H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

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Curious your name should be Angel. I must send you a cooling draught, if
you should feel thirsty in the night...."

He made a memorandum on his shirt cuff. The Angel watched him
thoughtfully, with the dawn of a smile in his eyes.

"One minute, Crump," said the Vicar, taking the Doctor's arm and leading
him towards the door.

The Angel's smile grew brighter. He looked down at his black-clad legs.
"He positively thinks I am a man!" said the Angel. "What he makes of the
wings beats me altogether. What a queer creature he must be! This is
really a most extraordinary Dream!"




XIV.


"That _is_ an Angel," whispered the Vicar. "You don't understand."

"_What?_" said the Doctor in a quick, sharp voice. His eyebrows went up
and he smiled.

"But the wings?"

"Quite natural, quite ... if a little abnormal."

"Are you sure they are natural?"

"My dear fellow, everything that is, is natural. There is nothing
unnatural in the world. If I thought there was I should give up practice
and go into _Le Grand Chartreuse_. There are abnormal phenomena, of
course. And - - "

"But the way I came upon him," said the Vicar.

"Yes, tell me where you picked him up," said the Doctor. He sat down on
the hall table.

The Vicar began rather hesitatingly - he was not very good at story
telling - with the rumours of a strange great bird. He told the story in
clumsy sentences - for, knowing the Bishop as he did, with that awful
example always before him he dreaded getting his pulpit style into his
daily conversation - and at every third sentence or so, the Doctor made a
downward movement of his head - the corners of his mouth tucked away, so
to speak - as though he ticked off the phases of the story and so far
found it just as it ought to be. "Self-hypnotism," he murmured once.

"I beg your pardon?" said the Vicar.

"Nothing," said the Doctor. "Nothing, I assure you. Go on. This is
extremely interesting."

The Vicar told him he went out with his gun.

"_After_ lunch, I think you said?" interrupted the Doctor.

"Immediately after," said the Vicar.

"You should not do such things, you know. But go on, please."

He came to the glimpse of the Angel from the gate.

"In the full glare," said the Doctor, in parenthesis. "It was
seventy-nine in the shade."

When the Vicar had finished, the Doctor pressed his lips together
tighter than ever, smiled faintly, and looked significantly into the
Vicar's eyes.

"You don't ..." began the Vicar, falteringly.

The Doctor shook his head. "Forgive me," he said, putting his hand on
the Vicar's arm.

"You go out," he said, "on a hot lunch and on a hot afternoon. Probably
over eighty. Your mind, what there is of it, is whirling with avian
expectations. I say, 'what there is of it,' because most of your nervous
energy is down there, digesting your dinner. A man who has been lying in
the bracken stands up before you and you blaze away. Over he goes - and
as it happens - as it happens - he has reduplicate fore-limbs, one pair
being not unlike wings. It's a coincidence certainly. And as for his
iridescent colours and so forth - - . Have you never had patches of
colour swim before your eyes before, on a brilliant sunlight day?... Are
you sure they were confined to the wings? Think."

"But he says he _is_ an Angel!" said the Vicar, staring out of his
little round eyes, his plump hands in his pockets.

"_Ah!_" said the Doctor with his eye on the Vicar. "I expected as
much." He paused.

"But don't you think ..." began the Vicar.

"That man," said the Doctor in a low, earnest voice, "is a mattoid."

"A what?" said the Vicar.

"A mattoid. An abnormal man. Did you notice the effeminate delicacy of
his face? His tendency to quite unmeaning laughter? His neglected hair?
Then consider his singular dress...."

The Vicar's hand went up to his chin.

"Marks of mental weakness," said the Doctor. "Many of this type of
degenerate show this same disposition to assume some vast mysterious
credentials. One will call himself the Prince of Wales, another the
Archangel Gabriel, another the Deity even. Ibsen thinks he is a Great
Teacher, and Maeterlink a new Shakespeare. I've just been reading all
about it - in Nordau. No doubt his odd deformity gave him an idea...."

"But really," began the Vicar.

"No doubt he's slipped away from confinement."

"I do not altogether accept...."

"You will. If not, there's the police, and failing that, advertisement;
but, of course, his people may want to hush it up. It's a sad thing in a
family...."

"He seems so altogether...."

"Probably you'll hear from his friends in a day or so," said the Doctor,
feeling for his watch. "He can't live far from here, I should think. He
seems harmless enough. I must come along and see that wing again
to-morrow." He slid off the hall table and stood up.

"Those old wives' tales still have their hold on you," he said, patting
the Vicar on the shoulder. "But an angel, you know - Ha, ha!"

"I certainly _did_ think...." said the Vicar dubiously.

"Weigh the evidence," said the Doctor, still fumbling at his watch.
"Weigh the evidence with our instruments of precision. What does it
leave you? Splashes of colour, spots of fancy - _muscae volantes_."

"And yet," said the Vicar, "I could almost swear to the glory on his
wings...."

"Think it over," said the Doctor (watch out); "hot afternoon - brilliant
sunshine - boiling down on your head.... But really I _must_ be going. It
is a quarter to five. I'll see your - angel (ha, ha!) to-morrow again, if
no one has been to fetch him in the meanwhile. Your bandaging was really
very good. I flatter _myself_ on that score. Our ambulance classes
_were_ a success you see.... Good afternoon."




THE CURATE.

XV.


The Vicar opened the door half mechanically to let out Crump, and saw
Mendham, his curate, coming up the pathway by the hedge of purple vetch
and meadowsweet. At that his hand went up to his chin and his eyes grew
perplexed. Suppose he _was_ deceived. The Doctor passed the Curate with
a sweep of his hand from his hat brim. Crump was an extraordinarily
clever fellow, the Vicar thought, and knew far more of anyone's brain
than one did oneself. The Vicar felt that so acutely. It made the coming
explanation difficult. Suppose he were to go back into the drawing-room,
and find just a tramp asleep on the hearthrug.

Mendham was a cadaverous man with a magnificent beard. He looked,
indeed, as though he had run to beard as a mustard plant does to seed.
But when he spoke you found he had a voice as well.

"My wife came home in a dreadful state," he brayed out at long range.

"Come in," said the Vicar; "come in. Most remarkable occurrence. Please
come in. Come into the study. I'm really dreadfully sorry. But when I
explain...."

"And apologise, I hope," brayed the Curate.

"And apologise. No, not that way. This way. The study."

"Now what _was_ that woman?" said the Curate, turning on the Vicar as
the latter closed the study door.

"What woman?"

"Pah!"

"But really!"

"The painted creature in light attire - disgustingly light attire, to
speak freely - with whom you were promenading the garden."

"My dear Mendham - that was an Angel!"

"A very pretty Angel?"

"The world is getting so matter-of-fact," said the Vicar.

"The world," roared the Curate, "grows blacker every day. But to find a
man in your position, shamelessly, openly...."

"_Bother!_" said the Vicar aside. He rarely swore. "Look here, Mendham,
you really misunderstand. I can assure you...."

"Very well," said the Curate. "Explain!" He stood with his lank legs
apart, his arms folded, scowling at his Vicar over his big beard.

(Explanations, I repeat, I have always considered the peculiar fallacy
of this scientific age.)

The Vicar looked about him helplessly. The world had all gone dull and
dead. Had he been dreaming all the afternoon? Was there really an angel
in the drawing-room? Or was he the sport of a complicated hallucination?

"Well?" said Mendham, at the end of a minute.

The Vicar's hand fluttered about his chin. "It's such a round-about
story," he said.

"No doubt it will be," said Mendham harshly.

The Vicar restrained a movement of impatience.

"I went out to look for a strange bird this afternoon.... Do you
believe in angels, Mendham, real angels?"

"I'm not here to discuss theology. I am the husband of an insulted
woman."

"But I tell you it's not a figure of speech; this _is_ an angel, a real
angel with wings. He's in the next room now. You do misunderstand me,
so...."

"Really, Hilyer - "

"It is true I tell you, Mendham. I swear it is true." The Vicar's voice
grew impassioned. "What sin I have done that I should entertain and
clothe angelic visitants, I don't know. I only know that - inconvenient
as it undoubtedly will be - I have an angel now in the drawing-room,
wearing my new suit and finishing his tea. And he's stopping with me,
indefinitely, at my invitation. No doubt it was rash of me. But I can't
turn him out, you know, because Mrs Mendham - - I may be a weakling, but
I am still a gentleman."

"Really, Hilyer - "

"I can assure you it is true." There was a note of hysterical
desperation in the Vicar's voice. "I fired at him, taking him for a
flamingo, and hit him in the wing."

"I thought this was a case for the Bishop. I find it is a case for the
Lunacy Commissioners."

"Come and see him, Mendham!"

"But there _are_ no angels."

"We teach the people differently," said the Vicar.

"Not as material bodies," said the Curate.

"Anyhow, come and see him."

"I don't want to see your hallucinations," began the Curate.

"I can't explain anything unless you come and see him," said the Vicar.
"A man who's more like an angel than anything else in heaven or earth.
You simply must see if you wish to understand."

"I don't wish to understand," said the Curate. "I don't wish to lend
myself to any imposture. Surely, Hilyer, if this is not an imposition,
you can tell me yourself.... Flamingo, indeed!"




XVI.


The Angel had finished his tea and was standing looking pensively out of
the window. He thought the old church down the valley lit by the light
of the setting sun was very beautiful, but he could not understand the
serried ranks of tombstones that lay up the hillside beyond. He turned
as Mendham and the Vicar came in.

Now Mendham could bully his Vicar cheerfully enough, just as he could
bully his congregation; but he was not the sort of man to bully a
stranger. He looked at the Angel, and the "strange woman" theory was
disposed of. The Angel's beauty was too clearly the beauty of the youth.

"Mr Hilyer tells me," Mendham began, in an almost apologetic tone, "that
you - ah - it's so curious - claim to be an Angel."

"_Are_ an Angel," said the Vicar.

The Angel bowed.

"Naturally," said Mendham, "we are curious."

"Very," said the Angel. "The blackness and the shape."

"I beg your pardon?" said Mendham.

"The blackness and the flaps," repeated the Angel; "and no wings."

"Precisely," said Mendham, who was altogether at a loss. "We are, of
course, curious to know something of how you came into the village in
such a peculiar costume."

The Angel looked at the Vicar. The Vicar touched his chin.

"You see," began the Vicar.

"Let _him_ explain," said Mendham; "I beg."

"I wanted to suggest," began the Vicar.

"And I don't want you to suggest."

"_Bother!_" said the Vicar.

The Angel looked from one to the other. "Such rugose expressions flit
across your faces!" he said.

"You see, Mr - Mr - I don't know your name," said Mendham, with a certain
diminution of suavity. "The case stands thus: My wife - four ladies, I
might say - are playing lawn tennis, when you suddenly rush out on them,
sir; you rush out on them from among the rhododendra in a very defective
costume. You and Mr Hilyer."

"But I - " said the Vicar.

"I know. It was this gentleman's costume was defective. Naturally - it is
my place in fact - to demand an explanation." His voice was growing in
volume. "And I _must_ demand an explanation."

The Angel smiled faintly at his note of anger and his sudden attitude of
determination - arms tightly folded.

"I am rather new to the world," the Angel began.

"Nineteen at least," said Mendham. "Old enough to know better. That's a
poor excuse."

"May I ask one question first?" said the Angel.

"Well?"

"Do you think I am a Man - like yourself? As the chequered man did."

"If you are not a man - "

"One other question. Have you _never_ heard of an Angel?"

"I warn you not to try that story upon me," said Mendham, now back at
his familiar crescendo.

The Vicar interrupted: "But Mendham - he has wings!"

"_Please_ let me talk to him," said Mendham.

"You are so quaint," said the Angel; "you interrupt everything I have to
say."

"But what _have_ you to say?" said Mendham.

"That I really _am_ an Angel...."

"Pshaw!"

"There you go!"

"But tell me, honestly, how you came to be in the shrubbery of
Siddermorton Vicarage - in the state in which you were. And in the
Vicar's company. Cannot you abandon this ridiculous story of yours?..."

The Angel shrugged his wings. "What is the matter with this man?" he
said to the Vicar.

"My dear Mendham," said the Vicar, "a few words from me...."

"Surely my question is straightforward enough!"

"But you won't tell me the answer you want, and it's no good my telling
you any other."

"_Pshaw!_" said the Curate again. And then turning suddenly on the
Vicar, "Where does he come from?"

The Vicar was in a dreadful state of doubt by this time.

"He _says_ he is an Angel!" said the Vicar. "Why don't you listen to
him?"

"No angel would alarm four ladies...."

"Is _that_ what it is all about?" said the Angel.

"Enough cause too, I should think!" said the Curate.

"But I really did not know," said the Angel.

"This is altogether too much!"

"I am sincerely sorry I alarmed these ladies."

"You ought to be. But I see I shall get nothing out of you two." Mendham
went towards the door. "I am convinced there is something discreditable
at the bottom of this business. Or why not tell a simple straightforward
story? I will confess you puzzle me. Why, in this enlightened age, you
should tell this fantastic, this far-fetched story of an Angel,
altogether beats me. What good _can_ it do?..."

"But stop and look at his wings!" said the Vicar. "I can assure you he
has wings!"

Mendham had his fingers on the door-handle. "I have seen quite enough,"
he said. "It may be this is simply a foolish attempt at a hoax, Hilyer."

"But Mendham!" said the Vicar.

The Curate halted in the doorway and looked at the Vicar over his
shoulder. The accumulating judgment of months found vent. "I cannot
understand, Hilyer, why you are in the Church. For the life of me I
cannot. The air is full of Social Movements, of Economic change, the
Woman Movement, Rational Dress, The Reunion of Christendom, Socialism,
Individualism - all the great and moving Questions of the Hour! Surely,
we who follow the Great Reformer.... And here you are stuffing birds,
and startling ladies with your callous disregard...."

"But Mendham," began the Vicar.

The Curate would not hear him. "You shame the Apostles with your
levity.... But this is only a preliminary enquiry," he said, with a
threatening note in his sonorous voice, and so vanished abruptly (with a
violent slam) from the room.




XVII.


"Are _all_ men so odd as this?" said the Angel.

"I'm in such a difficult position," said the Vicar. "You see," he said,
and stopped, searching his chin for an idea.

"I'm beginning to see," said the Angel.

"They won't believe it."

"I see that."

"They will think I tell lies."

"And?"

"That will be extremely painful to me."

"Painful!... Pain," said the Angel. "I hope not."

The Vicar shook his head. The good report of the village had been the
breath of his life, so far. "You see," he said, "it would look so much
more plausible if you said you were just a man."

"But I'm not," said the Angel.

"No, you're not," said the Vicar. "So that's no good."

"Nobody here, you know, has ever seen an Angel, or heard of one - except
in church. If you had made your _debut_ in the chancel - on Sunday - it
might have been different. But that's too late now.... (_Bother!_)
Nobody, absolutely nobody, will believe in you."

"I hope I am not inconveniencing you?"

"Not at all," said the Vicar; "not at all. Only - - . Naturally it may be
inconvenient if you tell a too incredible story. If I might suggest
(_ahem_) - - ."

"Well?"

"You see, people in the world, being men themselves, will almost
certainly regard you as a man. If you say you are not, they will simply
say you do not tell the truth. Only exceptional people appreciate the
exceptional. When in Rome one must - well, respect Roman prejudices a
little - talk Latin. You will find it better - - "

"You propose I should feign to become a man?"

"You have my meaning at once."

The Angel stared at the Vicar's hollyhocks and thought.

"Possibly, after all," he said slowly, "I _shall_ become a man. I may
have been too hasty in saying I was not. You say there are no angels in
this world. Who am I to set myself up against your experience? A mere
thing of a day - so far as this world goes. If you say there are no
angels - clearly I must be something else. I eat - angels do not eat. I
_may_ be a man already."

"A convenient view, at any rate," said the Vicar.

"If it is convenient to you - - "

"It is. And then to account for your presence here."

"_If_," said the Vicar, after a hesitating moment of reflection, "if,
for instance, you had been an ordinary man with a weakness for wading,
and you had gone wading in the Sidder, and your clothes had been stolen,
for instance, and I had come upon you in that position of inconvenience;
the explanation I shall have to make to Mrs Mendham - - would be shorn at
least of the supernatural element. There is such a feeling against the
supernatural element nowadays - even in the pulpit. You would hardly
believe - - "

"It's a pity that was not the case," said the Angel.

"Of course," said the Vicar. "It is a great pity that was not the case.
But at anyrate you will oblige me if you do not obtrude your angelic
nature. You will oblige everyone, in fact. There is a settled opinion
that angels do not do this kind of thing. And nothing is more
painful - as I can testify - than a decaying settled opinion.... Settled
opinions are mental teeth in more ways than one. For my own part," - the
Vicar's hand passed over his eyes for a moment - "I cannot but believe
you are an angel.... Surely I can believe my own eyes."

"We always do ours," said the Angel.

"And so do we, within limits."

Then the clock upon the mantel chimed seven, and almost simultaneously
Mrs Hinijer announced dinner.




AFTER DINNER.

XVIII.


The Angel and the Vicar sat at dinner. The Vicar, with his napkin tucked
in at his neck, watched the Angel struggling with his soup. "You will
soon get into the way of it," said the Vicar. The knife and fork
business was done awkwardly but with effect. The Angel looked furtively
at Delia, the little waiting maid. When presently they sat cracking
nuts - which the Angel found congenial enough - and the girl had gone, the
Angel asked: "Was that a lady, too?"

"Well," said the Vicar (_crack_). "No - she is not a lady. She is a
servant."

"Yes," said the Angel; "she _had_ rather a nicer shape."

"You mustn't tell Mrs Mendham that," said the Vicar, covertly satisfied.

"She didn't stick out so much at the shoulders and hips, and there was
more of her in between. And the colour of her robes was not
discordant - simply neutral. And her face - - "

"Mrs Mendham and her daughters had been playing tennis," said the Vicar,
feeling he ought not to listen to detraction even of his mortal enemy.
"Do you like these things - these nuts?"

"Very much," said the Angel. _Crack._

"You see," said the Vicar (_Chum, chum, chum_). "For my own part I
entirely believe you are an angel."

"Yes!" said the Angel.

"I shot you - I saw you flutter. It's beyond dispute. In my own mind. I
admit it's curious and against my preconceptions, but - practically - I'm
assured, perfectly assured in fact, that I saw what I certainly did see.
But after the behaviour of these people. (_Crack_). I really don't see
how we are to persuade people. Nowadays people are so very particular
about evidence. So that I think there is a great deal to be said for the
attitude you assume. Temporarily at least I think it would be best of
you to do as you propose to do, and behave as a man as far as possible.
Of course there is no knowing how or when you may go back. After what
has happened (_Gluck_, _gluck_, _gluck_ - as the Vicar refills his
glass) - after what has happened I should not be surprised to see the
side of the room fall away, and the hosts of heaven appear to take you
away again - take us both away even. You have so far enlarged my
imagination. All these years I have been forgetting Wonderland. But
still - - . It will certainly be wiser to break the thing gently to
them."

"This life of yours," said the Angel. "I'm still in the dark about it.
How do you begin?"

"Dear me!" said the Vicar. "Fancy having to explain that! We begin
existence here, you know, as babies, silly pink helpless things wrapped
in white, with goggling eyes, that yelp dismally at the Font. Then these
babies grow larger and become even beautiful - when their faces are
washed. And they continue to grow to a certain size. They become
children, boys and girls, youths and maidens (_Crack_), young men and
young women. That is the finest time in life, according to
many - certainly the most beautiful. Full of great hopes and dreams,
vague emotions and unexpected dangers."

"_That_ was a maiden?" said the Angel, indicating the door through which
Delia had disappeared.

"Yes," said the Vicar, "that was a maiden." And paused thoughtfully.

"And then?"

"Then," said the Vicar, "the glamour fades and life begins in earnest.
The young men and young women pair off - most of them. They come to me
shy and bashful, in smart ugly dresses, and I marry them. And then
little pink babies come to them, and some of the youths and maidens that
were, grow fat and vulgar, and some grow thin and shrewish, and their
pretty complexions go, and they get a queer delusion of superiority over
the younger people, and all the delight and glory goes out of their
lives. So they call the delight and glory of the younger ones, Illusion.
And then they begin to drop to pieces."

"Drop to pieces!" said the Angel. "How grotesque!"

"Their hair comes off and gets dull coloured or ashen grey," said the
Vicar. "_I_, for instance." He bowed his head forward to show a circular
shining patch the size of a florin. "And their teeth come out. Their
faces collapse and become as wrinkled and dry as a shrivelled apple.
'Corrugated' you called mine. They care more and more for what they have
to eat and to drink, and less and less for any of the other delights of
life. Their limbs get loose in the joints, and their hearts slack, or
little pieces from their lungs come coughing up. Pain...."

"Ah!" said the Angel.

"Pain comes into their lives more and more. And then they go. They do
not like to go, but they have to - out of this world, very reluctantly,
clutching its pain at last in their eagerness to stop...."

"Where do they go?"

"Once I thought I knew. But now I am older I know I do not know. We have
a Legend - perhaps it is not a legend. One may be a churchman and
disbelieve. Stokes says there is nothing in it...." The Vicar shook his
head at the bananas.

"And you?" said the Angel. "Were you a little pink baby?"

"A little while ago I was a little pink baby."

"Were you robed then as you are now?"

"Oh no! Dear me! What a queer idea! Had long white clothes, I suppose,
like the rest of them."

"And then you were a little boy?"

"A little boy."

"And then a glorious youth?"

"I was not a very glorious youth, I am afraid. I was sickly, and too
poor to be radiant, and with a timid heart. I studied hard and pored
over the dying thoughts of men long dead. So I lost the glory, and no
maiden came to me, and the dulness of life began too soon."

"And you have your little pink babies?"

"None," said the Vicar with a scarce perceptible pause. "Yet all the
same, as you see, I am beginning to drop to pieces. Presently my back
will droop like a wilting flowerstalk. And then, in a few thousand days
more I shall be done with, and I shall go out of this world of mine....


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Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsThe wonderful visit → online text (page 3 of 10)