J. D. (John Davys) Beresford.

Signs and wonders online

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'By thi iame i^uthor:



/////; l\i^nnfth 'J\uhmond:
\V. E. ford: a BIOGRAPHY

Printed in Great Britain,






^'■Hath icrVing nature^ bidden ofthegods^
T/iii{-scieefied •Sllans narro-^^ shy^
^{nd hung these Stygian yei/s of fog
To hide his dingied sty? —
The gods iiho yet, at mortal birth^
'Bequeathed him fantasy V




prologue: the atpi akance ok man 8


















THi: APPr.ARANCi: OV MAN : •/ /'/../)• Ol'T OF

•I I Ml. ^ sp u:i:.

U'lifH t/u no tain riiffy two tutu ii/iu/a, s/'inning s/ow/w It f^assts viajatically
across the background as the scene f>rocieds.]

SECOND MAN. The World's a \cry small place.

FiRsr M.\N. Ah! \'ouVc right, it is.

WOMAN. And how's the famih?

FIRST MAN. Capital, thanks. \'ours well, loo, I hope?

woM.AN. All except Johnnie.

[^€nter 'J^ a grouf> of prehistoric animals; a few hrontcsauri,
titanotheres, mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers, and so on.]

FIRST MAN. What's wrong with him?

WOMAN. He was bit by a dog. Nasty place he's got.

FIRST MAN. Did you ha\e it cauterised: They're naity
things, dog-bites.

W0M.\N. Oh, yes, we had it cauterised, you may he sure.

SECOND MAN [reflectivelv] Dangerous things, dogs.

FiRsr MAN. If they're not properly looked after, tjicy are.
Now I've got a little dog. . . .

[t// this point the speaker s Toice becomes inaudible oicing to
the passing of the brontcsauri, "^hich gradually move ojf L.]

WOMAN \becoming audible and apparently interrupting in the


?niddh- of an anrcaot,-] HiouL^i I tell Johnnie it's hisown fault.
He shouldn't have teased him.

[€>itr'r R. a fiw thouiand uivagei vulth fdnt '^eapons.'\

SECOND MAN. Bo) s vviU be boys.

WOMAN. Which is no reason, I s;\y, that they shouldn't
learn tc behave themselves.

FIRST MAN. Can't begin too soon, in my opinion.

\Excunt iavager. enter the population of Ind'ia.'\

WOMAN. He might have been killed if a man hadn't come
up and pulled the dog off him. A black man, he was, too.

FIRST MAN. What? A nigger?

WOMAN. Or a Turk, or something. I can't never see the
difference. [If^it/j a shivn:] Ugh! I hate black men, someliow.
The look of 'em gives me the shudders.

SECOND MAN [on a note of faint expostulation'] My dear!

FIRST MAN. V\c heard others say the same thing.

WOMAN. A pretty penny, Johnnie'U cost us, with the
Doctor and all.

\_Snter two armies engaged in a Qivil lVar.'\

FIRST MAN [slja{ing bis head, -wisely] Ah ! I daresay it will.
SECOND MAN. / doii't know what we're coming to, what
with wages and prices and Lord knows what all?

FIRST MAN. No niorc do I. Wh}', only yesterday ....

[The rest of bis sentence is drowned hy 1 be p ring of a battery of
beavy guns.]

WOMAN. Oh! well, I suppose it'll all come right in time.

[The ^/tvV Jf^ar moves off" L. Signs of the approaching end
of the -world become manifest.]

FIRST MAN. We'll hope for the best, I'm sure.

[The Hosts of Heaven appear in the sky.]

SECOND MAN [refecti^ely] On the whole, I should say
that things looked a bit better than they did.


[7f.f Sfa givtf up in 7)a;ondon.

"Aeroplanes," I repeated. "Great Heaven, can't you see
what's up there? The procession and that eyer"
He stared up then, and I with him, and the eye had gone; but
between the still parted heavens I could see into the profundity


ot a space ^o rich with hc.iiity and, as it sccnicd, with promise,
that I held my breath in sheer wonder.

"No! I can't see nothin*, mi\'nor," my companion said.

And I pii'Miinc that as he spoke I must h:i\e waked from
mv dream, for the ;^lory \ anishcd and 1 found in\ self dispcnsinij;
a smill alms to a shahhv man who was representing himself as
mot>t unworthilv suffering through no fault of his own.

As I walked home through the rain I refleett.d that the
people of that incredihl)' ilistant world, walking, as they alwavs
do, with their ga/.e hent upon the ground, are probably unable
to sec the signs and wonders that blaze across the sk)-. They,
like ourselves, are so preoccupied with the miserable import-
ance of their instant lives.


I WAS not asleep, I have watched passengers who kept
their eyes shut between the stations, hut as )ct I lia\c
not ^cen an iiuhsputahle case of anyone sound asleep on the
HaInp^tead and Charing Cross Tu he. Of the other passages
that inakc up I^ondon's greater intestine I have less experience,
and it may be that some tubes are more conduci\ e to slumber
than the one most familiar to me. 1 have no ambition to make
a dogmatic generalisation concerning eitlior the Ntimulati\c or
soporific action of the Underground. I merely wish it to be
understood that I was not asleep, and that it was hardly possible
that I could ha\e been, with a small portmanteau permanently
on one foot, and the owner of it — a little man wlio must ha\e
wished that the straps were rather longer — intermittently on
theotlier. Against this, however, I ha\'e to put the fact that I
could not say at which station the little nian rcmo\ ed from me
the burden of himself and his portmanteau. Nor could I gi\e
p.-irticulars of the appearance of such of my innumerable fellow-
passengers as were most nearly presented to me, although I do
knowihat most of them were reading — even the strap-hangers.
It w.as, indeed, this observation that started my vision or train
of thought or preoccupation — call it anything you like except
a dream.

^ r^ -^

The eves in liis otlierwisc repulsive face held a wistfulncss,
a hint of vague speculation that attracted me. He sat, hunched
on the summit of the steeply rising ground overlooking the
sea, the place where the forest comes so abruptly to an end that
from a little distance it looks as if it had been giganticalU planed
to a hard edge.

He was alone and ruminativcly quiescent after food. He


had fed well and carelessly. Some of the bones that lay near
him had been very indifferently picked. He leaned forward
clasping his hairy legs with his equally hairy arms, and stared
out with that hint of speculation and wistfulness in his eyes
over the placid magnificence of the Western Sea — just dis-
turbed enough to reflect a gorgeous road of fire that laid a
vanishing track across the waters up to the open goal of the
low sun. A faint breeze blew up the hill, and it seemed as if
he leant his face forward to drink the first refreshment of that
sweet, cool air.

I approached him more nearly, trying to read his thought,
rejoicing in the knowledge that he could neither sec nor appre-
hend me. For though a man may know something of the past,
the future is hidden from him, and I represented to him a future
that could only be reckoned in a vast procession of centuries.
Yet as I came nearer, so near that I could rest my hands on his
knees and gaze up closely into his eyes, he shrank a little and
leaned slightly away from me, as if he were uncertainly aware
of an unfamiliar, distasteful presence. I fancied that the mat
of hair on his chest just perceptibly bristled.

I could read his thought, now, and I was thrilled to discover
that the expression of his eyes had not misled me. He had at-
tained to a form of conciousness. He, alone, of all the beasts
had received the gift of constructive imagination. He could
look forward, make plans to meet a possible emergency. He
knew already something of tomorrow. Even then he was deep
in speculation. That day he had hunted a slow but cunning
little beast which found a refuge among the great boulders that
lay piled in gigantic profusion along the foreshore. And he
had failed. Another quarry had been his, but that particular
little beast had outwitted him. And now, longing for it, he
ruminated clumsy lethargic plans for its capture.

It may have been that the vmusual effort tired him, for
presently he slept, still hunched into the same compact heap,
crouching with an effect of swift alertness as if he were ready


at the least alarm to leap up and vanish into the cover of the

Then, a plan came to me, also. I would bring a vision to
this primitive ancestor of mankind. I would merge myself with
his being and he should dream a dream of the immensely dis-
tant future. Blessed and privileged above all the iuiman race,
he should know for an instant to what inconceivable develop-
ments, to what towering heights of intellectual and manipula-
tive glory his descendants should one day be heir. I had no
definite idea of the precise illustration I should choose to set
forth the magnificence of man's latest attainment. Nor did I
pause to consider what I myself might suffer in the process of
this infamous liaison between the ages. I acted on an impulse
that I found irresistible. I have myself longed so often to read
the distant future of mankind, that I felt as a god bestowing an
inestimable gift. But I should have known that in the mystical
union it is the eod and not the man who suffers.

I was wrapped in an awful darkness as wc fell stupendously
through time, but presently I knew that we were rising again,
weighted with the burden of primitive flesh. Then in an instant
came a strange yellow unnatural light, the roaring of a terrible
sound — and the fearful vision. The horror of it was unendur-
able; the shock of it so great that spirit and flesh were rent
asunder. I remained. He fell back to the sweetness of the cool
air blowing up from the tranquil sea.

Did he rush frantically into the forest or sit with dripping
mouth and wide alarmed eyes, rigidly staring at the scarlet rim
of the setting sun."* Yet what could he have understood of the
future in that moment of detestable revelation? Could he have
recognised men and women in their strange disguise of modern
dress, as being even of the same species as himself? And if he
had, what could he have known of them, seeing them packed
so closely together, immoveably wedged into the terror of that


rocking roaring cage of unknown material; seeing them occu-
pied in staring so intently and incomprehensibly at those amaz-
ing little black-dotted white sheets? Impossible for him to guess
that those speckled sheets held a magic that transported his
descendants from the misery of their cage into imaginations
so extensive and so various that some of them might, however
dimly and allusively, include himself, hunched and ruminant,
regarding the vast tranquillity of the sea.

The tunnel suddenly broke, the roaring gave place to a
rattle that by contrast was gentle and soothing. I opened my
eyes. We were under the sky again, slipping, with intermittent
flashes of light, into the harbour of Golder's Green Station.

For a moment, I seemed to see the clumsy and violent
shape of a beast that strove in panic to escape; and then I came
back to my own world of the patient readers, with their white,
controlled faces, forming now in solemn procession down the
aisle of the carriage.

But it was his dream, not mine. And I have been wonder-
ing whether, if I dreamed also, the distant future might not
seem equally unendurable to me?


WHEN he heard the first signal, warning the people of
London to take cover, his spirit revolted.

He began to picture with a sick disgust the scene of his
coming confinement in the ilirtv basement. Mrs. Gibson, his
landlady, would welcome him with the air of forced cheerful-
ness he knew so well. She would make the same remarks
about the noise of the guns. She would say again: "Well,
there's one thing, it drowns the noise of the bombs — if they've
recly got here this time." Then Maunders from the first floor
would say that you could always pick out the sound of the aerial
torpedoes; and explain, elaborately, why. Mrs. Graham from
the second floor would say that she'd rather enjoy it, if it weren't
for the children. And her eldest little prig of a boy would say,
"I'm not afraid, mumma," and expect everyone to praise his
courage. Mrs. Gibson would praise him, of course. She would
say: "There, now, 1 declare he's the bravest of anyone." She
was obliged to do it. She would never be able to get new
lodgers this winter And when that preliminary talk was done
with, they would all begin again on the endlessly tedious topic
of reprisals; and keep it up until a pause in the barrage set them
on to spasmodic ejaculations of wonder whether "they" had
been driven off, or gone, or been shot down, or. . . .

No; definitely, h.c would not stand it. He could better
endure the simultaneous explosion of every gun in London
than three hours of that conversation. Moreover, he could
not face the horrible drip, drip, from the scullery sink. On the
night of the last raid he had been very near the sink. And the
thought of that steady plop .... plop .... of water into the
gally-pot Mrs. Gibson kept under the tap for some idiotic
reason, was as the thought of an inferno such as could not have


been conceived by Dante, nor organised by the Higher Ger-
man Command.

Nerves? He shrugged his shoulders. In a sense, no doubt.
Suspense, dread, a long exasperation of waiting had filled every
commonplace experience — more particularly that dreadful
dripping of the cold water tap — with all kinds of horrible as-
sociations. But if it was "nerves," it was not nervousness, not
fear of being killed, nothing in the least like panic. He was
quite willing to face the possible danger of the open streets.
But he could not and would not face Mrs. Gibson and the
scullery sink.

No; he must escape — a fugitive from protection. Men
had fled from strange things, but had they ever fled from a
stranger thing than refuge? He must go secretly. If Mrs. Gib-
son heard him she would stop him, begin an immense, unen-
durable argument. She could not afford to risk the loss of a
lodger this winter. She would bring Maunders and Mrs.
Graham to join her in persuasion and protest. Freedom was
hard to win in London, in such times as these.

He crept down the long three flights of stairs like some
wary criminal feeling h.is cautious way to liberty. But once he
had, with infinite deliberation, slipped back the ailing latch of
the front door, he lifted his head and squared his shoulders with
a great gasp of relief. He could have wept tears of exultation.
He was filled with a deep thankfulness for this boon of his en-
largement. . . .

There was no sound of guns as yet; nor any sweep of
searchlights tormenting the wide gloom of the sky. It was a
wonderful, calm night ; a little misty on the ground ; but, above,
the moon was serene and bright as a new guinea.

He had no hesitation as to his direction. He desired the
greatest possible expansion of outlook; and turned his face at
once towards the river. On the Embankment he would be
able to see a wide arc of the sky. He had a sense of setting
about a prohibited adventure, full of the most daring and deli-


cious excitements. His one dread was that he might be inter-
fered with, stopped, sent home.

The cycliriLr policemen looked at him, he thought, with
peculiar suspicion. They gruffly shouted at him to take cover,
with a curt note of warning, as if he were breaking the law by
indulging himself in this escapade. He tried to avoid notice
by slinking into the shadows. That cold, inimical moonlight
made everything so conspicuous. . . .

Except for the policemen, the streets were vividly empty.
He could feel the spirit of London crouched in expectancy.
Behind every darkened window men, women, and children
waited and lojiged for the relief of the first gun. And while
they waited they chattered and smiled. And all their laughter
and conversation was like these streets, vividly empty; their
spirits had taken cover.

He alone was free, exempt, rejoicing in his liberty. . . .

The ground mist was thicker on the Embankment; and
for a moment he was confused by the loom of a strange obelisk
that had a curiously remote, exotic air in the midst of this fam-
iliar London. Then he recognised the outline as that of Cleo-
patra's Needle, and went close up to the alien monument of
another age and stared up at it in the proclamatory moonlight.
He wondered if any magic lingered in those cryptic inscrip-
tions? If they might not have endowed the very granite with
curious, occult powers. He was still staring at the solemn
portent of the obelisk when the barrage opened with unusual
suddenness. . . .

For a time he was crushed and overwhelmed by the pressure
of that intimidating fury of sound. He cowered and winced
like a naked soul exposed to the intimate vengeance of God.
He was as beaten and battered by the personal threat of those
cumulative explosions as if every gun sought him and him alone
as the objective of its awful wrath.

But, by degrees, he began to grow accustomed even to that
world-rocking pandemonium. He became aware of the un-


dertones that laced the dominant roar and thunder of artillery.
He could trace, he believed, beside the shriek of shell, the
humming whirr of an aeroplane he could not see. And once
something whizzed past him with a high singing hiss that
ended abruptly with a sharp clip. He guessed that a fragment
of shrapnell had buried itself in one of the plane-trees.

Yet the real danger of that warning did not terrify him as
had the enormous onslaught of noise from the barrage. At the
next intermission of the deafening bombardment he stood up,
rested his hand on the plinth of the obelisk, and stared, won-
dering and unafraid, into the great arc of the sky. He could
see no aeroplanes. . . . The stillness was so profound that he
could hear with a grateful distinctness the soft clucking ripple
of the rising flood.

Presently he dropped his regard for the heavens to the plain
objective of deserted London. The mist had almost dispersed
in some places, had thickened in others — churned and driven,
perhaps, by the vast pressure of the sound waves. Across the
road he could see the impending cliff of great buildings, pale
and tall in the moonlight. At his feet the plane-trees threw
trembling, skeleton shadows. All the town waited in suspense
to know whether or not the bombardment would presently be

He had a presentiment that it was all over. He felt the
quick exaltation and vigour of one who has suffered and escaped
danger. But when he looked up the Embankment and saw
what he took to be the silhouettes of three towering trams
emerging with furti\e silence from the mist, he was aware of
a faint sense of disappointment. Nothing was left to him but
to return to the common dreariness of life.

He took a step towards the trams that were advancing with
such a stately, such a hushed and ponderous deliberation. . . ,

Trams . . . ?

He held his breath, staring and gaping, and then backed
nervously against the pedestal of the greatEgyptian monument.


H.iJ tlic shock of th;it awful bomb.irdincnt broken his
ncrsc? Was ho mail? Hcwitchcti by some aiuicnt ma;^ic? Or
was it, perhaps, that in one swift inappreciable moment he hail
been instantly killed by a fragment of shrapnel, and that, now,
his emerging spirit could, even as it watched these familiar

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Online LibraryJ. D. (John Davys) BeresfordSigns and wonders → online text (page 1 of 10)