H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

The undying fire, a contemporary novel online

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. . . Not for ever will such things endure,
not for ever will the Mocker of Mankind
prevail. . . .

"And such knowledge and power and
beauty as we poor watchers before the dawn
can guess at, are but the beginning of all that
could arise out of these shadows and this tor-
ment. Not for ever shall life be marooned
upon this planet, imprisoned by the cold and
incredible emptiness of space. Is it not plain

Elihu Reproves Job 211

to you all, from what man in spite of every-
thing has achieved, that he is but at the begin-
ning of achievement? That presently he will
take his body and his life and mould them to his
will, that he will take gladness and beauty for
himself as a girl will pick a flower and twine it
in her hair. You have said, Doctor Barrack,
that when industrial competition ends among
men all change in the race will be at an end.
But you said that unthinkingly. For when a
collective will grows plain, there will be no
blind thrusting into life and no blind battle to
keep in life, like the battle of a crowd crushed
into a cul-de-sac, any more. The qualities
that serve the great ends of the race will be
cherished and increased ; the sorts of men and
women that have these qualities least will be
made to understand the necessary restraints of
their limitation. You said that when men
ceased to compete, they would stand still.
Rather is it tnie that when men cease their
internecine war, then and then alone can the
race sweep forward. The race will grow in
power and beauty swiftly, in every generation
it will grow, and not only the hiunan race.
All this world will man make a garden for him-

212 The Undying Fire

self, niling not only his kind but all the lives
that live, banishing the cruel from Hfe, making
the others merciful and tame beneath his
hand. The flies and mosquitos, the thorns
and poisons, the fungus in the blood, and the
murrain upon his beasts, he will utterly end.
He will rob the atoms of their energy and the
depths of space of their secrets. He will break
his prison in space. He will step from star to
star as now we step from stone to stone across
a stream. Until he stands in the light of God's
presence and looks his Mocker and the
Adversary in the face. ..."

"Oh! Ravins!'' Mr. Dad burst out,
unable to contain himself.

" You may think my mind is fevered
because my body is in pain ; but never was my
mind clearer than it is now. It is as if I stood
already half out of this little life that has held
me so long. It is not a dream I tell, but a
reality. The world is for man, the stars in
their courses are for man — if only he will
follow the God who calls to him and take the
gift God offers. As I sit here and talk of these
things to you here, they become so plain to
me that I cannot understand your silence and

Elihu Reproves Job 213

why you do not burn — as I burn — with the fire
of God's purpose. ..."

He stopped short. He seemed to have
come to the end of his strength. His chin
sank, and his voice when he spoke again was
the voice of a weak and weary man.

" I talk. ... I talk. . . . And then a
desolating sense of reality blows like a destroy-
ing gust through my mind, and my little lamp
of hope goes out. . . .

"It is as if some great adversary sat over
all my world, mocking me in every phrase I
use and every act I do. ..."

He sighed deeply.

*' Have I answered your questions,
doctor? " he asked.

§ 6


You speak of God," said Dr. Barrack.
But this that you speak of as God, is it really
what men understand by God? It seems to
me, as I said to begin with, it is just a per-
sonification of the good will in us all. Why
bring in God ? God is a word that has become
associated with all sorts of black and cruel
things. It sets one thinking of priesthoods,
orthodoxies, persecutions. Why do you not
call this upward and onward power Humanity ?
Why do you not call the Spirit of Men?
Then it might be possible for an Agnostic like
myself to feel a sort of agreement. ..."

'* Because I have already shown you it is
not humanity, it is not the spirit of men.
Humanity, the spirit of men, made poison gas
and the submarine ; the spirit of man is jealous,
aggressive and partizan. Humanity has greed
and competition in grain, and the spirit of man
is fear and hatred, secrecy and conspiracy,
quite as much as, much more than, it is making


Elihu Reproves Job 215

or order. But this spirit in me, this fire which
I call God, was lit, I know not how, but as if
it came from outside. . . .

" I use the phrases," said Mr. Huss, " that
come ready to the mind. But I will meet you
so far as to say that I know that I am meta-
phorical and inexact. . . . This spirit that
comes into life — it is more like a person than a
thing and so I call it He. And He is not a
feature, not an aspect of things, but a selection
among things. . . . He seizes upon and brings
out and confirms all that is generous in the
natural impulses of the mind. He condemns
cruelty and all evil. . . .

" I will not pretend to explain what I can-
not explain. It may be that God is as yet
only foreshadowed in life. You may reason,
Doctor Barrack, that this fire in the heart that
I call God, is as much the outcome of your
Process as all the other things in life. I can-
not argue against that. What I am telling
you now is not what I believe so much as what
I feel. To me it seems that the creative desire
that burns in me is a thing different in its
nature from the blind Process of matter, is a
force running contrariwise to the power of

2i6 The Undying Fire

confusion. . . . But this I do know, that once
it is Ht in a man it is like a consuming fire.
Once it is ht in a man, then his mind is alight
■ — thenceforth. It rules his conscience with
compelling power. It summons him to live
the residue of his days working and fighting
for the unity and release and triumph of man-
kind. He may be mean still, and cowardly
and vile still, but he will know himself for
what he is. . . . Some ancient phrases five
marvellously. Within my heart I know that
my Redeemer liveth. ..."

He stopped abruptly.

Dr. Barrack was unprepared with a reply.
But he shook his head obstinately. These
time-worn phrases were hateful to his soul.
They smacked to him of hypocrisy, of a bid-
ding for favour with obsolete and discredited
influences. Through such leaks it is super-
stition comes soaking back into the laboriously
bailed-out minds of men. Yet Mr. Huss was
a difficult controversiahst to grapple. " No,"
said the doctor provisionally. " No. ..."

§ 7

Fate came to the relief of Dr. Barrack.

The little conference at Sea View was per-
vaded by the sense of a new personality. This
was a short and angry and heated little man,
with active dark brown eyes in a tan face, a
tooth-brush moustache of iron-grey, and a pro-
truded lower jaw. He was dressed in a bright
bluish-grey suit and bright brown boots, and
he carried a bright brown leather bag.

He appeared mouthing outside the win-
dow, beyond the range of distinct hearing.
His expression was blasphemous. He made
threatening movements with his bag.

'' Good God ! " cried Dr. Barrack. " Sir
Alpheus ! . . . I had no idea of the time ! "

He rushed out of the room and there was
a scuffle in the passage.

*' I ought to have been met," said Sir
Alpheus, entering, " I ought to have been
met. It's ridiculous to pretend you didn't
know the time. A general practitioner always

2i8 The Undying Fire

knows the time. It is his first duty. I cannot
understand the incivility of this reception. I
have had to make my way to your surgery, Dr.
Barrack, without assistance ; not a cab free at
the station ; I have had to come down this road
in the heat, carrying everything myself, read-
ing all the names on the gates — the most
ridiculous and banal names. The Taj, Thyme
Bank, The Cedars, and Capernaum, cheek by
jowl ! It's worse than Freud."

Dr. Barrack expressed further regrets con-
fusedly and indistinctly.

"We have been talking. Sir Alpheus,'*
said Sir Eliphaz, advancing as if to protect the
doctor from his speciaHst, "upon some very
absorbing topics. That must be our excuse
for this neglect. We have been discussing
education — and the universe. Fate, free-will,
predestination absolute." It is not every
building contractor can quote Milton.

The great surgeon regarded the patentee
of Temanite.

"Fate — fiddlesticks!" said Sir Alpheus
suddenly and rudely. " That's no excuse for
not meeting me." His bright little eyes
darted round the company and re>''ognized

Elihu Reproves Job 219

Mr. Huss. " What ! my patient not in bed !
Not even in bed ! Go to bed, sir ! Go to

He became extremely abusive to Dr.
Barrack. " You treat an operation, Sir, with
a levity ! "



§ 1

While Sir Alpheus grumbled loudly at the
unpreparedness of everything, Mr. Huss,
with the assistance of Dr. Barrack, walked
upstairs and disrobed himself.

This long discussion had taken a very
powerful grip upon his mind. Much remained
uncertain in his thoughts. He had still a
number of things he wanted to say, and these
proceedings preliminary to his vivisection
seemed to him to be irrelevant and tiresome
rites interrupting something far more im-

The bed, the instruments, the preparation
for anaesthesia, were to him no more than new
contributions to the argument. While he lay
on the bed with Dr. Barrack handling the
funnel hood that was to go over nose and
mouth for the administration of the chloro-


The Operation 221

form, he tried to point out that the very idea
of operative surgery was opposed to the
scientific fatalism of that gentleman. But Sir
Alpheus interrupted him. . . .

" Breathe deeply," said Dr. Barrack. . . .

" Breathe deeply.'^ . . .

The whole vast argumentative fabric that
had arisen in his mind swung with him
across an abyss of dread and mental inanity.
Whether he thought or dreamt what follows
it is impossible to say ; we can but record the
ideas that, like a crystalline bubble as great as
all things, filled his consciousness. He felt a
characteristic doubt whether the chloroform
would do its duty, and then came that twang
like the breaking of a violin string : —
Ploot. . . .

And still he did not seem to be insensible !
He was not insensible, and yet things had
changed. Dr. Elihii was still present, but
somehow Sir Kliphaz and Mr. Dad and Mr.
Farr, whom he had left downstairs, had come
back and were sitting on the ground — on the
ashes ; they were all seated gravely on a mound
of ashes and beneath a sky that blazed with
light. Sir Alj)hcus, the nurse, the bedroom,

222 The Undying Fire

had vanished. It seemed that they had been
the dream.

But this was the reahty, an enduring
reahty, this sackcloth and these reeking ash-
heaps outside the city gates. This was the
scene of an unending experiment and an im-
mortal argument. He was Job ; the same Job
who had sat here for thousands of years, and
this lean vulturous old man in the vast green
turban was Eliphaz the Temanite, the smaller
man who peered out of the cowl of a kind
of hooded shawl, was his friend Bildad the
Shuhite ; the eager, coarse face of the man in
unclean linen was Zophar the Naamathite;
and this fist-faced younger man who sat with
an air of false humility insolently judging them
all, was Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite
of the kindred of Ram. . . .

It was queer that there should have ever
been the fancy that these men were doctors or
schoolmasters or munition makers, a queer
veiling of their immortal quality in the tran-
sitory garments of a period. For ages they
had sat here and disputed, and for ages they
had still to sit. A little way off waited the
asses and camels and slaves of the three emirs,

The Operation 223

and the two Ethiopian slaves of Eliphaz had
been coming towards them bearing bowls of
fine grey ashes. (For EHphaz for sanitary
reasons did not use the common ashes of the
midden upon his head.) There, far away,
splashed green with palms and pierced between
pylons by a glittering arm of the river, were
the low brown walls of sun-dried brick, the
flat-roofed houses, and the twisted temple
towers of the ancient city of Uz, where first
this great argument had begun. East and west
and north and south stretched the wide levels
of the world, dotted with small date trees, and
above them was the measureless dome of
heaven, set with suns and stars and flooded
with a light.

This light had shone out since Elihu had
spoken, and it was not only a light but a voice
clear and luminous, before which Job's very
soul bowed and was still. . . .

" Who is this that darkeneth counsel by
words without knowledge ? "

By a great effort Job lifted up his eyes
to the zenith.

It was as if one shone there who was all,
and yet who comprehended powers and king-

224 The Undying Fire

doms, and it was as if a screen or shadow was
before his face. It was as if a dark figure
enhaloed in shapes and colours bent down
over the whole world and regarded it curi-
ously and malevolently, and it was as if this
dark figure was no more than a translucent
veil before an infinite and lasting radiance.
Was it a veil before the light, or did it not
rather nest in the very heart of the light and
spread itself out before the face of the light
and spread itself and recede and again expand
in a perpetual diastole and systole? It was
as if the voice that spoke was the voice of
God, and yet ever and again it was as if the
timbre of the voice was Satan. As the voice
spoke to Job, his friends listened and watched
him, and the eyes of Elihu shone like garnets
and the eyes of Eliphaz like emeralds, but the
eyes of Bildad were black like the eyes of a
lizard upon a wall, and Zophar had no eyes
but looked at him only with the dark shadows
beneath his knitted brows. As God spake
they all, and Job with them, became smaller
and smaller and shrank until they were the
minutest of conceivable things, until the
whole scene was a little toy ; they became

The Operation 225

unreal like discolorations upon a floating
falling disc of paper confetti, amidst great-
nesses unfathomable.

" Who is this that darkeneth counsel hy
-words without knowledge ? "

But in this dream that was dreamt by Mr.
Huss while he was under the anaesthetic, God
did not speak by words but by light ; there
were no sounds in his ears, but thoughts ran
like swift rivulets of fire through his brain and
gathered into pools and made a throbbing
pattern of wavelets, curve within curve, that
interlaced. . . .

The thoughts that it seemed to him that
God was speaking through his mind, can be
[)ut into words only after a certain fashion and
with great loss, for they were thoughts about
things beyond and above this world, and our
words are all made out of the names of things
and feelings in this world. Things that were
contradictory had become compatible, and
things incomprehensible seemed straightfor-
ward, because he was in a dream. It was as
if the an.'csthetic had released his ideas from
their anchr)r;ige to words and |)hrases and their
gravitation towards sensible realities, l^it it


226 The Undying Fire

was still the same line of thought he pursued
through the stars and spaces, that he had pur-
sued in the stuffy little room at Sundering on

It was somewhat after this fashion that
things ran through the mind of Mr. Huss. It
seemed to him at first that he was answering
the challenge of the voice that filled the world,
not of his own will but mechanically. He was
saying : " Then give me knowledge."

To which the answer was in the voice of
Satan and in tones of mockery. For Satan
had become very close and definite to Job, as a
dark face, time-worn and yet animated, that
sent out circle after circle of glowing colour
towards the bounds of space as a swimmer
sends waves towards the bank. " But what
have you got in the way of a vessel to hold your
knowledge if we gave it you ? ' '

" In the name of the God in my heart,"
said Job, " I demand knowledge and power."

'* Who are you? A pedagogue who gives
ill-prepared lessons about history in frowsty
rooms, and dreams that he has been training
his young gentlemen to play leap-frog amidst
the stars."

The Operation 227

"I am Man," said Job.

But that queer power of slipping one's
identity and losing oneself altogether which
dreams will give, had come upon Mr. Huss.
He answered with absolute conviction : " I am
Man. Down there I was Huss, but here I am
Man. I am every man who has ever looked
up towards this light of God. I am everyone
who has thought or worked or willed for the
race. I am all the explorers and leaders and
teachers that man has ever had."

The argument evaporated. He carried his
point as such points are carried in dreams.
The discussion slipped to another of the issues
that had been troubling him.

" You would plumb the deep of know-
ledge ; you would scale the heights of space.
. . . There is no limit to either."

" Then I will plumb and scale for ever. I
will defeat you."

" But you will never destroy nic."

" I will fight my way through you to

"And never attain him." . . .

It seemed as though yet another voice w*:*

228 The Undying Fire

speaking. For a while the veil of Satan was
drawn aside. The thoughts it uttered ran like
incandescent molten metal through the mind
of Job, but whether he was saying these things
to God or whether God was saying these things
to him, did not in any way appear.

" So life goes on for ever. And in no
other way could it go on. In no other way
could there- be such a being as life. For how
can you struggle if there is a certainty of
victory ? Why should you struggle if the end
is assured? How can you rise if there is no
depth into which you can fall? The black-
nesses and the evils about you are the warrants
of reahty. . . .

" Through the centuries the voice of Job
had complained and will complain. Through
the centuries the fire of his faith flares and
flickers and threatens to go out. But is Job
justified in his complaints?

'* Is Job indeed justified in his complaints?
His mind has been coloured by the colour of
misfortune. He has seen all the world reflect-
ing the sufferings of his body. He has dwelt
upon illness and cruelty and death. But is
there any evil or cruelty or suffering that is

The Operation 229

beyond the possibility of human control?
Were that so then indeed he might complain
that God has mocked him. . . . Are sunsets
ugly and oppressive? Do mountains disgust,
do distant hills repel? Is there any flaw in the
starry sky? If the lives of beasts and men are
dark and ungracious, yet is not the texture of
their bodies lovely beyond comparison? You
have sneered because the beauty of cell and
tissue may build up an idiot. Why, oh Man,
do they build up an idiot? Have you no will,
have you no understanding, that you suffer
such things to be? The darkness and un-
graciousness, the evil and the cruelty, are no
more than a challenge to you. In you lies the
power to rule ail these things. ..."

Through the tumbled clouds of his mind
broke the sunlight of this phrase : " The power
to rule all these things. The power to

mle "

" You have dwelt overmuch upon pain.
Tain is a swift distress; it ends and is forgot-
ten. Without memory and fear pain is
nothing, a contradiction to be lieeded, a warn-
ing to be taken. Without pain what would
life become? Pain is the master only of

230 The Undying Fire

craven men. It is in man's power to rule it.
It is in man's power to rule all things. . . ."

It was as if the dreaming patient debated
these ideas with himself ; and again it was as
if he were the universal all and Job and Satan
and God disputed together within him. The
thoughts in his mind raced faster and sud-
denly grew bright and glittering, as the
waters grow bright when they come racing
out of the caves at Han into the light of day.
Green-faced, he murmured and stirred in his
great debate while the busy speciahst plied his
scalpels, and Dr. Barrack whispered direc-
tions to the intent nurse.

'* Another whiff," said Doctor Barrack.

*' A cloud rolls back from my soul. . . ."

" I have been through great darkness. I
have been through deep waters. ..."

"Has not your life had laughter in it?
Has the freshness of the summer morning
never poured joy through your being? Do
you know nothing of the embrace of the lover,
cheek to cheek or lip to lip? Have you
never swum out into the sunlit sea or shouted
on a mountain slope? Is there no joy in a
handclasp? Your son, your son, you say,

The Operation 231

is dead with honour. Is there no joy in
that honour? Clean and straight was your
son, and beautiful in his life. Is that
nothing to thank God for.f* Have you never
played with happy children? Has no boy
ever answered to your teaching — giving back
more than you gave him ? Dare you deny the
joy of your appetites : the first mouthful of
roast red beef on the frosty day and the deep
draught of good ale? Do you know nothing
of the task well done, nor of sleep after a day
of toil ? Is there no joy for the farmer in the
red ploughed fields, and the fields shooting
with green blades? When the great prows
smite the waves and the aeroplane hums in the
sky, is man still a hopeless creature? Can
you watch the beat and swing of machinery
and still despair? Your illness has coloured
the world ; a little season of misfortune has
hidden the light from your eyes.'*

It was as if the dreamer pushed his way
through the outskirts of a great forest and
approached the open, but it was not through
trees that he thnist his way but through l)ars
and nets and interlacing curves of blinding,
mnny-coloured light towards the clear promise

232 The Undying Fire

beyond. He had grown now to an incredible
vastness so that it was no h)nger earth upon
which he set his feet but that crystalhne pave-
ment whose transkicent depths contain the
stars. Yet though he approached the open
he never reached the open ; the iridescent net
that had seemed to grow thin, grew dense
again; he was still struggling, and the black
doubts that had lifted for a moment swept
down upon his soul again. And he realized
he was in a dream, a dream that was d^il^^^ng
swiftly now to its close.

*'Oh God!" he cried, "answer me!
For Satan has mocked me sorely. Answer
me before I lose sight of you again. Am I
right to fight? Am I right to come out of my
little earth, here above the stars? "
Right if you dare."

Shall I conquer and prevail? Give me
your promise ! "

" Everlastingly you may conquer and find
fresh worlds to conquer."

"Mai/— but shall I?"

It was as if the torrent of molten thoughts
stopped suddenly. It was as if everything

The Operation 233


Answer me," he cried.

Slowly the shining thoughts moved on

" So long as your courage endures you
will conquer. . . .

" If you have courage, although the night
be dark, although the present battle be bloody
and cruel and end in a strange and evil
fashion, nevertheless victory shall be yours —
in a way you will understand — when victory
comes. Only have courage. On the courage
in your heart all things depend. By courage
it is that the stars continue in their courses,
day by day. It is the courage of life alone
thai keeps sky and earth apart. ... If that
courage fail, if that sacred fire go out, then
all things fail and all things go out, all things
— good and evil, space and time."

" Leaving nothing? "


" Nothing," he echoed, and the word
spread like a dark and darkening mask across
the face of all things.

And then as if to mark the meaning of the
word, it sccincfl to him that the whole universe
began lo move inwaril upon it-scIf, l.-istcr and

234 The Undying Fire

faster, until at last with an incredible haste it
rushed together. He resisted this collapse in
vain, and with a sense of overwhelmed effort.
The white light of God and the whirling
colours of the universe, the spaces between the
stars — it was as if an unseen fist gripped them
together. They rushed to one point as water
in a clepsydra rushes to its hole. The whole
universe became small, became a little thing,
diminished to the size of a coin, of a spot,
of a pin-point, of one intense black mathe-
matical point, and — vanished. He heard his
own voice crying in the void like a little thing
blown before the wind : " But will my courage
endure? " The question went unanswered.

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