ejectment or something. He held it ou_o me, saw something odd about my hands, I expect, and lifted his eyes to m_ace.
  • "For a moment he gaped. Then he gave a sort of inarticulate cry, droppe_andle and writ together, and went blundering down the dark passage to th_tairs. I shut the door, locked it, and went to the looking-glass. Then _nderstood his terror… . My face was white—like white stone.
  • "But it was all horrible. I had not expected the suffering. A night of rackin_nguish, sickness and fainting. I set my teeth, though my skin was presentl_fire, all my body afire; but I lay there like grim death. I understood no_ow it was the cat had howled until I chloroformed it. Lucky it was I live_lone and untended in my room. There were times when I sobbed and groaned an_alked. But I stuck to it… . I became insensible and woke languid in th_arkness.
  • "The pain had passed. I thought I was killing myself and I did not care. _hall never forget that dawn, and the strange horror of seeing that my hand_ad become as clouded glass, and watching them grow clearer and thinner as th_ay went by, until at last I could see the sickly disorder of my room throug_hem, though I closed my transparent eyelids. My limbs became glassy, th_ones and arteries faded, vanished, and the little white nerves went last. _ritted my teeth and stayed there to the end. At last only the dead tips o_he fingernails remained, pallid and white, and the brown stain of some aci_pon my fingers.
  • "I struggled up. At first I was as incapable as a swathed infant—stepping wit_imbs I could not see. I was weak and very hungry. I went and stared a_othing in my shaving-glass, at nothing save where an attenuated pigment stil_emained behind the retina of my eyes, fainter than mist. I had to hang on t_he table and press my forehead against the glass.
  • "It was only by a frantic effort of will that I dragged myself back to th_pparatus and completed the process.
  • "I slept during the forenoon, pulling the sheet over my eyes to shut out th_ight, and about midday I was awakened again by a knocking. My strength ha_eturned. I sat up and listened and heard a whispering. I sprang to my fee_nd as noiselessly as possible began to detach the connections of m_pparatus, and to distribute it about the room, so as to destroy th_uggestions of its arrangement. Presently the knocking was renewed and voice_alled, first my landlord's, and then two others. To gain time I answere_hem. The invisible rag and pillow came to hand and I opened the window an_itched them out on to the cistern cover. As the window opened, a heavy cras_ame at the door. Someone had charged it with the idea of smashing the lock.
  • But the stout bolts I had screwed up some days before stopped him. Tha_tartled me, made me angry. I began to tremble and do things hurriedly.
  • "I tossed together some loose paper, straw, packing paper and so forth, in th_iddle of the room, and turned on the gas. Heavy blows began to rain upon th_oor. I could not find the matches. I beat my hands on the wall with rage. _urned down the gas again, stepped out of the window on the cistern cover, very softly lowered the sash, and sat down, secure and invisible, bu_uivering with anger, to watch events. They split a panel, I saw, and i_nother moment they had broken away the staples of the bolts and stood in th_pen doorway. It was the landlord and his two step-sons, sturdy young men o_hree or four and twenty. Behind them fluttered the old hag of a woman fro_ownstairs.
  • "You may imagine their astonishment to find the room empty. One of the younge_en rushed to the window at once, flung it up and stared out. His staring eye_nd thick-lipped bearded face came a foot from my face. I was half minded t_it his silly countenance, but I arrested my doubled fist. He stared righ_hrough me. So did the others as they joined him. The old man went and peere_nder the bed, and then they all made a rush for the cupboard. They had t_rgue about it at length in Yiddish and Cockney English. They concluded I ha_ot answered them, that their imagination had deceived them. A feeling o_xtraordinary elation took the place of my anger as I sat outside the windo_nd watched these four people—for the old lady came in, glancing suspiciousl_bout her like a cat, trying to understand the riddle of my behaviour.
  • "The old man, so far as I could understand his patois, agreed with the ol_ady that I was a vivisectionist. The sons protested in garbled English that _as an electrician, and appealed to the dynamos and radiators. They were al_ervous about my arrival, although I found subsequently that they had bolte_he front door. The old lady peered into the cupboard and under the bed, an_ne of the young men pushed up the register and stared up the chimney. One o_y fellow lodgers, a coster-monger who shared the opposite room with _utcher, appeared on the landing, and he was called in and told incoheren_hings.
  • "It occurred to me that the radiators, if they fell into the hands of som_cute well-educated person, would give me away too much, and watching m_pportunity, I came into the room and tilted one of the little dynamos off it_ellow on which it was standing, and smashed both apparatus. Then, while the_ere trying to explain the smash, I dodged out of the room and went softl_ownstairs.
  • "I went into one of the sitting-rooms and waited until they came down, stil_peculating and argumentative, all a little disappointed at finding no
  • 'horrors,' and all a little puzzled how they stood legally towards me. Then _lipped up again with a box of matches, fired my heap of paper and rubbish, put the chairs and bedding thereby, led the gas to the affair, by means of a_ndia-rubber tube, and waving a farewell to the room left it for the las_ime."
  • "You fired the house!" exclaimed Kemp.
  • "Fired the house. It was the only way to cover my trail—and no doubt it wa_nsured. I slipped the bolts of the front door quietly and went out into th_treet. I was invisible, and I was only just beginning to realise th_xtraordinary advantage my invisibility gave me. My head was already teemin_ith plans of all the wild and wonderful things I had now impunity to do."