H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

The undying fire, a contemporary novel online

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Ex Libris


^ Mr. WELLS has also written the

following uovels :
















^ The followixig fantastic and imagina-
tive romances :












And numerous Short Stories now collected in

One Volume under the title of


fl A Series of books upon Social, ReU-
gious and Political questions :












q And two little books about children's
play, called :




-^' BY


London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne

First published May 1919
Reprinted September 1919, March 1920

All Schoolmasters and Schoolmistresses

and every

Teacher in the World



1. The Prologue in Heaven . . 1

2. At Sea View, Sundering on Sea . 18

3. The Three Visitors ... 42

4. Do We Truly Die ? . . . 109

5. Elihu Reproves Job . . . 146

6. The Operation . . . .220

7. Letters and a Telegram . . 236

The Undying Fire

CHAF :er the first


§ 1

Two eternal beings, magnificently enhaloed,
the one in a blinding excess of white radiance
and the other in a bewildering extravagance of
colours, converse amidst stupendous surround-
ings. These surroundings are by tradition
palatial, but there is now also a marked cosmic
tendency about them. They have no definite
locality ; they are above and comprehensive of
the material universe.

There is a quality in the scene as if a futur-
ist with a considerable knowledge of modern
chemical and physical speculation and some
obscure theological animus had repainted the
designs of a pre-Raphaclite. The vast pillars
vanish into unfathomable darknesses, and the

2 The Undying Fire

complicated curves and whorls of the decora-
tions seem to have been traced by the flight of
elemental particles. Suns and planets spin
and glitter through the avanturine depths
of a floor of crystalline ether. Great winged
shapes are in attendance, wrought of irides-
cences and bearing globes, stars, rolls of the
law, flaming swords, and similar symbols.
The voices of the Cherubim and Seraphim can
be heard crying continually, " Holy, Holy,

Now, as in the ancient story, it is a recep-
tion of the sons of God.

The Master of the gathering, to whom one
might reasonably attribute a sublime boredom,
seeing that everything that can possibly happen
is necessarily known to him, displays on the
contrary as lively an interest in his interlocutor
as ever. This interlocutor is of course Satan,
the Unexpected.

The contrast of these two eternal beings is
very marked ; while the Deity, veiled and
almost hidden in light, with his hair like wool
and his eyes like the blue of infinite space,
conveys an effect of stable, remote, and moun
tainous grandeur, Satan has the compact alert-

The Prologue in Heaven 3

ness of habitual travel; he is as definite as a
grip-sack, and he brings a flavour of initiative
and even bustle upon a scene that would
otherwise be one of serene perfection. His
halo even has a slightly travelled look. He
has been going to and fro in the earth and
walking up and down in it ; his labels are still
upon him. His status in heaven remains asf
undefined as it was in the time of Job ; it it
uncertain to this day whether he is to be re-
garded as one of the sons of God or as an
inexplicable intruder among them. (But see
upon this question the Encyclopredia Biblica
under his name.) Whatever his origin there
can be little doubt of his increasing assurance
of independence and importance in the Divine
presence. His freedom may be sanctioned or
innate, but he himself has no doubt remaining
ot the security of his personal autonomy. He
believes that he is a necessary accessory to
God, and that his incalculable quality is an
indispensable relief to the acquiescences of the
Archangels. He never misses these reunions.
If God is omnipresent by a ralm necessity,
Satan is everywhere by an mtinite activity.
They engage in unending metaphysical dif-

4 The Undying Fire

ferences into which Satan has imported a
tone of friendly badinage. They play chess

But the chess they play is not the little
ingenious game that originated in India ; it is
on an altogether different scale. The Ruler
of the Universe creates the board, the pieces,
and the rules ; he makes all the moves ; he may
make as many moves as he likes whenever he
likes ; his antagonist, however, is permitted to
introduce a slight inexplicable inaccuracy into
each move, which necessitates further moves
in correction. The Creator determines and
conceals the aim of the game, and it is never
clear whether the purpose of the adversary is
to defeat or assist him in his unfathomable
project. Apparently the adversary cannot
win, but also he cannot lose so long as he can
keep the game going. But he is concerned, it
would seem, in preventing the development
of any reasoned scheme in the game.

§ 2

Celestial badinage is at once too high and
broad to come readily within the compass of
earthly print and understanding. The Satanic
element of unexpectedness can fill the whole
sphere of Being with laughter ; thrills begotten
of those vast reverberations startle our poor
wits at the strangest moments. It is the
humour of Satan to thrust upon the Master his
own title of the Unique and to seek to wrest
from him the authorship of life. (But such
jesting distresses the angels.)

" I alone create."

"But I— I ferment."

" Matter I made and all things."

" Stagnant as a sleeping top but for the
wabble I give it."

" You are just the little difference of the
individual. You are the little Uniqueness in
everyone and everything, the Unique that
breaks the law, a marginal idiosyncracy."

** Sire, you are the Unique, the Uniqueness
of the whole."


6 The Undying Fire

Heaven smiled, and there were halcyon
days in the planets. *' I shall average you out
in the end and you will disappear."
' *' And everything will end."

"Will be complete."

"Without me! "

'* You spoil the symmetry of my universe."

"I give it life."

" Life comes from me."

" No, Sire, Hfe comes from me."

One of the great shapes in attendance be-
came distinct as Michael bearing his sword.
He blasphemes, O Lord. Shall I cast him

" But you did that some time ago,"
answered Satan, speaking carelessly over
his shoulder and not even looking at the
speaker. " You keep on doing it. And —
I am here."

" He returns," said the Lord soothingly.
" Perhaps I will him to return. What
should we be without him? "

"Without me, time and space would
freeze into crystalline perfection," said Satan,
and at his smile the criminal statistics of a
myriad planets displayed an upward wave.

The Prologue in Heaven 7

" It is I who trouble the waters. I trouble all
things. I am the spirit of life."

" But the soul," said God.

Satan, sitting with one arm thrown over
the back of his throne towards Michael, raised
his eyebrows by way of answer. This talk
about the soul he regarded as a divine weak-
ness. He knew nothing of the soul.

" I made man in my own image," said

" And I made him a man of the world.
If it had not been for me he would still be a
needless gardener — pretending to cultivate a
weedless garden that grew right because it
couldn't grow wrong — in ' those endless sum-
mers the blessed ones see.' Think of it, ye
Powers and Dominions ! Perfect flowers !
Perfect fruits ! Never an autumn chill !
Never a yellow leaf ! Golden leopards, noble
lions, carnivores unfulfilled, purring for his
caresses amidst the aimless friskings of lambs
that would never grow old ! Good Lord !
How bored he would have been ! How bored !
Instead of which, did I not launch him on the
most marvellous adventures? It was I who
gave him history. Up to the very limit of his

^ The Undying Fire

possibilities. Up to the very limit. . . . And
did not you, O Lord, by sending your angels
with their flaming swords, approve of what I
had done? "

God gave no answer.

*' But that reminds me," said Satan

§ 3

The great winged shapes drew nearer, for
Satan is the celestial raconteur. He alone
makes stories.

"There was a certain man in the land of
Uz whose name was Job."

"We remember him."

" We had a wager of sorts," said Satan.
" It was some time ago."

" The wager was never very distinct — and
now that you remind me of it, there is no
record of your paying."

"Did I lose or win? The issue was
obscured by discussion. How those men did
talk ! You intervened. There was no

" You lost, Satan," said a great Being
of Light who bore a book. " The wager was
whether Job would lose faith in God and
curse him. He was afflicted in every way, and
particularly by the conversation of his friends.
But there remains an undying fire in man."


10 The Undying Fire

Satan rested his dark face on his hand,
and looked down between his knees through
the pellucid floor to that little eddying in the
ether which makes our world. "Job," he
said, " lives still."

Then after an interval : " The whole earth
is now — Job."

Satan delights equally in statistics and in
quoting scripture. He leant back in his seat
with an expression of quiet satisfaction.
"Job," he said, in easy narrative tones,
" lived to a great age. After his disagreeable
experiences he lived one hundred and forty
years. He had again seven sons and three
daughters, and he saw his offspring for four
generations. So much is classical. These
ten children brought him seventy grand-
children, who again prospered generally and
had large families. (It was a prolific strain.)
And now if we allow three generations to a
century, and the reality is rather more than
that, and if we take the survival rate as
roughly three to a family, and if we agree wiith
your excellent Bishop Usher that Job lived
about thirty-five centuries ago, that gives
us How many ? Three to the hundredth

The Prologue in Heaven ii

and fifth power? ... It is at any rate a sum
vastly in excess of the present population of
the earth. . . . You have globes and rolls and
swords and siars here ; has anyone a slide

But the computation was brushed aside.

" A thousand years in my sight are but as
yesterdar when it is past. I will grant what
you seek to prove ; that Job has become man-

§ 4

The dark regard of Satan smote down
through the quivering universe and left the
toiling Hght waves behind. " See there," he
said pointing. " My old friend on his little
planet — Adam — Job — Man — like a roast on
a spit. It is time we had another wager."

God condescended to look with Satan at
mankind, circling between day and night.
" Whether he will curse or bless? '*

" Whether he will even remember God."

"I have given my promise that I will at
last restore Adam."

The downcast face smiled faintly.

" These questions change from age to
age," said Satan.

" The Whole remains the same."

"The story grows longer in either direc-
tion," said Satan, speaking as one who thinks
aloud ; " past and future unfold together. . . .
When the first atoms jarred I was there, and
so conflict was there — and progress. The


The Prologue in Heaven 13

days of the old story have each expanded to
hundreds of millions of years now, and still I
am in them all. The sharks and crawling
monsters of the early seas, the first things that
crept out of the water into the jungle of fronds
and stems, the early reptiles, the leaping and
flying dragons of the great age of life, the
mighty beasts of hoof and horn that came
later; they all feared and suffered and were
perplexed. At last came this Man of yours,
out of the woods, hairy, beetle-browed and
blood-stained, peering not too hopefully for
that Eden-bower of the ancient story. It
wasn't there. There never had been a gar-
den. He had fallen before he arose, and the
weeds and thorns are as ancient as the flowers.
The Fall goes back in time now beyond man,
beyond the world, beyond iuiagination. The
very stars were born in sin. . . .

" If we can still call it sin," mused Satan.

" On a little planet this Thing arises, this
red earth, this Adam, this Edomite, this Job.
He builds cities, he tills the earth, he catches
the lightning and makes a slave of it, he
changes the breed of beast and grain. Clever
things to do, but sftill petty things. You say

14 The Undying Fire

that in some manner he is to come up at last
to this. . . . He is too foolish and too weak.
His achievements only illmiiinate his limita-
tions. Look at his little brain boxed up from
gro\vth in a skull of bone ! Look at his bag
of a body full of rags and nidiments, a haggis
of diseases ! His life is decay. . . . Does he
grow? I do not see it. Has he made any
perceptible step forward in quality in the last
ten thousand years? He quarrels endlessly
and aimlessly with himself. ... In a little
while his planet will cool and freeze."

"In the end he will rule over the stars,"
said the voice that was above Satan. " My
spirit is in him."

Satan shaded his face with his hand from
the effulgence about him. He said no more
for a time, but sat watching mankind as a boy
might sit on the bank of a stream and watch
the fry of minnows in the clear water of a

" Nay," he said at last, " but it is in-
credible. It is impossible. I have disturbed
and afflicted h'm long enough. I have driven
him as far as he can be driven. But now T
am moved to pity. Let us end this dispute

The Prologue in Heaven 15

It has been interesting, but now Is it

not enough? It grows cruel. He has reached
his limit. Let us give him a little peace now,
Lord, a little season of sunshine and plenty,
and then some painless universal pestilence
and so let him die."

" He is immortal and he does but begin."

" He is mortal and near his end. At times
no doubt he has a certain air that seems to
promise understanding and mastery in his
world ; it is but an air ; give me the power to
afflict and subdue him but a little, and after a
few squeaks of faith and hope he will whine
and collapse like any oUier bea«t. He will
behave like any kindred creature with a
smaller brain and a larger jaw ; he too is
doomed to suffer to no purpose, to stniggle by
instinct merely to live, to endure for a season
and then to pass. . . . Give me but the power
and you shall see his courage snap like a
rotten string."

" You may do all that you will to him,
only you must not slay him. For my spirit
is in him."

" That he will cast out of his own accord
— when I have ruined his hopes, mocked his

i6 The Undying Fire

sacrifices, blackened his skies and filled his
veins with torture. . . . But it is too easy to
do. Let me just slay him now and end his
story. Then let us begin another, a different
one, and something more amusing. Let us,
for example, put brains — and this Soul of
yours — into the ants or the bees or the
beavers ! Or take up the octopus, already a
very tactful and intelligent creature! "

"No; but do as you have said, Satan.
For you also are my instrument. Try Man to
the uttermost. See if he is indeed no more
than a little stir amidst the shme, a fuss in
the mud that signifies nothing. ..."

§ 3

The Satan, his face hidden in shadow,
seemed not to hear this, but remained still and
intent upon the world of men.

And as that brown figure, with its vast
halo like the worn tail of some fiery peacock,
brooded high over the realms of being, this
that follows happened to a certain man upon
the earth.




§ 1

In an uncomfortable armchair of slippery black
horsehair, in a mean apartment at Sundering
on Sea, sat a sick man staring dully out of
the window. It was an oppressive day, hot
under a leaden sky ; there was scarcely a move-
ment in the air save for the dull thudding of
the gun practice at Shorehamstow. A multi-
tude of flies crawled and buzzed fitfully about
the room, and ever and again some chained-
up cur in the neighbourhood gave tongue to
its discontent. The window looked out upon
a vacant building lot, a wasite of scorched
grass and rusty rubbish surrounded by a fence
of barrel staves and barbed wire. Between
the ruinous notice-board of some pre-war
building enterprise and the gaunt verandah of
a convalescent home, on which the motionless
blue forms of two despondent wounded men in


Sea View, Sundering on Sea 19

deck chairs were visible, came the sea view
which justified the name of the house ; beyond
a wide waste of mud, over which quivered the
heat-tormented air, the still anger of the
heavens lowered down to meet in a line of hard
conspiracy, the steely criminality of the re-
mote deserted sea.

The man in the chair flapped his hand and
spoke. " You accursed creature," he said.
*' Why did God make flies? "

After a long interval he sighed deeply and
repeated: " TF/i?/ ? "

He made a fitful effort to assume a more
comfortable position, and relapsed at last into
his former attitude of brooding despondency.

When presently his landlady came in to
lay the table for lunch, an almost imperceptible
wincing alone betrayed his sense of the threat-
ening swish and emphasis of her movements.
She was manifestly heated by cooking, and a
smell of burnt potatoes had drifted in with her
appearance. She was a meagre little woman
with a resentful manner, glasses pinched her
sharp red nose, and as she spread out the grey-
white diaper and rapped down the knives and
forks in their places she glanced at him darkly

20 The Undying Fire

as if his inattention aggrieved her. Twice she
was moved to speak and did not do so, but at
length she could endure his indifference no
longer. " Still feeling ill I suppose, Mr.
'Uss?" she said, in the manner of one who
knows only too well what the answer will be.

He started at the sound of her voice, and
gave her his attention as if with an effort. " I
beg your pardon, Mrs. Croome? "

The landlady repeated with acerbity, " I
arst if you was still feeling ill, Mr. 'Uss."

He did not look at her when he replied, but
glanced towards her out of the corner of his
eyes. " Yes," he said. " Yes, I am. I am afraid
I am ill." She made a noise of unfriendly
confirmation that brought his face round to
her. " But mind you, Mrs. Croome, I don't
,want Mrs. Huss worried about it. She has
enough to trouble her just now. Quite

" Misfortunes don't ever come singly,"
said Mrs. Croome with quiet satisfaction, lean-
ing across the table to brush some spilt salt
from off the cloth to the floor. She was not
going to make any rash promises about Mrs.

Sea View, Sundering on Sea 21

** We 'ave to bear up with what is put
upon us," said Mrs. Croome. '* We 'ave to
find strength where strength is to be found."

She stood up and regarded him with pen-
sive malignity. " Very likely all you want is
a tonic of some sort. Very likely you've just
let yourself go. I shouldn't be surprised."

The sick man gave no welcome to this

" If you was to go round to the young
doctor at the corner — Barrack isnameis — very
likely he'd put you right. Everybody says
he's very clever. Not that me and Croome
put much faith in doctors. Nor need to. But
you're in a different position."

The man in the chair had been to see the
young doctor at the corner twice already, but
he did not want to discuss that interview with
Mrs. Croome just then. " I must think about
it," he said evasively.

" After all it isn't fair to yourself, it isn't
fair to others, to sicken for — it might be any-
think — without proper advice. Sitting there
and doing nothing. Especially in lodgings at
this time of year. It isn't, well — not what I
call considerate."

22 The Undying Fire

** Exactly," said Mr. Huss weakly.

'* There's homes and hospitals properly

The sick man nodded his head apprecia-

" If things are nipped in the bud they're
nipped in the bud, otherwise they grow and
make trouble."

It was exactly what her hearer was

Mrs. Croome ducked to the cellarette of a
gaunt sideboard and rapped out a whisky
bottle, a bottle of lime-juice, and a soda-water
syphon upon the table. She surveyed her
handiwork with a critical eye. " Cruet," she
w^hispered, and vanished from the room, leav-
ing the door, after a tormenting phase of
creaking, to slam by its own weight behind
her. . . .

The invalid raised his hand to his forehead
and found it wet with perspiration. His hand
was trembling violently. "My Godl^^ he
5\'hispered. . . .

§ 2

This man's name was Job Huss. His
father had been called Job before him, and so
far as the family tradition extended the eldest
son had always been called Job. Four weeks
ago he would have been esteemed by most
people a conspicuously successful and en-
viable man, and then had come a swift rush
of disaster.

He had been the headmaster of the great
modern public school at Woldingstanton in
Norfolk, a revived school under the Paper-
makers' Guild of the City of London ; he had
given himself without stint to its establish-
ment and he had made a great name in the
world for it and for himself. He had been
the first English schoolmaster to liberate the
modern side from the entanglement of its
lower forms with the classical masters ; it was
the only school in England where Spanish and
Kussian were honestly taught ; his science
laboratories were the best school laboratories


24 The Undying Fire

in Great Britain and perhaps in the world, and
his new methods in the teaching of history
and politics broiiglit a steady stream of foreign
inquirers to Woldingstanton. The hand of
the adversary had touched him first jujit at the
end of the summer term. There had been an
epidemic of measles in which, through the
inexplicable negligence of a trusted nurse,
two boys had died. On the afternoon of the
second of these deaths an assistant master was
killed by an explosion in the chemical labora-
tory. Then on the very last night of the term
came the School House fire, in which two of
the younger boys were burnt to death.

Against any single one of these misfor-
tunes Mr. Huss and his school might have
maintained an unbroken front, but their quick
succession had a very shattering effect. Every
circumstance conspired to make these events
vividly dreadful to Mr. Huss. He had been
the first to come to the help of his chemistry
master, who had fallen among some carboys
of acid, and though still alive and struggling,
was blinded, nearly faceless, and hopelessly
mangled. The poor fellow died before he
rould be extrionted. On the night of the fire

Sea View, Sundering on Sea 25

Mr. Huss strained himself internally and
bruised his foot very painfully, and he him-
self found and carried out the charred body
of one of the two little victims from the room
in which they had been trapped by the lock-
ing of a door during some " last day " rag-
ging. It added an element of exasperating
inconvenience to his greater distresses that all
his papers and nearly all his personal posses-
sions were burnt.

On the morning after the fire Mr. Huss's
solicitor committed suicide. He was an old
friend to whom Mr. Huss had entrusted the
complete control of the savings that were to
secure him and Mrs. Huss a dignified old age.
The lawyer was a man of strong political feel-
ings and liberal views, and he had bought
roubles to his utmost for Mr. Huss as for him-
self, in order to demonstrate his confidence in
the Russian revolution.

All these things had a quite sufficiently
disorganising effect upon Mr. Huss; upon
his wife the impression they made was alto-
gether disastrous. She was a .worthy but

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