H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

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but hard upon that freshness follow the pests
and parasites, the creatures that corrupt and
sting, the minions of waste and pain and
lassitude and fever. . . .

" You may say that I am dwelling too
much upon the defects in the lives of plants,
which do not feel, and of insects and small
creatures which may feel in a dijffcrent manner
from ourselves ; but indeed their decay and
imperfection make up the common texture of
life. Even the things that live are only half
alive. You may argue that at least the rarer,
larger beasts bring with them a certain delight
and dignity into the world. But consider the
lives of the herbivora ; they are all hunted
creatures ; fear is their habit of mind ; even the
great Indian buffalo is given to panic flights.
They are incessantly worried by swarms of in-
sects. When they are not apathetic they



H



gS The Undying Fire

appear to be angry, exasperated with life ;
their seasonal outbreaks of sex are evidently a
violent torment to them, an occasion for fierce
bello wings, mutual persecution and desperate
combats. Such beasts as the rhinoceros or the
buffalo are habitually in a rage ; they will run
amuck for no conceivable reason, and so too
will many elephants, betraying a sort of
organic spite against all other living things. . . .

"And if we turn to the great carnivores,
who should surely be the lords of the jungle
world, their lot seems to be not one whit more
happy. The tiger leads a life of fear ; a dirty
scrap of rag will turn him from his path.
Much of his waking life is prowling hunger;
when he kills he eats ravenously, he eats to the
pitch of discomfort ; he lies up afterwards in
reeds or bushes, savage, disinclined to move.
The hunter must beat him out, and he comes
out sluggishly and reluctantly to die. His
paws, too, are strangely tender ; a few miles
of rock will make them bleed, they gather
thorns. . . . His mouth is so foul that his bite
is a poisoned bite. . . .

" All that day I struggled against this per-
suasion that the utmost happiness of any



The Three Visitors 99

animal is at best like a transitory smile on a
grim and inhuman countenance. I tried to
recall some humorous and contented-looking
creatures. ...

" That only recalled a fresh horror. . . .

" You will have seen pictures and photo-
graphs of penguins. They will have conveyed
to you the sort of effect I tried to recover.
They express a quaint and jolly gravity, an
aldermanic contentment. But to me now the
mere thought of a penguin raises a vision of
distress. I will tell you. . . . One of my old
boys came to me a year or so ago on his return
from a South Polar expedition ; he told me the
true story of these birds. Their lives, he said
— he was speaking more particularly of the
king penguin — are tormented by a monstrously
exaggerated maternal instinct, an instinct
shared by both sexes, which is a necessary
condition of survival in the crowded rookeries
of that frozen environment. And that instinct
makes life one long torment for them. There
is always a great smashing of eggs there
through various causes ; there is an excessive
mortality among the chicks ; they slip down
crevasses, they freeze to death and so forth,



100 The Undying Fire

three-quarters of each year's brood perish, and
without this extravagant passion the species
would become extinct. So that every bird is
afflicted with desire and anxiety to brood upon
and protect a chick. But each couple pro-
duces no more than one egg a year ; eggs get
broken, they roll away into the water, there is
always a shortage, and every penguin that has
an egg has to guard it jealously, and each one
that has not an egg is impelled to steal or cap-
ture one. Some in their distress will mother
pebbles or scraps of ice, some fortunate in
possession will sit for days without leaving the
nest in spite of the gnawings of the intense
Antarctic hunger. To leave a nest for a
moment is to tempt a robber, and the intensity
of the emotions aroused is shown by the fact
that they will fight to the death over a stolen
egg. You see that these pictures of rookeries
of apparently comical birds are really pictures
of poor dim-minded creatures worried and
strained to the very limit of their powers.
That is what their lives have always been. . . .
" But the king penguin draws near the end
of its history. Let me tell you how its history
is ckxsing. Let me tell you of what is hap-



The Three Visitors loi

pening in the peaceful Southern Seas — now.
This old boy of mine was in great distress
because of a vile traffic that has arisen. . . .
Unless it is stopped, it will destroy these
rookeries altogether. These birds are being
murdered wholesale for their oil. Parties of
men land and club them upon their nests, from
which the poor, silly things refuse to stir. The
dead and stunned, the living and the dead to-
gether, are dragged away and thrust into iron
crates to be boiled down for their oil. The
broken living with the dead. . . . Each bird
yields about a farthing's profit, but it pays to
kill them at that, and so the thing is done.
The people who run these operations, you see,
have had a sound commercial training. They
believe that when God gives us power He
means us to use it, and that what is profitable
is just."

'•Well really," protested Mr. Dad.
"Really! "

Mr. Farr also betrayed a disposition to
speak. He cleared his throat, his uneasy
hands worried the edge of the table, his face
shone. " Sir EHphaz," he said. . . .

*' Let me finish," said Mr. Huss, "for I



102 The Undying Fire

have still to remind you of the most stubborn
facts of all in such an argument as this. Have
you ever thought of the significance of such
creatures as the entozoa, and the vast multi-
tudes of other sorts of specialized parasites
whose very existence is cruelty? There are
thousands of orders and genera of insects,
Crustacea, arachnids, worms, and lowlier
things, which are adapted in the most compli-
cated way to prey upon the living and suffering
tissues of their fellow creatures, and which can
live in no other way. Have you ever thought
what that means? If forethought framed
these horrors what sort of benevolence was
there in that forethought? I will not distress
you by describing the life cycles of any of these
creatures too exactly. You must know of many
of them. I will not dwell upon those wasps, for
example, which lay their eggs in the living
bodies of victims which the young will gnaw to
death slowly day by day as they develop, nor
will I discuss this unmeaning growth of cells
which has made my body its soil. . . . Nor any
one of our thousand infectious fevers that fall
upon us — without reason, without justice. . . .
" Man is of all creatures the least subjected



The Three Visitors 103

to internal parasites. In the brief space of a
few hundred thousand years he has changed his
food, his habitat and every attitude and habit
of his hfe, and comparatively few species,
thirty or forty at most, I am told, have been
able to follow his changes and specialize them-
selves to him under these fresh conditions ; yet
even man can entertain some fearful guests.
Every time you drink open water near a sheep
pasture you may drink the larval liver fluke,
which will make your liver a little township of
vile creatures until they eat it up, until they
swarm from its oozing ruins into your body
cavity and destroy you. In Europe this is a
rare fate for a man, but in China there are
wide regions where the fluke abounds and rots
the life out of thousands of people. . . . The
fluke is but one sample of such feats of the
Creator. An unwashed leaf of lettuce may
be the means of planting a parasitic cyst in
your brain to dethrone your reason ; a feast of
underdone pork may transfer to you from the
swine the creeping death torture of trichinosis.
. . . But all that men suffer in these matters
is nothing to the suffering of the beasts. The
torments of the beasts are finished and com-



104 The Undying Fire

plete. My biological master tells me that he
rarely opens a cod or dogfish without finding
bunches of some sort of worm or such like
pallid lodger in possession. He has rows of
little tubes with the things he has found in the
bodies of rabbits. . . .

" But I will not disgust you further. . . .

" Is this a world made for the happiness of
sentient things?

" I ask you, how is it possible for man to
be other than a rebel in the face of such facts?
How can he trust the Maker who has designed
and elaborated and finished these parasites in
their endless multitude and variety? For
these things are not in the nature of sudden
creations and special judgments ; they have
been produced fearfully and wonderfully by a
process of evolution as slow and deliberate as
our own. How can Man trust such a Maker
to treat him fairly? Why should we shut our
eyes to things that stare us in the face ? Either
the world of life is the creation of a being in-
spired by a malignancy at once filthy, petty
and enormous, or it displays a carelessness, an
indifference, a disregard for jiLstice. . . ."

The voice of Mr. Huss faded out.



Q



10



For some time Mr. Farr had been mani-
festing signs of impatience. The pause gave
him his opportunity. He spoke with a sort of
restrained vohibility.

" Sir Eliphaz, Mr. Dad, after what has
passed in relation to myself, I would ha^•e pre-
ferred to have said nothing in this discussion.
Nothing. So far as I myself am concerned, I
will still say nothing. But upon some issues
it is impossible to keep silence. Mr. Huss
has said some terrible things, things that
must surely never be said at Woldingstan-
ton. . . .

" Think of what such teaching as this may
mean among young and susceptible boys !
Think of such stuff in the school pulpit !
Charv' as I am of all wrangling, and I would
not set myself up for a moment to wTangle
against Mr. IIuss, yet I feel that this ca\illing
against God's universe, this multitude of evil
words, must be ani>wercd. It is imperative bo

105



io6 The Undying Fire

answer it, plainly and sternly. It is our duty
to God, who has made us what we are. . . .

*' Mr. Huss, in your present diseased state
you seem incapable of realizing the enormous
egotism of all this depreciation of God's mar-
vels. But indeed you have suffered from that
sort of incapacity always. It is no new thing.
Have I not chafed under your arrogant assur-
ance for twelve long years? Your right, now
as ever, is the only right ; your doctrine alone
is pure. Would that God could speak and
open his lips against you ! How his voice
would shatter you and us and everything
about us ! How you would shrivel amidst
your blasphemies !

"Excuse me, gentlemen, if I am too
forcible," said Mr. Farr, moistening his white
lips, but Mr. Dad nodded fierce approval.

Thus encouraged, Mr. Farr proceeded.
" When first I came into this room, Mr. Huss,
I was full of pity for your affliction — I think
we all were — we were pitiful ; but now it is
clear to me that God exacts from you less
than your iniquity deserves. Surely the
supreme sin is pride. You criticize and be-
little God's universe, but what sort of a



The Three Visitors 107

universe would you give us, Mr. Huss, if you
were the Creator? Pardon me if I startle
you, gentlemen, but that is a fair question to
ask. For it is clear to me now, Mr. Huss,
that no less than that will satisfy you. Wold-
ingstanton, for all the wonders you have
wrought there, in spite of the fact that never
before and never again can there be such a
head, in spite of the fact that you have lit such
a candle there as may one day set the world
ablaze, is clearly too small a field for you.
Headmaster of the universe is your position.
Then, and then alone, could you display your
gifts to the full. Then cats would cease to
eat birds, and trees grow on in perfect sym-
metry until they cumbered the sky. I can
dimly imagine the sort of world that it would
be ; the very fleas reformed and trained under
your hand, would be flushed with health and
happiness and doing the work of boy scouts ;
every blade of grass would be at least six feet
long. As for the liver fluke — but I cannot
solve the problem of the liver fluke. I sup-
pose you will provide euthanasia for all the
parasites. ..."

Abrui)lly Mr. Farr passed from this vein



io8 The Undying Fire

of terrible humour to an earnest and pleading
manner. " Mr. Huss, with mortal danger so
close to you, I entreat you to reconsider all
this wild and wicked talk of yours. You take
a few superficial aspects of the world and frame
a judgment on them ; you try with the poor
foot-rule of your mind to measure the plans of
Gk>d, plans which are longer than the earth,
wider than the sea. I ask you, how can such
insolence help you in this supreme emergency?
There can be little time left. ..."

Providence was manifestly resolved to give
Mr. Farr the maximum of dramatic effect.
" But what is this? " said Mr. Farr. He stood
up and looked out of the window.

Somebody had rung the bell, and now,
with an effect of impatience, was rapping at
the knocker of Sea View.



CHAPTER THE FOURTH

DO WE TRULY DIE?

§ 1

Mrs. Croome was heard in the passage, some-
one was admitted, there were voices, and the
handle of the parlour door was turned.
" 'As'ent E come then?" they heard the
voice of Mrs. Croome through the open-
ing. Dr. Elihu Barrack appeared in the
doorway.

He was a round-headed young man with a
clean-shaven face, a mouth that was deter-
minedly determined and slightly oblique, a
short nose, and a general expression of reso-
lution ; the fact that he had an artificial leg
was scarcely perceptible in his bearing. He
considered the four men before him for a
moment, and then addressed himself to Mr.
Huss in a tone of brisk autlxority. " You
ought to be in bed," he said.

109



no The Undying Fire

" I had this rather important discussion,"
said Mr. Huss, with a gesture portending
introductions.

" But sitting up will fatigue you," the
doctor insisted, sticking to his patient.

" It won't distress me so much as leaving
these things unsaid would have done."

"Opinions may differ upon that," said
Mr. Farr darkly.

"We are still far from any settlement of
our difficulties," said Sir Eliphaz to the
universe.

" I have indicated my view at any rate,"
said Mr. Huss. " I suppose now Sir Alpheus
is here "

" He isn't here," said Dr. Barrack neatly.
" He telegraphs to say that he is held up, and
will come by the next train. So you get a
reprieve, Mr. Huss."

" In that case I shall go on talking."

" You had better go to bed."

"No. I couldn't lie quiet." And Mr.
Huss proceeded to name his guests to Dr.
Barrack, who nodded shortly to each of them
in turn, and said: " Pleased-t-meet you."
His face betrayed no excess of pleasure. His



Do We Truly Die? m

eye was hard. He remained standing, as if
waiting for them to display symptoms.

" Our discussion has wandered far," said
Sir Eliphaz. " Our original business here was
to determine the future development of
Woldingstanton School, which we think
should be made more practical and technical
than hitherto, and less concerned with history
and philosophy than it has been under Mr.
Huss. (Won't you sit down. Doctor?)"

The doctor sat down, still watching Sir
Eliphaz with hard intelligence.

"Well, we have drifted from that," Sir
Eliphaz continued.

"Not so far as you may think," said Mr.
Huss.

" At any rate Mr. Huss has been regaling
us with a discourse upon the miseries of life,
how we are all eaten up by parasites and
utterly wretched, and how everything is
wretched and this an accursed world ruled
either by a cruel God or a God so careless as
to be practically no God at all."

" Nice stuff for nineteen eighteen -i.A,"
said Mr. Dad, putting much meaning into the



A.D.



112 The Undying Fire



(<



Since I left Woldingstanton and came
here," said Mr. Huss, *' I have done Httle else
but think. I have not slept during the night,
I have had nothing to occupy me during the
day, and I have been thinking about funda-
mental things. I have been forced to revise
my faith, and to look more closely than I have
ever done before into the meaning of my be-
liefs and into my springs of action. I have
been vi^renched away from that liabitual con-
fidence in the order of things which seemed
the more natural state for a mind to be in.
But that has only widened a difference that
already existed between me and these three
gentlemen, and that was showing very plainly
in the days when success srt:ill justified my grip
upon Woldingstanton. Suddenly, swiftly, I
have had misfortune following upon misfor-
tune — without cause or justification. I am
thrown now into the darkest doubt and dis-
may ; the universe seems harsh and black to
me ; whereas formerly I believed that at the
core of it and universally pervading it was
the Will of a God of Light. ... I have
always denied, even when my faith was un-
dimmed, that the God of Righteousness ruled



Do We Truly Die ? 113

this world in detail and entirety, giving us day
by day our daily rewards and punishments.
These gentlemen on the contrary do believe
that. They say that God does rule the world
traceably and directly, and that success is the
measure of his approval and pain and suffering
the fulfilment of unrighteousness. And as for
what has this to do with education — it has all
to do with education. You can settle no prac-
tical questions until you have settled such dis-
putes as this. Before you can prepare boys
to play their part in the world you must ask
what is this world for which you prepare them ;
is it a tragedy or comedy ? What is the nature
of this drama in which they are to play? "

Dr. Barrack indicated that this statement
was noted and approved.

" For clearly," said Mr. Huss, " if success
is the justification of hfe you must train for
success. There is no need for men to under-
stand life, then, so long as they do their job in
it. That is the opinion of these governors of
mine. It has been the opinion of most men
of the world — always. Obey the Thing that
Is ! that is the lesson they would have taught
tt my boys. Acquiesce. Life for them \s



114 The Undying Fire

not an adventure, not a struggle, but simply
obedience and the enjoyment of rewards. . . .
That, Dr. Barrack, is what such a technical
education as they want set up at Wolding-
stanton really means. . . .

"But I have believed always and taught
always that what God demands from man is
his utmost effort to co-operate and under-
stand. I have taught the imagination, first
and most ; I have made knowledge, knowledge
of what man is and what man's world is and
what man may be, which is the adventure of
mankind, the substance of all my teaching.
At Woldingstanton I have taught philosophy ;
I have taught the whole history of mankind.
If I could not have done that without leaving
chemistry and physics, mathematics and
languages out of the curriculum altogether I
would have left them out. And you see why,
Dr. Barrack."

"I see your position certainly," said Dr.
Barrack.

" And now that my heavens are darkened,
now that my eyes have been opened to the
wretchedness, futility and horror in the tex-
ture of life, I still cling, I cling more than



Do We Truly Die ? 115

ever, to the spirit of righteousness within me.
If there is no God, no mercy, no human kind-
liness in the great frame of space and time, if
life is a writhing torment, an itch upon one
little planet, and the stars away there in the
void no more than huge empty flares, signify-
ing nothing, then all the brighter shines the
flame of God in my heart. If the God in my
heart is no son of any heavenly father then is
he Prometheus the rebel ; it does not shake
my faith that he is the Master for whom I
will live and die. And all the more do I cHng
to this fire of human tradition we have lit upon
this little planet, if it is the one gleam of spirit
in all the windy vastness of a dead and empty
universe."

Dr. Barrack seemed about to interrupt
with some comment, and then, it was mani-
fest, deferred his interpolation.

"Loneliness and littleness," said Mr.
Huss, " harshness in the skies above and in
the texture of all things. If so it is that things
are, so we must see them. Every baby in its
mother's arms feels safe in a safe creation ;
every child in its home. Many men and
women have lived and died happy in that illu-



ii6 The Undying Fire

sion of security. But this war has torn away
the veil of ilhision from millions of men. . . .
Mankind is coming of age. We can see life
at last for what it is and what it is not. Here
we spin upon a ball of rock and nickel-steel,
upon w^hich a film of water, a few score miles
of air, lie like the bloom upon a plum. All
about that ball is space unfathomable ; all the
suns and stars are mere grains of matter scat-
tered through a vastness that is otherwise
utterly void. To that thin bloom upon a
particle we are confined ; if we tunnel down
into the earth, presently it is too hot for us
to live ; if we soar five miles into the air we
freeze, the blood runs out of our vessels into
our lungs, we die suffocated and choked with
blood. . . .

" Out of the htter of muds and gravels that
make the soil of the world we have picked
some traces of the past of our race and the
past of life. In our obsei'vatories and labora-
tories we have gleaned some hints of its
future. We have a vision of the opening of
the story, but the first pages we cannot read.
We discover Hfe, a mere stir amidst the mud,
creeping along the littoral of warm and shal-



Do We Truly Die ? 117

low seas in the brief nights and days of a
swiftly rotating earth. We follow through
vast ages the story of life's extension into the
waters, and its invasion of the air and land.
Plants creep upon the land and raise them-
selves by stems towards the sun ; a few worms
and crustaceans follow, insects appear ; and at
length come our amphibious ancestors, breath-
ing air by means of a swimming bladder used
as a lung. From the first the land animals are
patched-up creatures. They eke out the fish
ear they inherit by means of an ear drum made
out of a gill slit. You can trace scale and fin
in bone and limb. At last this green scum of
vegetable life with the beasts entangled in its
meshes creeps in the form of forests over the
hills ; grass spreads across the plains, and great
animals follow it out into the open. What
does it all signify? No more than green moss
spreading over an old tile. Steadily the earth
cools and the day lengthens. Through long
ages of warmth and moisture the wealth of
unmeaning life increases ; come ages of chill
and retrocession, glacial periods, and periods
when whole genera and orders die out. Comes
man at last, the destroyer, the war-maker,



ii8 The Undying Fire

setting fire to the world, burning the forests,
exhausting the earth. What hope has he in
the end? Always the day drags longer and
longer and always the sun radiates its energy
away. A time will come when the sun will
glow dull red in the heavens, shorn of all its
beams, and neither rising nor setting. A day
will come when the earth will be as dead and
frozen as the moon. ... A spirit in our hearts,
the God of mankind, cries ' No ! ' but is there
any voice outside us in all the cold and empty
universe that echoes that ' No ' ? "



§ 2

"Ah, Mr. Huss, Mr. Huss ! " said Sir
Eliphaz.

His eye seemed seeking some point of
attachment, and found it at last in the steel
engraving of Queen Victoria giving a Bible to
a dusky potentate, which adorned the little
parlour.

"Your sickness colours your vision," said
Sir Eliphaz. " What you say is so profoundly
true and so utterly false. Mysteriously
evolved, living as you say in a mere bloom of
air and moisture upon this tiny planet, how.
could we exist, how could we continue, were
we not sustained in every moment by the
Mercy and Wisdom of God? The flimsier life
is, the greater the wonder of his Providence.
Not a sparrow," said Sir Eliphaz, and then
enlarging the metaphor with a boom in his
voice, " not a hair of my head, falls to the
ground without His knowledge and consent.
... I am a man much occupied. 1 cannot do

119



120 The Undying Fire

the reading I would. But while you have been
reviling the works of God I have been thinking
of some wonders. ..."

Sir Ehphaz lifted up a hand with thumb
and finger opposed as though he held some
exquisite thing therein.

" The human eye," said Sir Eliphaz, with


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