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."
"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?"
"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."
"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."