H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

Twelve stories and a dream online

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All n'g'its fesc'Tfcl


FiLMER > . . . .

The Magic Shop

The Valley of Spiders .

The Truth about Pyecraft .

Mr. Skelmersdale in Fairyland

The Inexperienced Ghost

Jimmy Goggles the God

The New Accelerator

Mr. Ledbetter's Vacation

The Stolen Body

Mr. Brisher's Treasure .

Miss Winchelsea's Heart

A Dream of Armageddon












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In truth the mastery of flying was the work of
thousands of men — this man a suggestion and that
an experiment, until at last only one vigorous
intellectual ^effort was needed to finish the work.
But the inexorable injustice of the popular mind
has decided that of all these thousands, one man,
and that a man who never flew, should be chosen
as the discoverer, just as it has chosen to honour
Watt as the discoverer of steam and Stephenson
of the steam-engine. And surely of all honoured
names none is so grotesquely and tragically
honoured as poor Filmer's, the timid, intellectual
creature who solved the problem over which the
world had hung perplexed and a little fearful for
so many generations, the man who pressed the
button that has changed peace and warfare and
well-nigh every condition of human life and
happiness. Never has that recurring wonder of
the littleness of the scientific man in the face of



the greatness of his science found such an amazing
exempHfication, Much concerning Filmer is, and
must remain, profoundly obscure — Filmers attract
no Boswells — but the essential facts and the con-
cluding scene are clear enough, and there are letters,
and notes, and casual allusions to piece the whole
together. And this is the story one makes, putting
this thing with that, of Filmer's life and death.

The first authentic trace of Filmer on the page
of history is a document in which he applies for
admission as a paid student in physics to the
Government laboratories at South Kensington, and
therein he describes himself as the son of a * military
bootmaker ' (' cobbler ' in the vulgar tongue) of
Dover, and lists his various examination proofs of
a high proficiency in chemistry and mathematics.
With a certain want of dignity he seeks to enhance
these attainments by a profession of poverty and
disadvantages, and he writes of the laboratory as
the * gaol ' of his ambitions, a slip which reinforces
his claim to have devoted himself exclusively to
the exact sciences. The document is endorsed in
a manner that shows Filmer was admitted to this
coveted opportunity ; but until quite recently no
traces of his success in the Government institution
could be found.

It has now, however, been shown that in spite


of his professed zeal for research, Fllmer, before he
had held this scholarship a year, was tempted by
the possibility of a small increase in his immediate
income, to abandon it in order to become one of
the nine-pence-an-hour computers employed by a
well-known Professor in his vicarious conduct of
those extensive researches of his in solar physics —
researches which are still a matter of perplexity to
astronomers. Afterwards, for the space of seven
years, save for the pass lists of the London Uni-
versity, in which he is seen to climb slowly to a
double first class B.Sc, in mathematics and chemistry,
there is no evidence of how Filmer passed his life.
No one knows how or where he lived, though it
seems highly probable that he continued to support
himself by teaching while he prosecuted the studies
necessary for this distinction. And then, oddly
enough, one finds him mentioned in the corre-
spondence of Arthur Hicks, the poet.

' You remember Filmer,' Hicks writes to his
friend Vance ; ' well he hasn't altered a bit, the
same hostile mumble and the nasty chin — how can
a man contrive to be always three days from
shaving ? — and a sort of furtive air of being
engaged in sneaking In front of one ; even his
coat and that frayed collar of his show no further
signs of the passing of years. He was writing in


the library and I sat down beside him in the name
of God's charity, whereupon he deliberately insulted
me by covering up his memoranda. It seems he
has some brilliant research on hand that he suspects
me of all people — with a Bodley Booklet a-printing !
— of stealing. He has taken remarkable honours at
the University — he went through them with a sort
of hasty slobber, as though he feared I might inter-
rupt him before he had told me all — and he spoke
of taking his D.Sc. as one might speak of taking
a cab. And he asked what I was doing — with a
sort of comparative accent, and his arm was spread
nervously, positively a protecting arm, over the
paper that hid the precious idea — his one hopeful

* '* Poetry," he said, " poetry. And what do
you profess to teach in it. Hicks ,'' "

* The thing's a provincial professorling in the
very act of budding, and I thank the Lord devoutly
that but for the precious gift of indolence I also
might have gone this way to D.Sc. and destruc-
tion , . ,'

A curious little vignette that I am inclined to
think caught Filmer in or near the very birth of
his discovery.

Hicks was wrong in anticipating a provincial
professorship for Filmer. Our next glimpse of


him is lecturing on ' rubber and rubber substitutes,'
to the Society of Arts — he had become manager to
a great plastic-substance manufactory — and at that
time, it is now known, he was a member of the
Aeronautical Society, albeit he contributed nothing
to the discussions of that body, preferring no
doubt to mature his great conception without
external assistance. And within two years of that
paper before the Society of Arts he was hastily
taking out a number of patents and proclaiming in
various undignified ways the completion of the
divergent inquiries which made his flying machine
possible. The first definite statement to that effect
appeared in a halfpenny evening paper through
the agency of a man who lodged in the same house
with Filmer. His final haste after his long
laborious secret patience seems to have been due to
a needless panic, Bootle, the notorious American
scientific quack, having made an announcement
that Filmer interpreted wrongly as an anticipation
of his idea.

Now what precisely was Filmer's idea ? Really
a very simple one. Before his time the pursuit of
aeronautics had taken two divergent lines, and had
developed on the one hand balloons — large apparatus
lighter than air, easy in ascent, and comparatively
safe in descent, but floating helplessly before any


breeze that took them ; and on the other, flying
machines that flew only in theory — vast flat
structures heavier than air, propelled and kept up
by heavy engines and for the most part smashing
at the first descent. But, neglecting the fact that
the inevitable final collapse rendered them im-
possible, the weight of the flying machines gave
them this theoretical advantage, that they could
go through the air against a wind, a necessary
condition if aerial navigation was to have any
practical value. It is Kilmer's particular merit
that he perceived the way in which the contrasted
and hitherto incompatible merits of balloon and
heavy flying machine might be combined in one
apparatus, which should be at choice either heavier
or lighter than air. He took hints from the
contractile bladders of fish and the pneumatic
cavities of birds. He devised an arrangement of
contractile and absolutely closed balloons which
when expanded could lift the actual flying apparatus
with ease, and when retracted by the complicated
' musculature ' he wove about them, were with-
drawn almost completely into the frame ; and he
built the large framework which these balloons
sustained, of hollow, rigid tubes, the air in which, by
an ingenious contrivance, was automatically pumped
out as the apparatus fell, and which then remained


exhausted so long as the aeronaut desired. There
were no wings or propellers to his machine, such
as there had been to all previous aeroplanes, and
the only engine required was the compact and
powerful little appliance needed to contract the
balloons. He perceived that such an apparatus as
he had devised might rise with frame exhausted
and balloons expanded to a considerable height,
might then contract its balloons and let the air into
its frame, and by an adjustment of its weights slide
down the air in any desired direction. As it fell
it would accumulate velocity and at the same time
lose weight, and the momentum accumulated by
its down- rush could be utilised by means of a
shifting of its weights to drive it up in the air
again as the balloons expanded. This conception,
which is still the structural conception of all
successful flying machines, needed, however, a vast
amount of toil upon its details before it could
actually be realised, and such toil Filmer — as he
was accustomed to tell the numerous interviewers
who crowded upon him in the heyday of his fame
— ' ungrudgingly and unsparingly gave.' His
particular difficulty was the elastic lining of the
contractile balloon. He found he needed a new
substance, and in the discovery and manufacture
of that new substance he had, as he never failed


to impress upon the interviewers, * performed a far
more arduous work than even in the actual achieve-
ment of my seemingly greater discovery.'

But it must not be imagined that these inter-
views followed hard upon Kilmer's proclamation
of his invention. An interval of nearly five years
elapsed during which he timidly remained at his
rubber factory — he seems to have been entirely de-
pendent on his small income from this source —
making misdirected attempts to assure a quite in-
different public that he really had invented what he
had invented. He occupied the greater part of his
leisure in the composition of letters to the scientific
and daily press, and so forth, stating precisely the
net result of his contrivances, and demanding
financial aid. That alone would have sufficed for
the suppression of his letters. He spent such
holidays as he could arrange in unsatisfactory
interviews with the door - keepers of leading
London papers — he was singularly not adapted for
inspiring hall -porters with confidence — and he
positively attempted to induce the War Office to
take up his work with him. There remains a
confidential letter from Major-General Volleyfire
to the Earl of Frogs. 'The man's a crank and a
bounder to boot,' says the Major-General in his
bluff, sensible, army way, and so left it open for


the Japanese to secure, as they subsequently did,
the priority in this side of warfare — a priority they
still to our great discomfort retain.

And then by a stroke of luck the membrane
Filmer had invented for his contractile balloon was
discovered to be useful for the valves of a new oil-
engine, and he obtained the means for making a
trial model of his invention. He threw up his
rubber factory appointment, desisted from all
further writing, and, with a certain secrecy that
seems to have been an inseparable characteristic of
all his proceedings, set to work upon the apparatus.
He seems to have directed the making of its parts
and collected most of it in a room in Shoreditch,
but its final putting together was done at Dym-
church, in Kent. He did not make the affair large
enough to carry a man, but he made an extremely
ingenious use of what were then called the Marconi
rays to control its flight. The first flight of this
first practicable flying machine took place over
some fields near Burford Bridge, near Hythe, in
Kent, and Filmer followed and controlled its flight
upon a specially constructed motor tricycle.

The flight was, considering all things, an
amazing success. The apparatus was brought in
a cart from Dymchurch to Burford Bridge,
ascended there to a height of nearly three hundred


feet, swooped thence very nearly back to Dym-
church, came about in its sweep, rose again, circled,
and finally sank uninjured in a field behind the
Burford Bridge Inn. At its descent a curious
thing happened. Filmer got ofF his tricycle,
scrambled over the intervening dyke, advanced
perhaps twenty yards towards his triumph, threw
out his arms in a strange gesticulation, and fell
down in a dead faint. Every one could then recall
the ghastliness of his features and all the evidences
of extreme excitement they had observed through-
out the trial, things they might otherwise have
forgotten. Afterwards in the inn he had an
unaccountable gust of hysterical weeping.

Altogether there were not twenty witnesses of
this affair, and those for the most part uneducated
men. The New Romney doctor saw the ascent
but not the descent, his horse being frightened by
the electrical apparatus on Filmer's tricycle and
giving him a nasty spill. Two members of the
Kent constabulary watched the affair from a cart
in an unofficial spirit, and a grocer calling round
the Marsh for orders and two lady cyclists seem
almost to complete the list of educated people.
There were two reporters present, one representing
a Folkestone paper and the other being a fourth-
class interviewer and ' symposium ' journalist,


whose expenses down, Filmer, anxious as ever for
adequate advertisement — and now quite realising
the way in which adequate advertisement may be
obtained — had paid. The latter was one of those
writers who can throw a convincing air of unreality
over the most credible events, and his half-facetious
account of the affair appeared in the magazine page
of a popular journal. But, happily for Filmer,
this person's colloquial methods were more con-
vincing. He went to offer some further screed
upon the subject to Banghurst, the proprietor of
the New Paper^ and one of the ablest and most
unscrupulous men in London journalism, and
Banghurst instantly seized upon the situation. The
interviewer vanishes from the narrative, no doubt
very doubtfully remunerated, and Banghurst,
Banghurst himself, double chin, grey twill suit,
abdomen, voice, gestures and all, appears at Dym-
church, following his large, unrivalled journalistic
nose. He had seen the whole thing at a glance,
just what it was and what it might be.

At his touch, as it were, Filmer's long-pent
investigations exploded into fame. He instantly
and most magnificently was a Boom. One turns
over the files of the journals of the year 1907 with
a quite incredulous recognition of how swift and
flaming the boom of those days could be. The


July papers know nothing of flying, see nothing
in flying, state by a most efl'ective silence that men
never would, could, or should fly. In August
flying and Filmer and flying and parachutes and
aerial tactics and the Japanese Government and
Filmer and again flying, shouldered the war in
Yunnan and the gold mines of Upper Greenland
oflF the leading page. And Banghurst had given
ten thousand pounds, and, further, Banghurst was
giving five thousand pounds, and Banghurst had
devoted his well-known, magnificent (but hitherto
sterile) private laboratories and several acres of
land near his private residence on the Surrey hills
to the strenuous and violent completion — Bang-
hurst fashion — of the life-size practicable flying
machine. Meanwhile, in the sight of privileged
multitudes in the walled-garden of the Banghurst
town residence in Fulham, Filmer was exhibited at
weekly garden parties putting the working model
through its paces. At enormous initial cost, but
with a final profit, the New Paper presented its
readers with a beautiful photographic souvenir of
the first of these occasions.

Here again the correspondence of Arthur Hicks
and his friend Vance comes to our aid.

' I saw Filmer in his glory,' he writes, with just
the touch of envy natural to his position as a


poet passe. ' The man is brushed and shaved,
dressed in the fashion of a Royal-Institution-After-
noon Lecturer, the very newest shape in frock-
coats and long patent shoes, and altogether in a
state of extraordinary streakiness between an
owlish great man and a scared abashed self-
conscious bounder cruelly exposed. He hasn't a
touch of colour in the skin of his face, his head
juts forward, and those queer little dark amber
eyes of his watch furtively round him for his fame.
His clothes fit perfectly and yet sit upon him as
though he had bought them ready-made. He
speaks in a mumble still, but he says, you perceive
indistinctly, enormous self-assertive things, he
backs into the rear of groups by instinct if Bang-
hurst drops the line for a minute, and when he
walks across Banghurst's lawn one perceives him a
little out of breath and going jerky, and that his weak
white hands are clenched. His is a state of tension
— horrible tension. And he is the Greatest
Discoverer of This or Any Age — the Greatest
Discoverer of This or Any Age ! What strikes
one so forcibly about him is that he didn't some-
how quite expect it ever, at any rate, not at all
like this. Banghurst is about everywhere, the
energetic M.C. of his great little catch, and I
swear he will have everyone down on his lawn


there before he has finished with the engine ; he
had bagged the prime minister yesterday, and he,
bless his heart ! didn't look particularly outsize, on
the very first occasion. Conceive it ! Filmer !
Our obscure unwashed Filmer, the Glory of British
science ! Duchesses crowd upon him, beautiful,
bold peeresses say in their beautiful, clear loud
voices — have you noticed how penetrating the
great lady is becoming nowadays ? — " Oh, Mr.
Filmer, how did you do it .? "

* Common men on the edge of things are too
remote for the answer. One imagines something
in the way of that interview, " toil ungrudgingly
and unsparingly given. Madam, and, perhaps
— I don't know — but perhaps a little special
aptitude." '

So far Hicks, and the photographic supplement
to the New Paper is in sufficient harmony with
the description. In one picture the machine swings
down towards the river, and the tower of Fulham
church appears below it through a gap in the elms,
and in another, Filmer sits at his guiding batteries,
and the great and beautiful of the earth stand
around him, with Banghurst massed modestly but
resolutely in the rear. The grouping is oddly
apposite. Occluding much of Banghurst, and
looking with a pensive, speculative expression at


Filmer, stands the Lady Mary Elkinghorn, still
beautiful, in spite of the breath of scandal and her
eight-and-thirty years, the only person whose face
does not admit a perception of the camera that was
in the act of snapping them all.

So much for the exterior facts of the story, but,
after all, they are very exterior facts. About the
real interest of the business one is necessarily very
much in the dark. How was Filmer feeling at the
time .'' How much was a certain unpleasant anti-
cipation present inside that very new and fashion-
able frock-coat ? He was in the halfpenny, penny,
sixpenny, and more expensive papers alike, and
acknowledged by the whole world as ' the Greatest
Discoverer of This or Any Age.' He had in-
vented a practicable flying machine, and every day
down among the Surrey hills the life-sized model
was getting ready. And when it was ready, it
followed as a clear inevitable consequence of his
having invented and made it — everybody in the
world, indeed, seemed to take it for granted ;
there wasn't a gap anywhere in that serried front
of anticipation — that he would proudly and cheer-
fully get aboard it, ascend with it, and fly.

But we know now pretty clearly that simple
pride and cheerfulness in such an act were singu-
larly out of harmony with Filmer's private


constitution. It occurred to no one at the time,
but there the fact is. We can guess with some
confidence now that it must have been drifting
about in his mind a great deal during the day,
and, from a little note to his physician complaining
of persistent insomnia, we have the soundest
reason for supposing it dominated his nights, — the
idea that it would be after all, in spite of his
theoretical security, an abominably sickening,
uncomfortable, and dangerous thing for him to
flap about in nothingness a thousand feet or so in
the air. It must have dawned upon him quite
early in the period of being the Greatest Dis-
coverer of This or Any Age, the vision of doing
this and that with an extensive void below. Per-
haps somewhen in his youth he had looked down
a great height or fallen down in some excessively
uncomfortable way ; perhaps some habit of sleeping
on the wrong side had resulted in that disagreeable
falling nightmare one knows, and given him his
horror ; of the strength of that horror there
remains now not a particle of doubt.

Apparently he had never weighed this duty of
flying in his earlier days of research ; the machine
had been his end, but now things were opening out
beyond his end, and particularly this giddy whirl
up above there. He was a Discoverer and he


had Discovered. But he was not a Flying Man,
and it was only now that he was beginning to
perceive clearly that he was expected to fly. Yet,
however much the thing was present in his mind
he gave no expression to it until the very end,
and meanwhile he went to and fro from Bang-
hurst's magnificent laboratories, and was interviewed
and lionised, and wore good clothes, and ate good
food, and lived in an elegant flat, enjoying a very
abundant feast of such good, coarse, wholesome
Fame and Success as a man, starved for all his
years as he had been starved, might be reasonably
expected to enjoy.

After a time, the weekly gatherings in Fulham
ceased. The model had failed one day just for a
moment to respond to Filmer's guidance, or he
had been distracted by the compliments of an
archbishop. At any rate, it suddenly dug its
nose into the air just a little too steeply as the
archbishop was sailing through a Latin quotation
for all the world like an archbishop in a book, and
it came down in the Fulham Road within three
yards of a 'bus horse. It stood for a second
perhaps, astonishing and in its attitude astonished,
then it crumpled, shivered into pieces, and the 'bus
horse was incidentally killed.

Filmer lost the end of the archiepiscopal com-


pliment. He stood up and stared as his invention
swooped out of sight and reach of him. His
long, white hands still gripped his useless apparatus.
The archbishop followed his skyward stare with
an apprehension unbecoming in an archbishop.

Then came the crash and the shouts and uproar
from the road to relieve Filmer's tension. ' My
God ! ' he whispered, and sat down.

Every one else almost was staring to see where
the machine had vanished, or rushing into the

The making of the big machine progressed all
the more rapidly for this. Over its making
presided Filmer, always a little slow and very
careful in his manner, always with a growing
preoccupation in his mind. His care over the
strength and soundness of the apparatus was
prodigious. The slightest doubt, and he delayed
everything until the doubtful part could be re-
placed. Wilkinson, his senior assistant, fumed at
some of these delays, which, he insisted, were for
the most part unnecessary. Banghurst magnified
the patient certitude of Filmer in the New Paper,
and reviled it bitterly to his wife, and MacAndrew,
the second assistant, approved Filmer's wisdom.
* We're not wanting a fiasco, man,' said Mac-
Andrew. ' He's perfectly well advised.'


And whenever an opportunity arose Filmer
would expound to Wilkinson and MacAndrew
just exactly how every part of the flying machine

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Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsTwelve stories and a dream → online text (page 1 of 20)