H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

The wonderful visit online

. (page 9 of 10)
Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsThe wonderful visit → online text (page 9 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

in the world I could trust to believe me!"

"I ought not to be sending you away - - "

"Do not trouble overmuch for me, my friend," said the Angel. "At least
this life of yours ends. And there are things in it. There is something
in this life of yours - - Your care for me! I thought there was nothing
beautiful at all in life - - "

"And I have betrayed you!" said the Vicar, with a sudden wave of
remorse. "Why did I not face them all - say, 'This is the best of life'?
What do these everyday things matter?"

He stopped suddenly. "What _do_ they matter?" he said.

"I have only come into your life to trouble it," said the Angel.

"Don't say that," said the Vicar. "You have come into my life to awaken
me. I have been dreaming - dreaming. Dreaming this was necessary and
that. Dreaming that this narrow prison was the world. And the dream
still hangs about me and troubles me. That is all. Even your
departure - - . Am I not dreaming that you must go?"

When he was in bed that night the mystical aspect of the case came still
more forcibly before the Vicar. He lay awake and had the most horrible
visions of his sweet and delicate visitor drifting through this
unsympathetic world and happening upon the cruellest misadventures. His
guest _was_ an Angel assuredly. He tried to go over the whole story of
the past eight days again. He thought of the hot afternoon, the shot
fired out of sheer surprise, the fluttering iridescent wings, the
beautiful saffron-robed figure upon the ground. How wonderful that had
seemed to him! Then his mind turned to the things he had heard of the
other world, to the dreams the violin had conjured up, to the vague,
fluctuating, wonderful cities of the Angelic Land. He tried to recall
the forms of the buildings, the shapes of the fruits upon the trees, the
aspect of the winged shapes that traversed its ways. They grew from a
memory into a present reality, grew every moment just a little more
vivid and his troubles a little less immediate; and so, softly and
quietly, the Vicar slipped out of his troubles and perplexities into the
Land of Dreams.


Delia sat with her window open, hoping to hear the Angel play. But that
night there was to be no playing. The sky was overcast, yet not so
thickly but that the moon was visible. High up a broken cloud-lace drove
across the sky, and now the moon was a hazy patch of light, and now it
was darkened, and now rode clear and bright and sharply outlined against
the blue gulf of night. And presently she heard the door into the garden
opening, and a figure came out under the drifting pallor of the

It was the Angel. But he wore once more the saffron robe in the place of
his formless overcoat. In the uncertain light this garment had only a
colourless shimmer, and his wings behind him seemed a leaden grey. He
began taking short runs, flapping his wings and leaping, going to and
fro amidst the drifting patches of light and the shadows of the trees.
Delia watched him in amazement. He gave a despondent cry, leaping
higher. His shrivelled wings flashed and fell. A thicker patch in the
cloud-film made everything obscure. He seemed to spring five or six feet
from the ground and fall clumsily. She saw him in the dimness crouching
on the ground and then she heard him sobbing.

"He's hurt!" said Delia, pressing her lips together hard and staring. "I
ought to help him."

She hesitated, then stood up and flitted swiftly towards the door, went
slipping quietly downstairs and out into the moonlight. The Angel still
lay upon the lawn, and sobbed for utter wretchedness.

"Oh! what is the matter?" said Delia, stooping over him and touching his
head timidly.

The Angel ceased sobbing, sat up abruptly, and stared at her. He saw her
face, moonlit, and soft with pity. "What is the matter?" she whispered.
"Are you hurt?"

The Angel stared about him, and his eyes came to rest on her face.
"Delia!" he whispered.

"Are you hurt?" said Delia.

"My wings," said the Angel. "I cannot use my wings."

Delia did not understand, but she realised that it was something very
dreadful. "It is dark, it is cold," whispered the Angel; "I cannot use
my wings."

It hurt her unaccountably to see the tears on his face. She did not know
what to do.

"Pity me, Delia," said the Angel, suddenly extending his arms towards
her; "pity me."

Impulsively she knelt down and took his face between her hands. "I do
not know," she said; "but I am sorry. I am sorry for you, with all my

The Angel said not a word. He was looking at her little face in the
bright moonlight, with an expression of uncomprehending wonder in his
eyes. "This strange world!" he said.

She suddenly withdrew her hands. A cloud drove over the moon. "What can
I do to help you?" she whispered. "I would do anything to help you."

He still held her at arm's length, perplexity replacing misery in his
face. "This strange world!" he repeated.

Both whispered, she kneeling, he sitting, in the fluctuating moonlight
and darkness of the lawn.

"Delia!" said Mrs Hinijer, suddenly projecting from her window; "Delia,
is that you?"

They both looked up at her in consternation.

"Come in at once, Delia," said Mrs Hinijer. "If that Mr Angel was a
gentleman (which he isn't), he'd feel ashamed of hisself. And you an
orphan too!"



On the morning of the next day the Angel, after he had breakfasted, went
out towards the moor, and Mrs Hinijer had an interview with the Vicar.
What happened need not concern us now. The Vicar was visibly
disconcerted. "He _must_ go," he said; "certainly he must go," and
straightway he forgot the particular accusation in the general trouble.
He spent the morning in hazy meditation, interspersed by a spasmodic
study of Skiff and Waterlow's price list, and the catalogue of the
Medical, Scholastic, and Clerical Stores. A schedule grew slowly on a
sheet of paper that lay on the desk before him. He cut out a
self-measurement form from the tailoring department of the Stores and
pinned it to the study curtains. This was the kind of document he was

"_1 Black Melton Frock Coat, patts? £3, 10s._

"_? Trousers. 2 pairs or one._

"_1 Cheviot Tweed Suit (write for patterns. Self-meas.?)_"

The Vicar spent some time studying a pleasing array of model gentlemen.
They were all very nice-looking, but he found it hard to imagine the
Angel so transfigured. For, although six days had passed, the Angel
remained without any suit of his own. The Vicar had vacillated between a
project of driving the Angel into Portbroddock and getting him measured
for a suit, and his absolute horror of the insinuating manners of the
tailor he employed. He knew that tailor would demand an exhaustive
explanation. Besides which, one never knew when the Angel might leave.
So the six days had passed, and the Angel had grown steadily in the
wisdom of this world and shrouded his brightness still in the ample
retirement of the Vicar's newest clothes.

"_1 Soft Felt Hat, No. G. 7 (say), 8s 6d._

"_1 Silk Hat, 14s 6d. Hatbox?_"

("I suppose he ought to have a silk hat," said the Vicar; "it's the
correct thing up there. Shape No. 3 seems best suited to his style. But
it's dreadful to think of him all alone in that great city. Everyone
will misunderstand him, and he will misunderstand everybody. However, I
suppose it _must_ be. Where was I?)"

"_1 Toothbrush. 1 Brush and Comb. Razor?_

"_½ doz. Shirts (? measure his neck), 6s ea._

"_Socks? Pants?_

"_2 suits Pyjamas. Price? Say 15s._

"_1 doz. Collars ('The Life Guardsman'), 8s._

"_Braces. Oxon Patent Versatile, 1s 11½d._"

("But how will he get them on?" said the Vicar.)

"_1 Rubber Stamp, T. Angel, and Marking Ink in box complete, 9d._

("Those washerwomen are certain to steal all his things.")

"_1 Single-bladed Penknife with Corkscrew, say 1s 6d._

"_N.B. - Don't forget Cuff Links, Collar Stud, &c._" (The Vicar loved
"&c.", it gave things such a precise and business-like air.)

"_1 Leather Portmanteau (had better see these)._"

And so forth - meanderingly. It kept the Vicar busy until lunch time,
though his heart ached.

The Angel did not return to lunch. This was not so very remarkable - once
before he had missed the midday meal. Yet, considering how short was the
time they would have together now, he might perhaps have come back.
Doubtless he had excellent reasons, though, for his absence. The Vicar
made an indifferent lunch. In the afternoon he rested in his usual
manner, and did a little more to the list of requirements. He did not
begin to feel nervous about the Angel till tea-time. He waited, perhaps,
half an hour before he took tea. "Odd," said the Vicar, feeling still
more lonely as he drank his tea.

As the time for dinner crept on and no Angel appeared the Vicar's
imagination began to trouble him. "He will come in to dinner, surely,"
said the Vicar, caressing his chin, and beginning to fret about the
house upon inconsiderable errands, as his habit was when anything
occurred to break his routine. The sun set, a gorgeous spectacle, amidst
tumbled masses of purple cloud. The gold and red faded into twilight;
the evening star gathered her robe of light together from out the
brightness of the sky in the West. Breaking the silence of evening that
crept over the outer world, a corncrake began his whirring chant. The
Vicar's face grew troubled; twice he went and stared at the darkening
hillside, and then fretted back to the house again. Mrs Hinijer served
dinner. "Your dinner's ready," she announced for the second time, with a
reproachful intonation. "Yes, yes," said the Vicar, fussing off

He came down and went into his study and lit his reading lamp, a patent
affair with an incandescent wick, dropping the match into his
waste-paper basket without stopping to see if it was extinguished. Then
he fretted into the dining-room and began a desultory attack on the
cooling dinner....

(Dear Reader, the time is almost ripe to say farewell to this little
Vicar of ours.)


Sir John Gotch (still smarting over the business of the barbed wire) was
riding along one of the grassy ways through the preserves by the Sidder,
when he saw, strolling slowly through the trees beyond the undergrowth,
the one particular human being he did not want to see.

"I'm damned," said Sir John Gotch, with immense emphasis; "if this isn't
altogether too much."

He raised himself in the stirrups. "Hi!" he shouted. "You there!"

The Angel turned smiling.

"Get out of this wood!" said Sir John Gotch.

"_Why?_" said the Angel.

"I'm - - - ," said Sir John Gotch, meditating some cataclysmal
expletive. But he could think of nothing more than "damned." "Get out of
this wood," he said.

The Angel's smile vanished. "Why should I get out of this wood?" he
said, and stood still.

Neither spoke for a full half minute perhaps, and then Sir John Gotch
dropped out of his saddle and stood by the horse.

(Now you must remember - lest the Angelic Hosts be discredited
hereby - that this Angel had been breathing the poisonous air of this
Struggle for Existence of ours for more than a week. It was not only his
wings and the brightness of his face that suffered. He had eaten and
slept and learnt the lesson of pain - had travelled so far on the road to
humanity. All the length of his Visit he had been meeting more and more
of the harshness and conflict of this world, and losing touch with the
glorious altitudes of his own.)

"You won't go, eigh!" said Gotch, and began to lead his horse through
the bushes towards the Angel. The Angel stood, all his muscles tight and
his nerves quivering, watching his antagonist approach.

"Get out of this wood," said Gotch, stopping three yards away, his face
white with rage, his bridle in one hand and his riding whip in the

Strange floods of emotion were running through the Angel. "Who are
you," he said, in a low quivering voice; "who am I - that you should
order me out of this place? What has the World done that men like

"You're the fool who cut my barbed wire," said Gotch, threatening, "If
you want to know!"

"_Your_ barbed wire," said the Angel. "Was that your barbed wire? Are
you the man who put down that barbed wire? What right have you...."

"Don't you go talking Socialist rot," said Gotch in short gasps. "This
wood's mine, and I've a right to protect it how I can. I know your kind
of muck. Talking rot and stirring up discontent. And if you don't get
out of it jolly sharp...."

"_Well!_" said the Angel, a brimming reservoir of unaccountable energy.

"Get out of this damned wood!" said Gotch, flashing into the bully out
of sheer alarm at the light in the Angel's face.

He made one step towards him, with the whip raised, and then something
happened that neither he nor the Angel properly understood. The Angel
seemed to leap into the air, a pair of grey wings flashed out at the
Squire, he saw a face bearing down upon him, full of the wild beauty of
passionate anger. His riding whip was torn out of his hand. His horse
reared behind him, pulled him over, gained his bridle and fled.

The whip cut across his face as he fell back, stung across his face
again as he sat on the ground. He saw the Angel, radiant with anger, in
the act to strike again. Gotch flung up his hands, pitched himself
forward to save his eyes, and rolled on the ground under the pitiless
fury of the blows that rained down upon him.

"You brute," cried the Angel, striking wherever he saw flesh to feel.
"You bestial thing of pride and lies! You who have overshadowed the
souls of other men. You shallow fool with your horses and dogs! To lift
your face against any living thing! Learn! Learn! Learn!"

Gotch began screaming for help. Twice he tried to clamber to his feet,
got to his knees, and went headlong again under the ferocious anger of
the Angel. Presently he made a strange noise in his throat, and ceased
even to writhe under his punishment.

Then suddenly the Angel awakened from his wrath, and found himself
standing, panting and trembling, one foot on a motionless figure, under
the green stillness of the sunlit woods.

He stared about him, then down at his feet where, among the tangled dead
leaves, the hair was matted with blood. The whip dropped from his hands,
the hot colour fled from his face. "_Pain!_" he said. "Why does he lie
so still?"

He took his foot off Gotch's shoulder, bent down towards the prostrate
figure, stood listening, knelt - shook him. "Awake!" said the Angel. Then
still more softly, "_Awake!_"

He remained listening some minutes or more, stood up sharply, and looked
round him at the silent trees. A feeling of profound horror descended
upon him, wrapped him round about. With an abrupt gesture he turned.
"What has happened to me?" he said, in an awe-stricken whisper.

He started back from the motionless figure. "_Dead!_" he said suddenly,
and turning, panic stricken, fled headlong through the wood.


It was some minutes after the footsteps of the Angel had died away in
the distance that Gotch raised himself on his hand. "By Jove!" he said.
"Crump's right."

"Cut at the head, too!"

He put his hand to his face and felt the two weals running across it,
hot and fat. "I'll think twice before I lift my hand against a lunatic
again," said Sir John Gotch.

"He may be a person of weak intellect, but I'm damned if he hasn't a
pretty strong arm. _Phew!_ He's cut a bit clean off the top of my ear
with that infernal lash."

"That infernal horse will go galloping to the house in the approved
dramatic style. Little Madam'll be scared out of her wits. And I ... I
shall have to explain how it all happened. While she vivisects me with

"I'm a jolly good mind to have spring guns and man-traps put in this
preserve. Confound the Law!"


But the Angel, thinking that Gotch was dead, went wandering off in a
passion of remorse and fear through the brakes and copses along the
Sidder. You can scarcely imagine how appalled he was at this last and
overwhelming proof of his encroaching humanity. All the darkness,
passion and pain of life seemed closing in upon him, inexorably,
becoming part of him, chaining him to all that a week ago he had found
strange and pitiful in men.

"Truly, this is no world for an Angel!" said the Angel. "It is a World
of War, a World of Pain, a World of Death. Anger comes upon one ... I
who knew not pain and anger, stand here with blood stains on my hands. I
have fallen. To come into this world is to fall. One must hunger and
thirst and be tormented with a thousand desires. One must fight for
foothold, be angry and strike - - "

He lifted up his hands to Heaven, the ultimate bitterness of helpless
remorse in his face, and then flung them down with a gesture of despair.
The prison walls of this narrow passionate life seemed creeping in upon
him, certainly and steadily, to crush him presently altogether. He felt
what all we poor mortals have to feel sooner or later - the pitiless
force of the Things that Must Be, not only without us but (where the
real trouble lies) within, all the inevitable tormenting of one's high
resolves, those inevitable seasons when the better self is forgotten.
But with us it is a gentle descent, made by imperceptible degrees over a
long space of years; with him it was the horrible discovery of one short
week. He felt he was being crippled, caked over, blinded, stupefied in
the wrappings of this life, he felt as a man might feel who has taken
some horrible poison, and feels destruction spreading within him.

He took no account of hunger or fatigue or the flight of time. On and on
he went, avoiding houses and roads, turning away from the sight and
sound of a human being in a wordless desperate argument with Fate. His
thoughts did not flow but stood banked back in inarticulate
remonstrance against his degradation. Chance directed his footsteps
homeward and, at last, after nightfall, he found himself faint and weary
and wretched, stumbling along over the moor at the back of Siddermorton.
He heard the rats run and squeal in the heather, and once a noiseless
big bird came out of the darkness, passed, and vanished again. And he
saw without noticing it a dull red glow in the sky before him.


But when he came over the brow of the moor, a vivid light sprang up
before him and refused to be ignored. He came on down the hill and
speedily saw more distinctly what the glare was. It came from darting
and trembling tongues of fire, golden and red, that shot from the
windows and a hole in the roof of the Vicarage. A cluster of black
heads, all the village in fact, except the fire-brigade - who were down
at Aylmer's Cottage trying to find the key of the machine-house - came
out in silhouette against the blaze. There was a roaring sound, and a
humming of voices, and presently a furious outcry. There was a shouting
of "No! No!" - "Come back!" and an inarticulate roar.

He began to run towards the burning house. He stumbled and almost fell,
but he ran on. He found black figures running about him. The flaring
fire blew gustily this way and that, and he smelt the smell of burning.

"She went in," said one voice, "she went in."

"The mad girl!" said another.

"Stand back! Stand back!" cried others.

He found himself thrusting through an excited, swaying crowd, all
staring at the flames, and with the red reflection in their eyes.

"Stand back!" said a labourer, clutching him.

"What is it?" said the Angel. "What does this mean?"

"There's a girl in the house, and she can't get out!"

"Went in after a fiddle," said another.

"'Tas hopeless," he heard someone else say.

"I was standing near her. I heerd her. Says she: 'I _can_ get his
fiddle.' I heerd her - Just like that! 'I _can_ get his fiddle.'"

For a moment the Angel stood staring. Then in a flash he saw it all, saw
this grim little world of battle and cruelty, transfigured in a
splendour that outshone the Angelic Land, suffused suddenly and
insupportably glorious with the wonderful light of Love and
Self-Sacrifice. He gave a strange cry, and before anyone could stop
him, was running towards the burning building. There were cries of "The
Hunchback! The Fowener!"

The Vicar, whose scalded hand was being tied up, turned his head, and he
and Crump saw the Angel, a black outline against the intense, red glare
of the doorway. It was the sensation of the tenth of a second, yet both
men could not have remembered that transitory attitude more vividly had
it been a picture they had studied for hours together. Then the Angel
was hidden by something massive (no one knew what) that fell,
incandescent, across the doorway.


There was a cry of "Delia" and no more. But suddenly the flames spurted
out in a blinding glare that shot upward to an immense height, a
blinding brilliance broken by a thousand flickering gleams like the
waving of swords. And a gust of sparks, flashing in a thousand colours,
whirled up and vanished. Just then, and for a moment by some strange
accident, a rush of music, like the swell of an organ, wove into the
roaring of the flames.

The whole village standing in black knots heard the sound, except Gaffer
Siddons who is deaf - strange and beautiful it was, and then gone again.
Lumpy Durgan, the idiot boy from Sidderford, said it began and ended
like the opening and shutting of a door.

But little Hetty Penzance had a pretty fancy of two figures with wings,
that flashed up and vanished among the flames.

(And after that it was she began to pine for the things she saw in her
dreams, and was abstracted and strange. It grieved her mother sorely at
the time. She grew fragile, as though she was fading out of the world,
and her eyes had a strange, far-away look. She talked of angels and
rainbow colours and golden wings, and was for ever singing an unmeaning
fragment of an air that nobody knew. Until Crump took her in hand and
cured her with fattening dietary, syrup of hypophosphites and cod liver


And there the story of the Wonderful Visit ends. The Epilogue is in the
mouth of Mrs Mendham. There stand two little white crosses in the
Siddermorton churchyard, near together, where the brambles come
clambering over the stone wall. One is inscribed Thomas Angel and the
other Delia Hardy, and the dates of the deaths are the same. Really
there is nothing beneath them but the ashes of the Vicar's stuffed
ostrich. (You will remember the Vicar had his ornithological side.) I
noticed them when Mrs Mendham was showing me the new De la Beche
monument. (Mendham has been Vicar since Hilyer died.) "The granite came
from somewhere in Scotland," said Mrs Mendham, "and cost ever so much - I
forget how much - but a wonderful lot! It's quite the talk of the

"Mother," said Cissie Mendham, "you are stepping on a grave."

"Dear me!" said Mrs Mendham, "How heedless of me! And the cripple's
grave too. But really you've no idea how much this monument cost them."

"These two people, by the bye," said Mrs Mendham, "were killed when the
old Vicarage was burnt. It's rather a strange story. He was a curious
person, a hunchbacked fiddler, who came from nobody knows where, and
imposed upon the late Vicar to a frightful extent. He played in a
pretentious way by ear, and we found out afterwards that he did not know
a note of music - not a note. He was exposed before quite a lot of
people. Among other things, he seems to have been 'carrying on,' as
people say, with one of the servants, a sly little drab.... But Mendham
had better tell you all about it. The man was half-witted and curiously
deformed. It's strange the fancies girls have."

She looked sharply at Cissie, and Cissie blushed to the eyes.

"She was left in the house and he rushed into the flames in an attempt
to save her. Quite romantic - isn't it? He was rather clever with the
fiddle in his uneducated way.

"All the poor Vicar's stuffed skins were burned at the same time. It was
almost all he cared for. He never really got over the blow. He came to
stop with us - for there wasn't another house available in the village.
But he never seemed happy. He seemed all shaken. I never saw a man so
changed. I tried to stir him up, but it was no good - no good at all. He
had the queerest delusions about angels and that kind of thing. It made
him odd company at times. He would say he heard music, and stare quite
stupidly at nothing for hours together. He got quite careless about his
dress.... He died within a twelvemonth of the fire."

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9

Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsThe wonderful visit → online text (page 9 of 10)