H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

The undying fire, a contemporary novel online

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an intensity of appreciation that brought tears
to his own. . . . •

" The cross fertilization of plants. . . ,

"The marvellous transformations of the
higher insects. . . .

" The highly elaborate wing scales of the
Lepidoptera.

" The mercy that tempers the wind to the
shorn lamb. . . .

' ' The dark warm marvels of embryology ;
the order and rhythm and obedience with
which the cells of the fertilized ovum divide to
build up the perfect body of a living thing,
yea, even of a human being — in God's image.
First there is one cell, then two ; the process of
division is extremely beautiful and is called, I
believe, karyokinesis ; then after the two come
four, each knows his part, each divides cer-
tainly and marvellously ; eight, sixteen, thirty-



Do We Truly Die ? 121

two. . . . Each of those thirty-two cells is a
complete thirty-second part of a man. Pre-
sently this cell says, ' I become a hair ' ; this,
' a blood corpuscle,' this ' a cell in the brain
of a man, to mirror the universe.' Each goes
to his own appointed place. . . .

*' Would that we could do the like ! " said
Sir Eliphaz.

" Then consider water," said Sir Eliphaz.
" I am not deeply versed in physical science,
but there are certain things about water that
fill me with wonder and amaze. All other
liquids contract when they solidify. With
one or two exceptions — useful in the arts.
Water expands. Now water is a non-con-
ductor of heat, and if water contracted and
became heavier when it became ice, it would
sink to the bottom of the polar seas and
remain there unmelted. More ice would sink
down to it, until all the ocean was ice and life
ceased. But water does not do so. No ! . . .
Were it not for the vapour of water, which
catches and entangles the sun's heat, this world
would scorch by day and freeze by night.
Mercy upon mercy. I myself," said Sir
Ehphuz in tones of happy confession, "am



122 The Undying Fire

ninety per cent, water. . . . We all are.

• • •

" And think how, mercifully winter is
tempered to us by the snow ! When water
freezes in the air in winter-time, it does not
come pelting down as lumps of ice. Conceiv-
ably it might, and then where should we be?
But it belongs to the hexagonal system — a
system prone to graceful frameworks. It
crystallizes into the most delicate and beauti-
ful lace of six-rayed crystals — wonderful
under the microscope. They flake delicately.
They lie loosely one upon another. Out of
ice is woven a warm garment like wool, white
like wool because like wool it is full of air
— a warm garment for bud and shoot. . . .

" Then again — you revile God for the
parasites he sends. But are they not sent to
teach us a great moral lesson? Each one for
himself and God for us all. Not so the para-
sites. They choose a life of base dependence.
With that comes physical degeneration, swift
and sure. They are the Socialists of nature.
They lose their limbs. They lose colour,
become bleached, unappetising beings, vile
creatures of sloth — often microscopic. Do



Do We Truly Die? 123

they not urge us by their shameful lives to
self help and exertion? Yet even parasites
have a use ! I am told that were it not for
parasitic bacteria man could not digest his
food. A lichen again is made up of an alga
and a fungus, mutually parasitic. That is
called symbiosis — living together for a mutual
benefit. Maybe every one of those thousands
of parasites you deem so horrible is working
its way upward towards an arrangement "

Sir Eliphaz weighed his words : " Some
mutually advantageous arrangement with its
host. A paying guest.

" And finally," said Sir Eliphaz, with the
roll of distant thunder in his voice, " think of
the stately procession of life upon the earth,
through a myriad of forms the glorious
crescendo of evolution, up to its climax, man.
What a work is man ! The paragon of
creation, the microcosm of the cosmos, the
ultimate birth of time. . . . And you would
have us doubt the guiding hand! "

lie ceased with a gesture.

Mr. Dad made a noise like responses in
church.



§ 3

" A certain beauty in the world is no
mark of God's favour," said Mr. Huss.
*' There is no beauty one may not balance by
an equal ugliness. The wart-hog and the
hyaena, the tapeworm and the stinkhorn, are
equally God's creations. Nothing you have
said points to an>i;hing but a cold indifference
towards us of this order in which we live.
Beauty happens ; it is not given. Pain,
suffering, happiness ; there is no heed. Only
in the heart of man burns the fire of
righteousness."

For a time Mr. Huss was silent. Then
he went on answering Sir Eliphaz.

*' You spoke of the wonder of the cross-
fertilization of plants. But do you not know
that half these curious and elaborate adapta-
tions no longer work? Scarcely was their
evolution completed before the special need
that produced them ceased. Half the intricate
flowers you see are as futile as the ruins of

124



Do We Truly Die? 125

Palmyra. Tliey are self-teitilized or wind-
fertilized. The transformation of the higher
insects which give us our gnats and wasps, our
malaria and apple-maggots in due season, are
a matter for human astonishment rather than
human gratitude. If there is any design in
these strange and intricate happenings, surely
it is the design of a misplaced and inhuman
ingenuity. The scales of the lepidoptera,
again, have wasted their glittering splendours
for millions of years. If they were meant for
man, why do the most beautiful species fly by
night in the tropical forests? As for the
human eye, oculists and opticians are scarcely
of your opinion. You hymn the peculiar
properties of water that make life possible.
They make it possible. Do they make it
other than it is?

" You have talked of the marvels of
embryonic growth in the egg. I admit the
wonderful precision of the process ; but how
does it touch my doubts? Rather it confuses
them, as though the Ciod who niles the world
nilcd not so much in love as in irony. Won-
derfully indeed do the cells divide and the
chromoplas'ts of the division slide along their



126 The Undying Fire

spindle lines. They divide not as if a divine
hand guided them but with remorseless logic,
with the pitiless consistency of a mathe-
matical process. They divide and marshal
themselves and turn this way and that, to
make an idiot, to make a congenital cripple.
Millions of such cripples pile up — and pro-
duce the swaying drunkard at the pot-house
door.

" You talk of the crescendo of evolution,
of the first beginnings of life, and how the
scheme unfolds until it culminates in us — us,
here, under these circumstances, you and Mr.
Dad and Farr and me — waiting for the knife.
Would that I could see any such crescendo I
I see change indeed and change and change,
without plan and without heart. Consider
for example the migrations of birds across the
Mediterranean, and the tragic absurdity of its
incidents. Ages ago, and for long ages, there
stretched continuous land connexions from
Africa to Europe. Then the instinct was
formed ; the birds flew over land from the
heated south to the northern summer to build
and breed. Slowly age by age the seas crept
over those necks of land. Those linking tracts



Do We Truly Die? 127

have been broken now for a hundred thousand
years, and yet over a constantly widening sea,
in which myriads perish exhausted, instinct,
bhnd and pitiless, still drives those birds.
And again think of those vain urgencies for
some purpose long since forgotten, that drive
the swarming lemmings to their fate. And
look at man, your evolution's crown ; con-
sider his want of balance, the invalidism of his
women, the extravagant disproportion of his
desires. Consider the Record of the Rocks
honestly and frankly, and where can you trace
this crescendo you suggest? There have been
great ages of marvellous tree-ferns and won-
derful forest swamps, and all those glorious
growths have died. They did not go on ; they
reached a climax and died ; another sort of
plant succeeded them. Then think of all that
wonderful fauna of the Mesozoic times, the
age of Leviathan ; the theriodonts, reptilian
beasts, the leaping dinosaurs, the mososaurs
and suchlike monsters of the deep, the bat-
winged pterodactyls, the plesiosaurs and
ichthyosaurs. Think of the marvels of the
Mesozoic seas ; the thousands of various
ammonites, the wealth of fish life. Across



128 The Undying Fire

all that world of life swept death, as the wet
fingers of a child wipe a drawing from a slate.
They left no descendants, they clambered to
a vast variety and complexity and ceased.
The dawn of the Eocene was the bleak dawn
of a denuded world. Crescendo if you will,
but thereafter diminuendo, pianissimo. And
then once again from fresh obscure starting-
points far down the stem life swelled, and
swelled again, only to dwindle. The world we
live in to-day is a meagre spectacle beside the
abundance of the earlier Tertiary time, when
Behemoth in a thousand forms, Deinothe-
rium, Titanotherium, Helladotherium, sabre-
toothed tiger, a hundred sorts of elephant,
and the like, pushed through the jungles that
are now this mild world of to-day. Where is
that crescendo now ? Crescendo ! Through
those long ages our ancestors were hiding
under leaves and climbing into trees to be out
of the way of the crescendo. As the motif
of a crescendo they sang exceedingly small.
And now for a little w^hile the world is ours,
and we wax in our turn. To what good?
To what end? Tell me, you who say the
world is good, tell me the end. How can we



Do We Truly Die ? 129

escape at last the common fate under the
darkling sky of a frozen world? "

He paused for some moments, weary 5\'ith

speaking.

" There is no comfort," he said, "in the
flowers or the stars ; no assurance in the past
and no sure hope in the future. There is
nothing but the God of faith and courage in
the hearts of men. . . . And He gives no
sign of power, no earnest of victory. . . .
He gives no sign. ..."

Whereupon Sir Eliphaz breathed the
word : '* Immortality I "

" Let me say a word or two upon
Immortality," said Sir Eliphaz, breaking
suddenly into eagerness, " for that, I pre-
simie, is the thing we have forgotten. That,
I see, is the difference between us and you,
Mr. Huss ; that is why we can sit here, con-
tent to play our partial roles, knowing full
surely that some day the V^roken lines and in-
consecutivenesses that perplex us in this life
will all be revealed and resolved into their
perfect circles, while you to whom this
earthly life is all and final, you must needs
be a rebel, you must needs preach a doctrine
J



130 The Undying Fire

between defiance and despair. ... If
indeed death ended all! Ah! Then indeed
you might claim that reason was on your side.
The afflictions of man are very many. Why
should I deny it? "

The patentee and chief proprietor of the
Temanite blocks paused for a moment.

" Yes," he said, peering up through his
eyebrows at the sky, " that is the real issue.
Blind to that, you are blind to everything."

" I don't know whether I am with you on
this question of immortality. Sir Eliphaz,"
warned Dr. Barrack, coughing shortly.

" For my part I'm altogether with him,"
said Mr. Dad. " If there is no immortal Hfe
— well, what's the good of being temperate
and decent and careful for five and fifty
years? "

Sir Eliphaz had decided now to drop all
apologetics for the scheme of Nature.

" A place of trial, a place of stimulus and
training," he said. " Respice finem. The
clues are all — beyond.'"

" But if you really consider this world as
a place for soul making," said Mr. Huss,
'^ what do you think you are doing when you



Do We Truly Die ? 131

propose to turn Woldingstanton over to
Farr? "

" At any rate," said Farr tartly, " we do
not want soul-blackening and counsels of
despair at Woldingstanton. We want the
boys taught to serve and help first in this
lowly economic sphere, cheerfully and enter-
prisingly, and then in higher things, before
they pass on "



((



If death ends all, then what is the good
of trying? " Mr. Dad said, still brooding over
the question. " If I thought that ! "

He added with deep conviction, " I should
let myself go. . . . Anyone would."

He blew heavily, stuck his hands in his
pockets, and sat more deeply in his chair, an
indignant man, a business man asked to give
up something for nothing.

For a moment the little gathering hung,
only too manifestly contemplating the spec-
tacle of Mr. Dad amidst wine, women, and
waistcoats without restraint, letting himself
go, eating, drinking, and rejoicing, being a
perfect devil, because on the morrow he had
to die. . . .

*' Immortal," said Mr. IIuss. " I did not



132 The Undying Fire

expect iininortality to come iuto this discus-
sion. . . .

*' Are tjou immortal, Farr? " he asked
abruptly.

" I hope so," said Mr. Farr. " Unworthy
though I be."

" Exactly," said Mr. Huss. *' And so
that is the way out for us. You and I, Mr.
Dad from his factory, and Sir Eliphaz from
his building office, are to soar. It is all
arranged for us, and that is why the tragic
greatness of life is to be hidden from my
boys. . . .

"Yet even so," continued Mr. Huss, *' I
do not see why you should be so anxious for
technical science and so hostile to the history
of mankind."

*' Because it is not a tme history," said
Sir Eliphaz, his hair waving about like the
hair of a man electrified by fresh ideas.
" Because it is a bunch of loose ends that are
really not ends at all, but only beginnings that
pass suddenly into the unseen. I admit that
in this world nothing is rationalized, nothing
is clearly just. I admit everything you say.
But the reason? The reason? Because this



Do We Truly Die ? 133

life is only the first page of the great book we
have to read. We sit here, Mr. Huss, like
men in a waiting-room. . . . All this life is
like waiting outside, in a place of some dis-
order, before being admitted to the \vider
reality, the larger sphere, where all the cruel-
ties, all these confusions, everything — will be
explained, justified — and set right."

He paused, and then perceiving that Mr.
Huss was about to speak he resumed, raising
his voice slightly.

** And I do not speak without my book
in these matters," he said. " I have been
greatly impressed — and, what is more. Lady
Burrows has been greatly impressed, by the
writings of two thoroughly scientific men, two
thoroughly scientific men. Dr. Conan Doyle
and Sir Oliver Lodge. Ever since she lost
her younger sister early in life Lady Burrows
has followed up this interest. It has been a
great consolation to her. And the point is,
as Sir Oliver insists in that wonderful book
' Raymond,' that continued existence in an-
other world is as proven now as the atomic
theory in chemistry. It is not a matter of
faith, but knowledge. The partition is



134 The Undying Fire

breached at last. We are in communication.
News is coming through. . . . Scientific
certainty. ..."

Sir Eliphaz cleared his throat. " We have
already evidences and descriptions of the life
into which we shall pass. Remember this is
no idle talk, no deception by Sludges and the
like ; it is a great English scientific man who
publishes these records; it is a great French
philosopher, no less a man than that wonder-
ful thinker — and how he thinks! — Professor
Bergson, who counselled their publication. A
glory of science and a glory of philosophy
combine to reassure us. We walk at last
upon a path of fact into that further world.
We know already much. We know, for
example, that those who have passed over to
that higher plane have bodies still. That I
found — comforting. Without that — one
would feel bleak. But, the messages say, the
internal organs are constituted differently.
Naturally. As one would have expected.
The dietary is, I gather, practically non-
existent. Needless. As the outline is the
same the space is, I presume, used for other
purposes. Some sort of astral storage. . . .



Do We Truly Die? 135

They do not bleed. An interesting fact.
Lady Burrows' sister is now practically blood-
less. And her teeth — she had lost several, she
suffered greatly with her teeth — her teeth
have all been replaced — a beautiful set. Used
now only for articulate speech."

"* Raymond ' all over again," said the
doctor.

"You have read the book!" said Sir
Eliphaz.

The doctor grunted in a manner that
mingled assent and disapproval. His expres-
sion betrayed the scientific bigot.

'* We know now details of the passage,"
said Sir Eliphaz. " We have some particu-
lars. We know, for instance, that people
blown to pieces take some little time to re-
constitute. There is a correlation between
this corruptible body and the spirit body that
replaces it. There is a sort of spirit doctor
over there, very helpful in such cases. And
burnt bodies, too, are a trouble. . . . The
sexes are still distinct, but all the coarseness
of sex is gone. The passions fade in that
better world. Every passion. Even the habit
of smoking and the craving for alcohol fade.



136 The Undying Fire

Not at first. 'J'he newly dead will sometimes
ask for a cigar. They are given cigars,
higher-plane cigars, and they do not ask for
more. There are no children born there.
Nothing of that sort. That, it is very import-
ant to understand. He^e is the place of
birth ; this is jvhere lives begin. This coarse
little planet is the seed-bed of hfe. When it
has served its purpose and populated those
higher planes, then indeed it may freeze, as
you say. A mere empty hull. A seed-case
that has served its purpose, mattering nothing.
These are the thoughts, the comforting and
beautiful thoughts, that receive the endorse-
ment of our highest scientific and philosophical
intelligences. . . . One thinks of that life
there, no doubt in some other dimension of
space, that world arranged in planes — meta-
phorical planes, of course, in which people go
to and fro, living in a sort of houses, sur-
rounded by a sort of beautiful things, made,
so we are told, from the smells of the things
we have here. That is curious, but not
irrational. Our favourite doggies will be
there. Sublimated also. That thought has
been a great comfort to Lady Burrows. . . .



Do We Truly Die? 137

We had a dog called Fido, a leetle, teeny
fellow — practically human. . . .

" These blessed ones engage very largely
in conversation. Other occupations I found
difficult to trace. Raymond attended a sort
of reception on the very highest plane. It
was a special privilege. Perhaps a compli-
ment to Sir Oliver. He met the truth of
revealed religion, so to speak, personally. It
was a wonderful moment. Sir Oliver sup-
presses the more solemn details. Lady
Burrows intends to write to him. She is
anxious for particulars. But I ,will not
dilate," said Sir Eliphaz. " I will not
dilate."

"And you believe this stuff ?^^ said the
doctor in tones of the deepest disgust.

Sir Eliphaz waved himself upon the
questioner.

" So far as poor earthly expressions can
body forth spiritual things," he hedged.

He regarded his colleagues with an eye of
florid defiance. Both Mr. Farr and Mr. Dad
had slightly shamefaced expressions, and Mr.
Dad's ears were red.

Mr. Dad cleared his throat. " I'm sure



138 The Undying Fire

there's something in it — anyhow," said Mr.
Dad hoarsely, doing his best in support.

" If I was born with a hare hp," said the
doctor, " would that be put right. Do con-
genital idiots get sublimated? What becomes
of a dog one has shot for hydrophobia? "

" To all of such questions," said Sir
Eliphaz serenely, "the answer is — we donH
know. Why should we? "



§ 4

Mr. Huss seemed lost in meditation. His
pale and sunken face and crumpled pose con-
trasted strongly with the bristling intellectual
rectitude and mounting choler of Dr. Elihu
Barrack.

" No, Sir Eliphaz," said Mr. Huss, and
sighed.

"No," he repeated.

*' What a poor phantom of a world these
people conjure up ! What a mockery of loss
and love ! The very mothers and lovers who
mourn their dead will not believe these foolish
stories. Restoration ! It is a crowning in-
dignity. It makes me think of nothing in
the world but my dear boy's body, broken
and cnimpled, and some creature, half fool
and half impostor, sitting upon it, getting
between it and me, and talking cheap rubbish
over it about planes of being and astral
bodies. . . .

After ail, you teach me, Sir Eliphaz

139



((



140 The Undying Fire

that life, for all its grossness and pain and
horror, is not so bad as it might be — if such
things as this were true. But it needs no sift-
ing of the evidence to know they are untrue.
No sane man believes thi-s stuff for ten minutes
together. It is impossible to believe it. . . ."

Dr. Elihu Barrack applauded. Sir Eliphaz
acted a fine self-restraint.

" They are contrary to the texture of
everything we know," said Mr. Huss. " They
are less convincing than the wildest dreams.
By pain, by desire, by muscular effort, by the
feeling of sunshine or of rain in the face, by
their sense of justice and such-like essential
things do men test the reality of appearances
before them. This certainly is no reality. It
has none of the feel of reality. I will not even
argue about it. It is thrust now upon a suffer-
ing world as comfort, and even as comfort for
people stunned and uncritical with grief it
fails. You and Lady Burrows may be pleased
to think that somehow you two, with your
teeth restored and your complexions rejuven-
ated, will meet again the sublimation of your
faithful Fido. At any rate, thank God for
that, I know clearly that so I shall never



Do We Truly Die ? 141

meet my son. Never! He has gone from



me. . . ."



For some moments mental and physical
suffering gripped him, and he could not speak ;
but his purpose to continue was so manifested
by sweating face and gripping hand that no
one spoke until he spoke again.

" Now let me speak plainly about Immor-
tality. For surely I stand nearest to that
possibility of all of us here. Immortality,
then, is no such dodging away as you imagine,
from this strange world which is so desolating,
so dreadful, so inexplicable — and at times so
utterly lonely. There may be a God in the
universe or there may not be. . . . God, if
he exists, can be terribly silent. . . . But if
there is a God, he is a coherent God. If there
is a God above and in the scheme of things,
then not only you and 1 and my dead son,
but the crushed frog and the trampled anthill
signify. On ihat the God in my heart insists.
There has to be an .inswer, not only to the
death of my son but to the dying penguin
roasted alive for a farthing's worth of oil.
There nmst be an answer to the men who go
in ships to do such things. There has to be



142 The Undying Fire

a justification for all the filth and wretchedness
of louse and fluke. I will not have you slip-
ping by on the other side, chattering of planes
of living and sublimated atoms, while there is
a drunken mother or a man dying of cholera
in this world. I will not hear of a God who
is just a means for getting away. Whatever
foulness and beastliness there is, you must
square God with that. Or there is no uni-
versal God, but only a coldness, a vast
cruel indifference. . . .

*' I would not make my peace with such a
God if I could. . . .

" I tell you of these black and sinister
realities, and what do you reply? That it is
all right, because after death we shall get away
from them . Why ! if presently I go down
under the surgeon's knife, down out of this
hot and weary world, and then find myself
being put together by a spirit doctor in this
beyond of yours, waking up to n new world of
amiable conversations and artificial flowers,
having my hair restored and the gaps among
my teeth filled up, I shall feel like someone
who has deserted his kind, who has sneaked
from a sick-room into a party. . . . Well —



Do We Truly Die? 143

my infection will go with me. I shall talk of
nothing but the tragedy out of which I have
come — which still remains — which continues
— tragedy.

" And yet 1 believe in Immortality ! "
Dr. Barrack, who had hitherto been
following Mr. Huss with evident approval,
started, sounded a note of surprise and pro-
test, and fixed accusing eyes upon him. For
the moment he did not interrupt.

" But it is not I that am immortal, but
the God within me. All this personal immor-


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