H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

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runners Mrs Gustick with a steaming saucepan full of boiling cabbage
water in her hand.

"'Tis well you went, Mister Stolen Breeches," came the voice of Mrs
Gustick floating down through the vermilion blossoms. "Don't you come
peeping and prying round this yer cottage again or I'll learn ye
manners, I will!"

The Angel stood in a state of considerable perplexity. He had no desire
to come within earshot of the cottage again - ever. He did not understand
the precise import of the black pot, but his general impression was
entirely disagreeable. There was no explaining it.

"I _mean_ it!" said Mrs Gustick, crescendo. "Drat it! - I _mean_ it."

The Angel turned and went on, a dazzled look in his eyes.

"She was very grotesque!" said the Angel. "_Very._ Much more than the
little man in black. And she means it. - - But what she means I don't
know!..." He became silent. "I suppose they all mean something,", he
said, presently, still perplexed.




XXV.


Then the Angel came in sight of the forge, where Sandy Bright's brother
was shoeing a horse for the carter from Upmorton. Two hobbledehoys were
standing by the forge staring in a bovine way at the proceedings. As the
Angel approached these two and then the carter turned slowly through an
angle of thirty degrees and watched his approach, staring quietly and
steadily at him. The expression on their faces was one of abstract
interest.

The Angel became self-conscious for the first time in his life. He drew
nearer, trying to maintain an amiable expression on his face, an
expression that beat in vain against their granitic stare. His hands
were behind him. He smiled pleasantly, looking curiously at the (to him)
incomprehensible employment of the smith. But the battery of eyes seemed
to angle for his regard. Trying to meet the three pairs at once, the
Angel lost his alertness and stumbled over a stone. One of the yokels
gave a sarcastic cough, and was immediately covered with confusion at
the Angel's enquiring gaze, nudging his companion with his elbow to
cover his disorder. None spoke, and the Angel did not speak.

So soon as the Angel had passed, one of the three hummed this tune in an
aggressive tone.

[Illustration: Music]

Then all three of them laughed. One tried to sing something and found
his throat contained phlegm. The Angel proceeded on his way.

"Who's _e_ then?" said the second hobbledehoy.

"Ping, ping, ping," went the blacksmith's hammer.

"Spose he's one of these here foweners," said the carter from Upmorton.
"Däamned silly fool he do look to be sure."

"Tas the way with them foweners," said the first hobbledehoy sagely.

"Got something very like the 'ump," said the carter from Upmorton.
"Dää-ä-ämned if 'E ent."

Then the silence healed again, and they resumed their quiet
expressionless consideration of the Angel's retreating figure.

"Very like the 'ump et is," said the carter after an enormous pause.




XXVI.


The Angel went on through the village, finding it all wonderful enough.
"They begin, and just a little while and then they end," he said to
himself in a puzzled voice. "But what are they doing meanwhile?" Once he
heard some invisible mouth chant inaudible words to the tune the man at
the forge had hummed.

"That's the poor creature the Vicar shot with that great gun of his,"
said Sarah Glue (of 1, Church Cottages) peering over the blind.

"He looks Frenchified," said Susan Hopper, peering through the
interstices of that convenient veil on curiosity.

"He has sweet eyes," said Sarah Glue, who had met them for a moment.

The Angel sauntered on. The postman passed him and touched his hat to
him; further down was a dog asleep in the sun. He went on and saw
Mendham, who nodded distantly and hurried past. (The Curate did not
care to be seen talking to an angel in the village, until more was known
about him). There came from one of the houses the sound of a child
screaming in a passion, that brought a puzzled look to the angelic face.
Then the Angel reached the bridge below the last of the houses, and
stood leaning over the parapet watching the glittering little cascade
from the mill.

"They begin, and just a little while, and then they end," said the weir
from the mill. The water raced under the bridge, green and dark, and
streaked with foam.

Beyond the mill rose the square tower of the church, with the churchyard
behind it, a spray of tombstones and wooden headboards splashed up the
hillside. A half dozen of beech trees framed the picture.

Then the Angel heard a shuffling of feet and the gride of wheels behind
him, and turning his head saw a man dressed in dirty brown rags and a
felt hat grey with dust, who was standing with a slight swaying motion
and fixedly regarding the Angelic back. Beyond him was another almost
equally dirty, pushing a knife grinder's barrow over the bridge.

"Mornin'," said the first person smiling weakly. "Goomorn'." He arrested
an escaping hiccough.

The Angel stared at him. He had never seen a really fatuous smile
before. "Who are you?" said the Angel.

The fatuous smile faded. "No your business whoaaam. Wishergoomorn."

"Carm on:" said the man with the grindstone, passing on his way.

"Wishergoomorn," said the dirty man, in a tone of extreme aggravation.
"Carncher Answerme?"

"Carm _on_ you fool!" said the man with the grindstone - receding.

"I don't understand," said the Angel.

"Donunderstan'. Sim'l enough. Wishergoomorn'. Willyanswerme? Wontchr?
gemwishergem goomorn. Cusom answer goomorn. No gem. Haverteachyer."

The Angel was puzzled. The drunken man stood swaying for a moment, then
he made an unsteady snatch at his hat and threw it down at the Angel's
feet. "Ver well," he said, as one who decides great issues.

"_Carm_ on!" said the voice of the man with the grindstone - stopping
perhaps twenty yards off.

"You _wan_ fight, you - - " the Angel failed to catch the word. "I'll
show yer, not answer gem's goomorn."

He began to struggle with his jacket. "Think I'm drun," he said, "I show
yer." The man with the grindstone sat down on the shaft to watch. "Carm
on," he said. The jacket was intricate, and the drunken man began to
struggle about the road, in his attempts to extricate himself, breathing
threatenings and slaughter. Slowly the Angel began to suspect, remotely
enough, that these demonstrations were hostile. "Mur wun know yer when I
done wi' yer," said the drunken man, coat almost over his head.

At last the garment lay on the ground, and through the frequent
interstices of his reminiscences of a waistcoat, the drunken tinker
displayed a fine hairy and muscular body to the Angel's observant eyes.
He squared up in masterly fashion.

"Take the paint off yer," he remarked, advancing and receding, fists up
and elbows out.

"Carm on," floated down the road.

The Angel's attention was concentrated on two huge hairy black fists,
that swayed and advanced and retreated. "Come on d'yer say? I'll show
yer," said the gentleman in rags, and then with extraordinary ferocity;
"My crikey! I'll show yer."

Suddenly he lurched forward, and with a newborn instinct and raising a
defensive arm as he did so, the Angel stepped aside to avoid him. The
fist missed the Angelic shoulder by a hairsbreadth, and the tinker
collapsed in a heap with his face against the parapet of the bridge. The
Angel hesitated over the writhing dusty heap of blasphemy for a moment,
and then turned towards the man's companion up the road. "Lemmeget up,"
said the man on the bridge: "Lemmeget up, you swine. I'll show yer."

A strange disgust, a quivering repulsion came upon the Angel. He walked
slowly away from the drunkard towards the man with the grindstone.

"What does it all mean?" said the Angel. "I don't understand it."

"Dam fool!... say's it's 'is silver weddin'," answered the man with the
grindstone, evidently much annoyed; and then, in a tone of growing
impatience, he called down the road once more; "Carm on!"

"Silver wedding!" said the Angel. "What is a silver wedding?"

"Jest is rot," said the man on the barrow. "But 'E's always avin' some
'scuse like that. Fair sickenin it is. Lars week it wus 'is bloomin'
birthday, and _then_ 'e ad'nt ardly got sober orf a comlimentary drunk
to my noo barrer. (_Carm_ on, you fool.)"

"But I don't understand," said the Angel. "Why does he sway about so?
Why does he keep on trying to pick up his hat like that - and missing
it?"

"_Why!_" said the tinker. "Well this _is_ a blasted innocent country!
_Why!_ Because 'E's blind! Wot else? (Carm on - _Dam_ yer). Because 'E's
just as full as 'E can 'old. That's _why_!"

The Angel noticing the tone of the second tinker's voice, judged it
wiser not to question him further. But he stood by the grindstone and
continued to watch the mysterious evolutions on the bridge.

"Carm on! I shall 'ave to go and pick up that 'at I suppose.... 'E's
always at it. I ne'er 'ad such a blooming pard before. _Always_ at it,
'e is."

The man with the barrow meditated. "Taint as if 'e was a gentleman and
'adnt no livin' to get. An' 'e's such a reckless fool when 'e gets a bit
on. Goes offerin out everyone 'e meets. (_There_ you go!) I'm blessed if
'e didn't offer out a 'ole bloomin' Salvation Army. No judgment in it.
(Oh! _Carm_ on! _Carm_ on!). 'Ave to go and pick this bloomin' 'at up
now I s'pose. 'E don't care, _wot_ trouble 'e gives."

The Angel watched the second tinker walk back, and, with affectionate
blasphemy, assist the first to his hat and his coat. Then he turned,
absolutely mystified, towards the village again.




XXVII.


After that incident the Angel walked along past the mill and round
behind the church, to examine the tombstones.

"This seems to be the place where they put the broken pieces," said the
Angel - reading the inscriptions. "Curious word - relict! Resurgam! Then
they are not done with quite. What a huge pile it requires to keep her
down.... It is spirited of her."

"Hawkins?" said the Angel softly,.... "_Hawkins?_ The name is strange to
me.... He did not die then.... It is plain enough, - Joined the Angelic
Hosts, May 17, 1863. He must have felt as much out of place as I do down
here. But I wonder why they put that little pot thing on the top of this
monument. Curious! There are several others about - little stone pots
with a rag of stiff stone drapery over them."

Just then the boys came pouring out of the National School, and first
one and then several stopped agape at the Angel's crooked black figure
among the white tombs. "Ent 'e gart a bääk on en!" remarked one critic.

"'E's got 'air like a girl!" said another.

The Angel turned towards them. He was struck by the queer little heads
sticking up over the lichenous wall. He smiled faintly at their staring
faces, and then turned to marvel at the iron railings that enclosed the
Fitz-Jarvis tomb. "A queer air of uncertainty," he said. "Slabs, piles
of stone, these railings.... Are they afraid?... Do these Dead ever try
and get up again? There's an air of repression - fortification - - "

"Gét yer _'air_ cut, Gét yer _'air_ cut," sang three little boys
together.

"Curious these Human Beings are!" said the Angel. "That man yesterday
wanted to cut off my wings, now these little creatures want me to cut
off my hair! And the man on the bridge offered to take the 'paint' off
me. They will leave nothing of me soon."

"Where did you get that _'at_?" sang another little boy. "Where did you
get them clo'es?"

"They ask questions that they evidently do not want answered," said the
Angel. "I can tell from the tone." He looked thoughtfully at the little
boys. "I don't understand the methods of Human intercourse. These are
probably friendly advances, a kind of ritual. But I don't know the
responses. I think I will go back to the little fat man in black, with
the gold chain across his stomach, and ask him to explain. It is
difficult."

He turned towards the lych gate. "_Oh!_" said one of the little boys, in
a shrill falsetto, and threw a beech-nut husk. It came bounding across
the churchyard path. The Angel stopped in surprise.

This made all the little boys laugh. A second imitating the first, said
"_Oh!_" and hit the Angel. His astonishment was really delicious. They
all began crying "_Oh!_" and throwing beechnut husks. One hit the
Angel's hand, another stung him smartly by the ear. The Angel made
ungainly movements towards them. He spluttered some expostulation and
made for the roadway. The little boys were amazed and shocked at his
discomfiture and cowardice. Such sawney behaviour could not be
encouraged. The pelting grew vigorously. You may perhaps be able to
imagine those vivid moments, daring small boys running in close and
delivering shots, milder small boys rushing round behind with flying
discharges. Milton Screever's mongrel dog was roused to yelping ecstacy
at the sight, and danced (full of wild imaginings) nearer and nearer to
the angelic legs.

"Hi, hi!" said a vigorous voice. "I never did! Where's Mr Jarvis?
Manners, manners! you young rascals."

The youngsters scattered right and left, some over the wall into the
playground, some down the street.

"Frightful pest these boys are getting!" said Crump, coming up. "I'm
sorry they have been annoying you."

The Angel seemed quite upset. "I don't understand," he said. "These
Human ways...."

"Yes, of course. Unusual to you. How's your excrescence?"

"My what?" said the Angel.

"Bifid limb, you know. How is it? Now you're down this way, come in.
Come in and let me have a look at it again. You young roughs! And
meanwhile these little louts of ours will be getting off home. They're
all alike in these villages. _Can't_ understand anything abnormal. See
an odd-looking stranger. Chuck a stone. No imagination beyond the
parish.... (I'll give you physic if I catch you annoying strangers
again.) ... I suppose it's what one might expect.... Come along this
way."

So the Angel, horribly perplexed still, was hurried into the surgery to
have his wound re-dressed.




LADY HAMMERGALLOW'S VIEW.

XXVIII.


In Siddermorton Park is Siddermorton House, where old Lady Hammergallow
lives, chiefly upon Burgundy and the little scandals of the village, a
dear old lady with a ropy neck, a ruddled countenance and spasmodic
gusts of odd temper, whose three remedies for all human trouble among
her dependents are, a bottle of gin, a pair of charity blankets, or a
new crown piece. The House is a mile-and-a-half out of Siddermorton.
Almost all the village is hers, saving a fringe to the south which
belongs to Sir John Gotch, and she rules it with an autocratic rule,
refreshing in these days of divided government. She orders and forbids
marriages, drives objectionable people out of the village by the simple
expedient of raising their rent, dismisses labourers, obliges heretics
to go to church, and made Susan Dangett, who wanted to call her little
girl 'Euphemia,' have the infant christened 'Mary-Anne.' She is a sturdy
Broad Protestant and disapproves of the Vicar's going bald like a
tonsure. She is on the Village Council, which obsequiously trudges up
the hill and over the moor to her, and (as she is a trifle deaf) speaks
all its speeches into her speaking trumpet instead of a rostrum. She
takes no interest now in politics, but until last year she was an active
enemy of "that Gladstone." She has parlour maids instead of footmen to
do her waiting, because of Hockley, the American stockbroker, and his
four Titans in plush.

She exercises what is almost a fascination upon the village. If in the
bar-parlour of the Cat and Cornucopia you swear by God no one would be
shocked, but if you swore by Lady Hammergallow they would probably be
shocked enough to turn you out of the room. When she drives through
Siddermorton she always calls upon Bessy Flump, the post-mistress, to
hear all that has happened, and then upon Miss Finch, the dressmaker, to
check back Bessy Flump. Sometimes she calls upon the Vicar, sometimes
upon Mrs Mendham whom she snubs, and even sometimes on Crump. Her
sparkling pair of greys almost ran over the Angel as he was walking down
to the village.

"So _that's_ the genius!" said Lady Hammergallow, and turned and looked
at him through the gilt glasses on a stick that she always carried in
her shrivelled and shaky hand. "Lunatic indeed! The poor creature has
rather a pretty face. I'm sorry I've missed him."

But she went on to the vicarage nevertheless, and demanded news of it
all. The conflicting accounts of Miss Flump, Miss Finch, Mrs Mendham,
Crump, and Mrs Jehoram had puzzled her immensely. The Vicar, hard
pressed, did all he could to say into her speaking trumpet what had
really happened. He toned down the wings and the saffron robe. But he
felt the case was hopeless. He spoke of his protégé as "Mr" Angel. He
addressed pathetic asides to the kingfisher. The old lady noticed his
confusion. Her queer old head went jerking backwards and forwards, now
the speaking trumpet in his face when he had nothing to say, then the
shrunken eyes peering at him, oblivious of the explanation that was
coming from his lips. A great many Ohs! and Ahs! She caught some
fragments certainly.

"You have asked him to stop with you - indefinitely?" said Lady
Hammergallow with a Great Idea taking shape rapidly in her mind.

"I did - perhaps inadvertently - make such - "

"And you don't know where he comes from?"

"Not at all."

"Nor who his father is, I suppose?" said Lady Hammergallow mysteriously.

"No," said the Vicar.

"_Now!_" said Lady Hammergallow archly, and keeping her glasses to her
eye, she suddenly dug at his ribs with her trumpet.

"My _dear_ Lady Hammergallow!"

"I thought so. Don't think _I_ would blame you, Mr Hilyer." She gave a
corrupt laugh that she delighted in. "The world is the world, and men
are men. And the poor boy's a cripple, eh? A kind of judgment. In
mourning, I noticed. It reminds me of the _Scarlet Letter_. The mother's
dead, I suppose. It's just as well. Really - I'm not a _narrow_ woman - I
_respect_ you for having him. Really I do."

"But, _Lady_ Hammergallow!"

"Don't spoil everything by denying it. It is so very, very plain, to a
woman of the world. That Mrs Mendham! She amuses me with her suspicions.
Such odd ideas! In a Curate's wife. But I hope it didn't happen when you
were in orders."

"Lady Hammergallow, I protest. Upon my word."

"Mr Hilyer, I protest. I _know_. Not anything you can say will alter my
opinion one jot. Don't try. I never suspected you were nearly such an
interesting man."

"But this suspicion is unendurable!"

"We will help him together, Mr Hilyer. You may rely upon me. It is most
romantic." She beamed benevolence.

"But, Lady Hammergallow, I _must_ speak!"

She gripped her ear-trumpet resolutely, and held it before her and shook
her head.

"He has quite a genius for music, Vicar, so I hear?"

"I can assure you most solemnly - "

"I thought so. And being a cripple - "

"You are under a most cruel - "

"I thought that if his gift is really what that Jehoram woman says."

"An unjustifiable suspicion that ever a man - "

("I don't think much of her judgment, of course.")

"Consider my position. Have I gained _no_ character?"

"It might be possible to do something for him as a performer."

"Have I - (_Bother! It's no good!_)"

"And so, dear Vicar, I propose to give him an opportunity of showing us
what he can do. I have been thinking it all over as I drove here. On
Tuesday next, I will invite just a few people of taste, and he shall
bring his violin. Eigh? And if that goes well, I will see if I can get
some introductions and really _push_ him."

"But _Lady_, Lady Hammergallow."

"Not another word!" said Lady Hammergallow, still resolutely holding her
speaking trumpet before her and clutching her eyeglasses. "I really
must not leave those horses. Cutler is so annoyed if I keep them too
long. He finds waiting tedious, poor man, unless there is a public-house
near." She made for the door.

"_Damn!_" said the Vicar, under his breath. He had never used the word
since he had taken orders. It shows you how an Angel's visit may
disorganize a man.

He stood under the verandah watching the carriage drive away. The world
seemed coming to pieces about him. Had he lived a virtuous celibate life
for thirty odd years in vain? The things of which these people thought
him capable! He stood and stared at the green cornfield opposite, and
down at the straggling village. It seemed real enough. And yet for the
first time in his life there was a queer doubt of its reality. He rubbed
his chin, then turned and went slowly upstairs to his dressing-room, and
sat for a long time staring at a garment of some yellow texture. "Know
his father!" he said. "And he is immortal, and was fluttering about his
heaven when my ancestors were marsupials.... I wish he was there now."

He got up and began to feel the robe.

"I wonder how they get such things," said the Vicar. Then he went and
stared out of the window. "I suppose everything is wonderful, even the
rising and setting of the sun. I suppose there is no adamantine ground
for any belief. But one gets into a regular way of taking things. This
disturbs it. I seem to be waking up to the Invisible. It is the
strangest of uncertainties. I have not felt so stirred and unsettled
since my adolescence."




FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE ANGEL IN THE VILLAGE.

XXIX.


"That's all right," said Crump when the bandaging was replaced. "It's a
trick of memory, no doubt, but these excrescences of yours don't seem
nearly so large as they did yesterday. I suppose they struck me rather
forcibly. Stop and have lunch with me now you're down here. Midday meal,
you know. The youngsters will be swallowed up by school again in the
afternoon."

"I never saw anything heal so well in my life," he said, as they walked
into the dining-room. "Your blood and flesh must be as clean and free
from bacteria as they make 'em. Whatever stuff there is in your head,"
he added _sotto voce_.

At lunch he watched the Angel narrowly, and talked to draw him out.

"Journey tire you yesterday?" he said suddenly.

"Journey!" said the Angel. "Oh! my wings felt a little stiff."

("Not to be had,") said Crump to himself. ("Suppose I must enter into
it.")

"So you flew all the way, eigh? No conveyance?"

"There wasn't any way," explained the Angel, taking mustard. "I was
flying up a symphony with some Griffins and Fiery Cherubim, and suddenly
everything went dark and I was in this world of yours."

"Dear me!" said Crump. "And that's why you haven't any luggage." He drew
his serviette across his mouth, and a smile flickered in his eyes.

"I suppose you know this world of ours pretty well? Watching us over the
adamantine walls and all that kind of thing. Eigh?"

"Not very well. We dream of it sometimes. In the moonlight, when the
Nightmares have fanned us to sleep with their wings."

"Ah, yes - of course," said Crump. "Very poetical way of putting it.
Won't you take some Burgundy? It's just beside you."

"There's a persuasion in this world, you know, that Angels' Visits are
by no means infrequent. Perhaps some of your - friends have travelled?
They are supposed to come down to deserving persons in prisons, and do
refined Nautches and that kind of thing. Faust business, you know."

"I've never heard of anything of the kind," said the Angel.

"Only the other day a lady whose baby was my patient for the time
being - indigestion - assured me that certain facial contortions the
little creature made indicated that it was Dreaming of Angels. In the
novels of Mrs Henry Wood that is spoken of as an infallible symptom of
an early departure. I suppose you can't throw any light on that obscure
pathological manifestation?"

"I don't understand it at all," said the Angel, puzzled, and not clearly
apprehending the Doctor's drift.

("Getting huffy,") said Crump to himself. ("Sees I'm poking fun at
him.") "There's one thing I'm curious about. Do the new arrivals
complain much about their medical attendants? I've always fancied there
must be a good deal of hydropathic talk just at first. I was looking at
that picture in the Academy only this June...."

"New Arrivals!" said the Angel. "I really don't follow you."

The Doctor stared. "Don't they come?"

"Come!" said the Angel. "Who?"

"The people who die here."

"After they've gone to pieces here?"

"That's the general belief, you know."

"People, like the woman who screamed out of the door, and the blackfaced
man and his volutations and the horrible little things that threw


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Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsThe wonderful visit → online text (page 5 of 10)