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In the dystopian vision of H. G. Wells' novel The Sleeper Awakes (1910), a man awakes to a London where all he knew has radically changed after his sleep of two hundred and three years. Due to the wonders of compound interest, he is now this later world's richest man. As a committed socialist and futurist, he now sees his dreams realized and revealed to him in all their abhorrent and frightful glory.
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The Sleeper Awakes
H. G. Wells
THE SLEEPER AWAKES
One afternoon, at low water, Mr. Isbister, a young artist lodging at Boscastle, walked from that place to the picturesque cove of Pentargen, desiring to examine the caves there. Halfway down the precipitous path to the Pentargen beach he came suddenly upon a man sitting in an attitude of profound distress beneath a projecting mass of rock. The hands of this man hung limply over his knees, his eyes were red and staring before him, and his face was wet with tears.
He glanced round at Isbister's footfall. Both men were disconcerted, Isbister the more so, and, to override the awkwardness of his involuntary pause, he remarked, with an air of mature conviction, that the weather was hot for the time of year.
"Very," answered the stranger shortly, hesitated a second, and added in a colourless tone, "I can't sleep."
Isbister stopped abruptly. "No?" was all he said, but his bearing conveyed his helpful impulse.
"It may sound incredible," said the stranger, turning weary eyes to Isbister's face and emphasizing his words with a languid hand, "but I have had no sleep--no sleep at all for six nights."
"Yes. Bad advice for the most part. Drugs. My nervous system.... They are all very well for the run of people. It's hard to explain. I dare not take ... sufficiently powerful drugs."
"That makes it difficult," said Isbister.
He stood helplessly in the narrow path, perplexed what to do. Clearly the man wanted to talk. An idea natural enough under the circumstances, prompted him to keep the conversation going. "I've never suffered from sleeplessness myself," he said in a tone of commonplace gossip, "but in those cases I have known, people have usually found something--"
"I dare make no experiments."
He spoke wearily. He gave a gesture of rejection, and for a space both men were silent.
"Exercise?" suggested Isbister diffidently, with a glance from his interlocutor's face of wretchedness to the touring costume he wore.
"That is what I have tried. Unwisely perhaps. I have followed the coast, day after day--from New Quay. It has only added muscular fatigue to the mental. The cause of this unrest was overwork--trouble. There was something--"
He stopped as if from sheer fatigue. He rubbed his forehead with a lean hand. He resumed speech like one who talks to himself.
"I am a lone wolf, a solitary man, wandering through a world in which I have no part. I am wifeless--childless--who is it speaks of the childless as the dead twigs on the tree of life? I am wifeless, childless--I could find no duty to do. No desire even in my heart. One thing at last I set myself to do.
"I said, I will do this, and to do it, to overcome the inertia of this dull body, I resorted to drugs. Great God, I've had enough of drugs! I don't know if you feel the heavy inconvenience of the body, its exasperating demand of time from the mind--time--life! Live! We only live in patches. We have to eat, and then comes the dull digestive complacencies--or irritations. We have to take the air or else our thoughts grow sluggish, stupid, run into gulfs and blind alleys. A thousand distractions arise from within and without, and then comes drowsiness and sleep. Men seem to live for sleep. How little of a man's day is his own--even at the best! And then come those false friends, those Thug helpers, the alkaloids that stifle natural fatigue and kill rest--black coffee, cocaine--"
"I see," said Isbister.
"I did my work," said the sleepless man with a querulous intonation.
"And this is the price?"
For a little while the two remained without speaking.
"You cannot imagine the craving for rest that I feel--a hunger and thirst. For six long days, since my work was done, my mind has been a whirlpool, swift, unprogressive and incessant, a torrent of thoughts leading nowhere, spinning round swift and steady--" He paused. "Towards the gulf."
"You must sleep," said Isbister decisively, and with an air of a remedy discovered. "Certainly you must sleep."
"My mind is perfectly lucid. It was never clearer. But I know I am drawing towards the vortex. Presently--"
"You have seen things go down an eddy? Out of the light of the day, out of this sweet world of sanity--down--"
"But," expostulated Isbister.
The man threw out a hand towards him, and his eyes were wild, and his voice suddenly high. "I shall kill myself. If in no other way--at the foot of yonder dark precipice there, where the waves are green, and the white surge lifts and falls, and that little thread of water trembles down. There at any rate is ... sleep."
"That's unreasonable," said Isbister, startled at the man's hysterical gust of emotion. "Drugs are better than that."
"There at any rate is sleep," repeated the stranger, not heeding him.
Isbister looked at him. "It's not a cert, you know," he remarked. "There's a cliff like that at Lulworth Cove--as high, anyhow--and a little girl fell from top to bottom. And lives to-day--sound and well."
"But those rocks there?"
"One might lie on them rather dismally through a cold night, broken bones grating as one shivered, chill water splashing over you. Eh?"
Their eyes met. "Sorry to upset your ideals," said Isbister with a sense of devil-may-careish brilliance. "But a suicide over that cliff (or any cliff for the matter of that), really, as an artist--" He laughed. "It's so damned amateurish."
"But the other thing," said the sleepless man irritably, "the other thing. No man can keep sane if night after night--"
"Have you been walking along this coast alone?"
"Silly sort of thing to do. If you'll excuse my saying so. Alone! As you say; body fag is no cure for brain fag. Who told you to? No wonder; walking! And the sun on your head, heat, fag, solitude, all the day long, and then, I suppose, you go to bed and try very hard--eh?"
Isbister stopped short and looked at the sufferer doubtfully.
"Look at these rocks!" cried the seated man with a sudden force of gesture. "Look at that sea that has shone and quivered there for ever! See the white spume rush into darkness under that great cliff. And this blue vault, with the blinding sun pouring from the dome of it. It is your world. You accept it, you rejoice in it. It warms and supports and delights you. And for me--"
He turned his head and showed a ghastly face, bloodshot pallid eyes and bloodless lips. He spoke almost in a whisper. "It is the garment of my misery. The whole world ... is the garment of my misery."
Isbister looked at all the wild beauty of the sunlit cliffs about them and back to that face of despair. For a moment he was silent.
He started, and made a gesture of impatient rejection. "You get a night's sleep," he said, "and you won't see much misery out here. Take my word for it."
He was quite sure now that this was a providential encounter. Only half an hour ago he had been feeling horribly bored. Here was employment the bare thought of which, was righteous self-applause. He took possession forthwith. The first need of this exhausted being was companionship. He flung himself down on the steeply sloping turf beside the motionless seated figure, and threw out a skirmishing line of gossip.
His hearer lapsed into apathy; he stared dismally seaward, and spoke only in answer to Isbister's direct questions--and not to all of those. But he made no objection to this benevolent intrusion upon his despair.
He seemed even grateful, and when presently Isbister, feeling that his unsupported talk was losing vigour, suggested that they should reascend the steep and return towards Boscastle, alleging the view into Blackapit, he submitted quietly. Halfway up he began talking to himself, and abruptly turned a ghastly face on his helper. "What can be happening?" he asked with a gaunt illustrative hand. "What can be happening? Spin, spin, spin, spin. It goes round and round, round and round for evermore."
He stood with his hand circling.
"It's all right, old chap," said Isbister with the air of an old friend. "Don't worry yourself. Trust to me,"
The man dropped his hand and turned again. They went over the brow and to the headland beyond Penally, with the sleepless man gesticulating ever and again, and speaking fragmentary things concerning his whirling brain. At the headland they stood by the seat that looks into the dark mysteries of Blackapit, and then he sat down. Isbister had resumed his talk whenever the path had widened sufficiently for them to walk abreast. He was enlarging upon the complex difficulty of making Boscastle Harbour in bad weather, when suddenly and quite irrelevantly his companion interrupted him again.
"My head is not like what it was," he said, gesticulating for want of expressive phrases. "It's not like what it was. There is a sort of oppression, a weight. No--not drowsiness, would God it were! It is like a shadow, a deep shadow falling suddenly and swiftly across something busy. Spin, spin into the darkness. The tumult of thought, the confusion, the eddy and eddy. I can't express it. I can hardly keep my mind on it--steadily enough to tell you."
He stopped feebly.
"Don't trouble, old chap," said Isbister. "I think I can understand. At any rate, it don't matter very much just at present about telling me, you know."
The sleepless man thrust his knuckles into his eyes and rubbed them. Isbister talked for awhile while this rubbing continued, and then he had a fresh idea. "Come down to my room," he said, "and try a pipe. I can show you some sketches of this Blackapit. If you'd care?"
The other rose obediently and followed him down the steep.
Several times Isbister heard him stumble as they came down, and his movements were slow and hesitating. "Come in with me," said Isbister, "and try some cigarettes and the blessed gift of alcohol. If you take alcohol?"
The stranger hesitated at the garden gate. He seemed no longer aware of his actions. "I don't drink," he said slowly, coming up the garden path, and after a moment's interval repeated absently, "No--I don't drink. It goes round. Spin, it goes--spin--"
He stumbled at the doorstep and entered the room with the bearing of one who sees nothing.
Then he sat down heavily in the easy chair, seemed almost to fall into it. He leant forward with his brows on his hands and became motionless. Presently he made a faint sound in his throat.
Isbister moved about the room with the nervousness of an inexperienced host, making little remarks that scarcely required answering. He crossed the room to his portfolio, placed it on the table and noticed the mantel clock.
"I don't know if you'd care to have supper with me," he said with an unlighted cigarette in his hand--his mind troubled with ideas of a furtive administration of chloral. "Only cold mutton, you know, but passing sweet. Welsh. And a tart, I believe." He repeated this after momentary silence.
The seated man made no answer. Isbister stopped, match in hand, regarding him.
The stillness lengthened. The match went out, the cigarette was put down unlit. The man was certainly very still. Isbister took up the portfolio, opened it, put it down, hesitated, seemed about to speak. "Perhaps," he whispered doubtfully. Presently he glanced at the door and back to the figure. Then he stole on tiptoe out of the room, glancing at his companion after each elaborate pace.
He closed the door noiselessly. The house door was standing open, and he went out beyond the porch, and stood where the monkshood rose at the corner of the garden bed. From this point he could see the stranger through the open window, still and dim, sitting head on hand. He had not moved.
A number of children going along the road stopped and regarded the artist curiously. A boatman exchanged civilities with him. He felt that possibly his circumspect attitude and position looked peculiar and unaccountable. Smoking, perhaps, might seem more natural. He drew pipe and pouch from his pocket, filled the pipe slowly.
"I wonder," ... he said, with a scarcely perceptible loss of complacency. "At any rate one must give him a chance." He struck a match in the virile way, and proceeded to light his pipe.
He heard his landlady behind him, coming with his lamp lit from the kitchen. He turned, gesticulating with his pipe, and stopped her at the door of his sitting-room. He had some difficulty in explaining the situation in whispers, for she did not know he had a visitor. She retreated again with the lamp, still a little mystified to judge from her manner, and he resumed his hovering at the corner of the porch, flushed and less at his ease.
Long after he had smoked out his pipe, and when the bats were abroad, curiosity dominated his complex hesitations, and he stole back into his darkling sitting-room. He paused in the doorway. The stranger was still in the same attitude, dark against the window. Save for the singing of some sailors aboard one of the little slate-carrying ships in the harbour the evening was very still. Outside, the spikes of monkshood and delphinium stood erect and motionless against the shadow of the hillside. Something flashed into Isbister's mind; he started, and leaning over the table, listened. An unpleasant suspicion grew stronger; became conviction. Astonishment seized him and became--dread!
No sound of breathing came from the seated figure!
He crept slowly and noiselessly round the table, pausing twice to listen. At last he could lay his hand on the back of the armchair. He bent down until the two heads were ear to ear.
Then he bent still lower to look up at his visitor's face. He started violently and uttered an exclamation. The eyes were void spaces of white.
He looked again and saw that they were open and with the pupils rolled under the lids. He was afraid. He took the man by the shoulder and shook him. "Are you asleep?" he said, with his voice jumping, and again, "Are you asleep?"
A conviction took possession of his mind that this man was dead. He became active and noisy, strode across the room, blundering against the table as he did so, and rang the bell.
"Please bring a light at once," he said in the passage. "There is something wrong with my friend."
He returned to the motionless seated figure, grasped the shoulder, shook it, shouted. The room was flooded with yellow glare as his landlady entered with the light. His face was white as he turned blinking towards her. "I must fetch a doctor," he said. "It is either death or a fit. Is there a doctor in the village? Where is a doctor to be found?"
The state of cataleptic rigour into which this man had fallen, lasted for an unprecedented length of time, and then he passed slowly to the flaccid state, to a lax attitude suggestive of profound repose. Then it was his eyes could be closed.
He was removed from the hotel to the Boscastle surgery, and from the surgery, after some weeks, to London. But he still resisted every attempt at reanimation. After a time, for reasons that will appear later, these attempts were discontinued. For a great space he lay in that strange condition, inert and still--neither dead nor living but, as it were, suspended, hanging midway between nothingness and existence. His was a darkness unbroken by a ray of thought or sensation, a dreamless inanition, a vast space of peace. The tumult of his mind had swelled and risen to an abrupt climax of silence. Where was the man? Where is any man when insensibility takes hold of him?
"It seems only yesterday," said Isbister. "I remember it all as though it happened yesterday--clearer, perhaps, than if it had happened yesterday."
It was the Isbister of the last chapter, but he was no longer a young man. The hair that had been brown and a trifle in excess of the fashionable length, was iron grey and clipped close, and the face that had been pink and white was buff and ruddy. He had a pointed beard shot with grey. He talked to an elderly man who wore a summer suit of drill (the summer of that year was unusually hot). This was Warming, a London solicitor and next of kin to Graham, the man who had fallen into the trance. And the two men stood side by side in a room in a house in London regarding his recumbent figure.
It was a yellow figure lying lax upon a water-bed and clad in a flowing shirt, a figure with a shrunken face and a stubby beard, lean limbs and lank nails, and about it was a case of thin glass. This glass seemed to mark off the sleeper from the reality of life about him, he was a thing apart, a strange, isolated abnormality. The two men stood close to the glass, peering in.
"The thing gave me a shock," said Isbister. "I feel a queer sort of surprise even now when I think of his white eyes. They were white, you know, rolled up. Coming here again brings it all back to me."
"Have you never seen him since that time?" asked Warming.
"Often wanted to come," said Isbister; "but business nowadays is too serious a thing for much holiday keeping. I've been in America most of the time."
"If I remember rightly," said Warming, "you were an artist?"
"Was. And then I became a married man. I saw it was all up with black and white, very soon--at least for a mediocrity, and I jumped on to process. Those posters on the Cliffs at Dover are by my people."
"Good posters," admitted the solicitor, "though I was sorry to see them there."
"Last as long as the cliffs, if necessary," exclaimed Isbister with satisfaction. "The world changes. When he fell asleep, twenty years ago, I was down at Boscastle with a box of water-colours and a noble, old-fashioned ambition. I didn't expect that some day my pigments would glorify the whole blessed coast of England, from Land's End round again to the Lizard. Luck comes to a man very often when he's not looking."
Warming seemed to doubt the quality of the luck. "I just missed seeing you, if I recollect aright."
"You came back by the trap that took me to Camelford railway station. It was close on the Jubilee, Victoria's Jubilee, because I remember the seats and flags in Westminster, and the row with the cabman at Chelsea."
"The Diamond Jubilee, it was," said Warming; "the second one."
"Ah, yes! At the proper Jubilee--the Fifty Year affair--I was down at Wookey--a boy. I missed all that.... What a fuss we had with him! My landlady wouldn't take him in, wouldn't let him stay--he looked so queer when he was rigid. We had to carry him in a chair up to the hotel. And the Boscastle doctor--it wasn't the present chap, but the G.P. before him--was at him until nearly two, with me and the landlord holding lights and so forth."
"Do you mean--he was stiff and hard?"
"Stiff!--wherever you bent him he stuck. You might have stood him on his head and he'd have stopped. I never saw such stiffness. Of course this"--he indicated the prostrate figure by a movement of his head--"is quite different. And the little doctor--what was his name?"
"Smithers it was--was quite wrong in trying to fetch him round too soon, according to all accounts. The things he did! Even now it makes me feel all--ugh! Mustard, snuff, pricking. And one of those beastly little things, not dynamos--"
"Yes. You could see his muscles throb and jump, and he twisted about. There were just two flaring yellow candles, and all the shadows were shivering, and the little doctor nervous and putting on side, and him--stark and squirming in the most unnatural ways. Well, it made me dream."
"It's a strange state," said Warming.
"It's a sort of complete absence," said Isbister. "Here's the body, empty. Not dead a bit, and yet not alive. It's like a seat vacant and marked 'engaged.' No feeling, no digestion, no beating of the heart--not a flutter. That doesn't make me feel as if there was a man present. In a sense it's more dead than death, for these doctors tell me that even the hair has stopped growing. Now with the proper dead, the hair will go on growing--"
"I know," said Warming, with a flash of pain in his expression.
They peered through the glass again. Graham was indeed in a strange state, in the flaccid phase of a trance, but a trance unprecedented in medical history. Trances had lasted for as much as a year before--but at the end of that time it had ever been a waking or a death; sometimes first one and then the other. Isbister noted the marks the physicians had made in injecting nourishment, for that had been resorted to to postpone collapse; he pointed them out to Warming, who had been trying not to see them.
"And while he has been lying here," said Isbister, with the zest of a life freely spent, "I have changed my plans in life; married, raised a family, my eldest lad--I hadn't begun to think of sons then--is an American citizen, and looking forward to leaving Harvard. There's a touch of grey in my hair. And this man, not a day older nor wiser (practically) than I was in my downy days. It's curious to think of."
Warming turned. "And I have grown old too. I played cricket with him when I was still only a boy. And he looks a young man still. Yellow perhaps. But that is a young man nevertheless."
"And there's been the War," said Isbister.
"From beginning to end."
"And these Martians."
"I've understood," said Isbister after a pause, "that he had some moderate property of his own?"
"That is so," said Warming. He coughed primly. "As it happens--I have charge of it."
"Ah!" Isbister thought, hesitated and spoke: "No doubt--his keep here is not expensive--no doubt it will have improved--accumulated?"
"It has. He will wake up very much better off--if he wakes--than when he slept."
"As a business man," said Isbister, "that thought has naturally been in my mind. I have, indeed, sometimes thought that, speaking commercially, of course, this sleep may be a very good thing for him. That he knows what he is about, so to speak, in being insensible so long. If he had lived straight on--"
"I doubt if he would have premeditated as much," said Warming. "He was not a far-sighted man. In fact--"
"We differed on that point. I stood to him somewhat in the relation of a guardian. You have probably seen enough of affairs to recognise that occasionally a certain friction--. But even if that was the case, there is a doubt whether he will ever wake. This sleep exhausts slowly, but it exhausts. Apparently he is sliding slowly, very slowly and tediously, down a long slope, if you can understand me?"
"It will be a pity to lose his surprise. There's been a lot of change these twenty years. It's Rip Van Winkle come real."
"There has been a lot of change certainly," said Warming. "And, among other changes, I have changed. I am an old man."
Isbister hesitated, and then feigned a belated surprise. "I shouldn't have thought it."
"I was forty-three when his bankers--you remember you wired to his bankers--sent on to me."
"I got their address from the cheque book in his pocket," said Isbister.
"Well, the addition is not difficult," said Warming.
There was another pause, and then Isbister gave way to an unavoidable curiosity. "He may go on for years yet," he said, and had a moment of hesitation. "We have to consider that. His affairs, you know, may fall some day into the hands of--someone else, you know."
"That, if you will believe me, Mr. Isbister, is one of the problems most constantly before my mind. We happen to be--as a matter of fact, there are no very trustworthy connexions of ours. It is a grotesque and unprecedented position."
"Rather," said Isbister.
"It seems to me it's a case of some public body, some practically undying guardian. If he really is going on living--as the doctors, some of them, think. As a matter of fact, I have gone to one or two public men about it. But, so far, nothing has been done."
"It wouldn't be a bad idea to hand him over to some public body--the British Museum Trustees, or the Royal College of Physicians. Sounds a bit odd, of course, but the whole situation is odd."
"The difficulty is to induce them to take him."
"Red tape, I suppose?"
Pause. "It's a curious business, certainly," said Isbister. "And compound interest has a way of mounting up."
"It has," said Warming. "And now the gold supplies are running short there is a tendency towards ... appreciation."
"I've felt that," said Isbister with a grimace. "But it makes it better for him."
"If he wakes."
"If he wakes," echoed Isbister. "Do you notice the pinched-in look of his nose, and the way in which his eyelids sink?"
Warming looked and thought for a space. "I doubt if he will wake," he said at last.
"I never properly understood," said Isbister, "what it was brought this on. He told me something about overstudy. I've often been curious."
"He was a man of considerable gifts, but spasmodic, emotional. He had grave domestic troubles, divorced his wife, in fact, and it was as a relief from that, I think, that he took up politics of the rabid sort. He was a fanatical Radical--a Socialist--or typical Liberal, as they used to call themselves, of the advanced school. Energetic--flighty--undisciplined. Overwork upon a controversy did this for him. I remember the pamphlet he wrote--a curious production. Wild, whirling stuff. There were one or two prophecies. Some of them are already exploded, some of them are established facts. But for the most part to read such a thesis is to realise how full the world is of unanticipated things. He will have much to learn, much to unlearn, when he wakes. If ever a waking comes."
"I'd give anything to be there," said Isbister, "just to hear what he would say to it all."
"So would I," said Warming. "Aye! so would I," with an old man's sudden turn to self pity. "But I shall never see him wake."
He stood looking thoughtfully at the waxen figure. "He will never awake," he said at last. He sighed. "He will never awake again."
But Warming was wrong in that. An awakening came.
What a wonderfully complex thing! this simple seeming unity--the self! Who can trace its reintegration as morning after morning we awaken, the flux and confluence of its countless factors interweaving, rebuilding, the dim first stirrings of the soul, the growth and synthesis of the unconscious to the subconscious, the subconscious to dawning consciousness, until at last we recognise ourselves again. And as it happens to most of us after the night's sleep, so it was with Graham at the end of his vast slumber. A dim cloud of sensation taking shape, a cloudy dreariness, and he found himself vaguely somewhere, recumbent, faint, but alive.
The pilgrimage towards a personal being seemed to traverse vast gulfs, to occupy epochs. Gigantic dreams that were terrible realities at the time, left vague perplexing memories, strange creatures, strange scenery, as if from another planet. There was a distinct impression, too, of a momentous conversation, of a name--he could not tell what name--that was subsequently to recur, of some queer long-forgotten sensation of vein and muscle, of a feeling of vast hopeless effort, the effort of a man near drowning in darkness. Then came a panorama of dazzling unstable confluent scenes....
Graham became aware that his eyes were open and regarding some unfamiliar thing.
It was something white, the edge of something, a frame of wood. He moved his head slightly, following the contour of this shape. It went up beyond the top of his eyes. He tried to think where he might be. Did it matter, seeing he was so wretched? The colour of his thoughts was a dark depression. He felt the featureless misery of one who wakes towards the hour of dawn. He had an uncertain sense of whispers and footsteps hastily receding.
The movement of his head involved a perception of extreme physical weakness. He supposed he was in bed in the hotel at the place in the valley--but he could not recall that white edge. He must have slept. He remembered now that he had wanted to sleep. He recalled the cliff and Waterfall again, and then recollected something about talking to a passer-by....
How long had he slept? What was that sound of pattering feet? And that rise and fall, like the murmur of breakers on pebbles? He put out a languid hand to reach his watch from the chair whereon it was his habit to place it, and touched some smooth hard surface like glass. This was so unexpected that it startled him extremely. Quite suddenly he rolled over, stared for a moment, and struggled into a sitting position. The effort was unexpectedly difficult, and it left him giddy and weak--and amazed.
He rubbed his eyes. The riddle of his surroundings was confusing but his mind was quite clear--evidently his sleep had benefited him. He was not in a bed at all as he understood the word, but lying naked on a very soft and yielding mattress, in a trough of dark glass. The mattress was partly transparent, a fact he observed with a sense of insecurity, and below it was a mirror reflecting him greyly. About his arm--and he saw with a shock that his skin was strangely dry and yellow--was bound a curious apparatus of rubber, bound so cunningly that it seemed to pass into his skin above and below. And this bed was placed in a case of greenish coloured glass (as it seemed to him), a bar in the white framework of which had first arrested his attention. In the corner of the case was a stand of glittering and delicately made apparatus, for the most part quite strange appliances, though a maximum and minimum thermometer was recognisable.
The slightly greenish tint of the glass-like substance which surrounded him on every hand obscured what lay behind, but he perceived it was a vast apartment of splendid appearance, and with a very large and simple white archway facing him. Close to the walls of the cage were articles of furniture, a table covered with a silvery cloth, silvery like the side of a fish, a couple of graceful chairs, and on the table a number of dishes with substances piled on them, a bottle and two glasses. He realised that he was intensely hungry.
He could see no one, and after a period of hesitation scrambled off the translucent mattress and tried to stand on the clean white floor of his little apartment. He had miscalculated his strength, however, and staggered and put his hand against the glass like pane before him to steady himself. For a moment it resisted his hand, bending outward like a distended bladder, then it broke with a slight report and vanished--a pricked bubble. He reeled out into the general space of the hall, greatly astonished. He caught at the table to save himself, knocking one of the glasses to the floor--it rang but did not break--and sat down in one of the armchairs.
When he had a little recovered he filled the remaining glass from the bottle and drank--a colourless liquid it was, but not water, with a pleasing faint aroma and taste and a quality of immediate support and stimulus. He put down the vessel and looked about him.
The apartment lost none of its size and magnificence now that the greenish transparency that had intervened was removed. The archway he saw led to a flight of steps, going downward without the intermediation of a door, to a spacious transverse passage. This passage ran between polished pillars of some white-veined substance of deep ultramarine, and along it came the sound of human movements, and voices and a deep undeviating droning note. He sat, now fully awake, listening alertly, forgetting the viands in his attention.
Then with a shock he remembered that he was naked, and casting about him for covering, saw a long black robe thrown on one of the chairs beside him. This he wrapped about him and sat down again, trembling.
His mind was still a surging perplexity. Clearly he had slept, and had been removed in his sleep. But where? And who were those people, the distant crowd beyond the deep blue pillars? Boscastle? He poured out and partially drank another glass of the colourless fluid.
What was this place?--this place that to his senses seemed subtly quivering like a thing alive? He looked about him at the clean and beautiful form of the apartment, unstained by ornament, and saw that the roof was broken in one place by a circular shaft full of light, and, as he looked, a steady, sweeping shadow blotted it out and passed, and came again and passed. "Beat, beat," that sweeping shadow had a note of its own in the subdued tumult that filled the air.
He would have called out, but only a little sound came into his throat. Then he stood up, and, with the uncertain steps of a drunkard, made his way towards the archway. He staggered down the steps, tripped on the corner of the black cloak he had wrapped about himself, and saved himself by catching at one of the blue pillars.
The passage ran down a cool vista of blue and purple and ended remotely in a railed space like a balcony brightly lit and projecting into a space of haze, a space like the interior of some gigantic building. Beyond and remote were vast and vague architectural forms. The tumult of voices rose now loud and clear, and on the balcony and with their backs to him, gesticulating and apparently in animated conversation, were three figures, richly dressed in loose and easy garments of bright soft colourings. The noise of a great multitude of people poured up over the balcony, and once it seemed the top of a banner passed, and once some brightly coloured object, a pale blue cap or garment thrown up into the air perhaps, flashed athwart the space and fell. The shouts sounded like English, there was a reiteration of "Wake!" He heard some indistinct shrill cry, and abruptly these three men began laughing.
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed one--a red-haired man in a short purple robe. "When the Sleeper wakes--When!"
He turned his eyes full of merriment along the passage. His face changed, the whole man changed, became rigid. The other two turned swiftly at his exclamation and stood motionless. Their faces assumed an expression of consternation, an expression that deepened into awe.
Suddenly Graham's knees bent beneath him, his arm against the pillar collapsed limply, he staggered forward and fell upon his face.
THE SOUND OF A TUMULT
Graham's last impression before he fainted was of the ringing of bells. He learnt afterwards that he was insensible, hanging between life and death, for the better part of an hour. When he recovered his senses, he was back on his translucent couch, and there was a stirring warmth at heart and throat. The dark apparatus, he perceived, had been removed from his arm, which was bandaged. The white framework was still about him, but the greenish transparent substance that had filled it was altogether gone. A man in a deep violet robe, one of those who had been on the balcony, was looking keenly into his face.
Remote but insistent was a clamour of bells and confused sounds, that suggested to his mind the picture of a great number of people shouting together. Something seemed to fall across this tumult, a door suddenly closed.
Graham moved his head. "What does this all mean?" he said slowly. "Where am I?"
He saw the red-haired man who had been first to discover him. A voice seemed to be asking what he had said, and was abruptly stilled.
The man in violet answered in a soft voice, speaking English with a slightly foreign accent, or so at least it seemed to the Sleeper's ears. "You are quite safe. You were brought hither from where you fell asleep. It is quite safe. You have been here some time--sleeping. In a trance."
He said, something further that Graham could not hear, and a little phial was handed across to him. Graham felt a cooling spray, a fragrant mist played over his forehead for a moment, and his sense of refreshment increased. He closed his eyes in satisfaction.
"Better?" asked the man in violet, as Graham's eyes reopened. He was a pleasant-faced man of thirty, perhaps, with a pointed flaxen beard, and a clasp of gold at the neck of his violet robe.
"Yes," said Graham.
"You have been asleep some time. In a cataleptic trance. You have heard? Catalepsy? It may seem strange to you at first, but I can assure you everything is well."
Graham did not answer, but these words served their reassuring purpose. His eyes went from face to face of the three people about him. They were regarding him strangely. He knew he ought to be somewhere in Cornwall, but he could not square these things with that impression.
A matter that had been in his mind during his last waking moments at Boscastle recurred, a thing resolved upon and somehow neglected. He cleared his throat.
"Have you wired my cousin?" he asked. "E. Warming, 27, Chancery Lane?"
They were all assiduous to hear. But he had to repeat it. "What an odd blurr in his accent!" whispered the red-haired man. "Wire, sir?" said the young man with the flaxen beard, evidently puzzled.
"He means send an electric telegram," volunteered the third, a pleasant-faced youth of nineteen or twenty. The flaxen-bearded man gave a cry of comprehension. "How stupid of me! You may be sure everything shall be done, sir," he said to Graham. "I am afraid it would be difficult to--wire to your cousin. He is not in London now. But don't trouble about arrangements yet; you have been asleep a very long time and the important thing is to get over that, sir." (Graham concluded the word was sir, but this man pronounced it "Sire.")
"Oh!" said Graham, and became quiet.
It was all very puzzling, but apparently these people in unfamiliar dress knew what they were about. Yet they were odd and the room was odd. It seemed he was in some newly established place. He had a sudden flash of suspicion! Surely this wasn't some hall of public exhibition! If it was he would give Warming a piece of his mind. But it scarcely had that character. And in a place of public exhibition he would not have discovered himself naked.
Then suddenly, quite abruptly, he realised what had happened. There was no perceptible interval of suspicion, no dawn to his knowledge. Abruptly he knew that his trance had lasted for a vast interval; as if by some processes of thought-reading he interpreted the awe in the faces that peered into his. He looked at them strangely, full of intense emotion. It seemed they read his eyes. He framed his lips to speak and could not. A queer impulse to hide his knowledge came into his mind almost at the moment of his discovery. He looked at his bare feet, regarding them silently. His impulse to speak passed. He was trembling exceedingly.
They gave him some pink fluid with a greenish fluorescence and a meaty taste, and the assurance of returning strength grew.
"That--that makes me feel better," he said hoarsely, and there were murmurs of respectful approval. He knew now quite clearly. He made to speak again, and again he could not.
He pressed his throat and tried a third time. "How long?" he asked in a level voice. "How long have I been asleep?"
"Some considerable time," said the flaxen-bearded man, glancing quickly at the others.
"A very long time."
"Yes--yes," said Graham, suddenly testy. "But I want--Is it--it is--some years? Many years? There was something--I forget what. I feel--confused. But you--" He sobbed. "You need not fence with me. How long--?"
He stopped, breathing irregularly. He squeezed his eyes with his knuckles and sat waiting for an answer.
They spoke in undertones.
"Five or six?" he asked faintly. "More?"
"Very much more than that."
He looked at them and it seemed as though imps were twitching the muscles of his face. He looked his question.
"Many years," said the man with the red beard.
Graham struggled into a sitting position. He wiped a rheumy tear from his face with a lean hand. "Many years!" he repeated. He shut his eyes tight, opened them, and sat looking about him from one unfamiliar thing to another.
"How many years?" he asked.
"You must be prepared to be surprised."
"More than a gross of years."
He was irritated at the strange word. "More than a what?"
Two of them spoke together. Some quick remarks that were made about "decimal" he did not catch.
"How long did you say?" asked Graham. "How long? Don't look like that. Tell me."
Among the remarks in an undertone, his ear caught six words: "More than a couple of centuries."
"What?" he cried, turning on the youth who he thought had spoken. "Who says--? What was that? A couple of centuries!"
"Yes," said the man with the red beard. "Two hundred years."
Graham repeated the words. He had been prepared to hear of a vast repose, and yet these concrete centuries defeated him.
"Two hundred years," he said again, with the figure of a great gulf opening very slowly in his mind; and then, "Oh, but--!"
They said nothing.
"You--did you say--?"
"Two hundred years. Two centuries of years," said the man with the red beard.
There was a pause. Graham looked at their faces and saw that what he had heard was indeed true.
"But it can't be," he said querulously. "I am dreaming. Trances--trances don't last. That is not right--this is a joke you have played upon me! Tell me--some days ago, perhaps, I was walking along the coast of Cornwall--?"
His voice failed him.
The man with the flaxen beard hesitated. "I'm not very strong in history, sir," he said weakly, and glanced at the others.
"That was it, sir," said the youngster. "Boscastle, in the old Duchy of Cornwall--it's in the south-west country beyond the dairy meadows. There is a house there still. I have been there."
"Boscastle!" Graham turned his eyes to the youngster. "That was it--Boscastle. Little Boscastle. I fell asleep--somewhere there. I don't exactly remember. I don't exactly remember."
He pressed his brows and whispered, "More than two hundred years!"
He began to speak quickly with a twitching face, but his heart was cold within him. "But if it is two hundred years, every soul I know, every human being that ever I saw or spoke to before I went to sleep, must be dead."
They did not answer him.
"The Queen and the Royal Family, her Ministers, Church and State. High and low, rich and poor, one with another ... Is there England still?"
"That's a comfort! Is there London?"
"This is London, eh? And you are my assistant-custodian; assistant-custodian. And these--? Eh? Assistant-custodians too!"
He sat with a gaunt stare on his face. "But why am I here? No! Don't talk. Be quiet. Let me--"
He sat silent, rubbed his eyes, and, uncovering them, found another little glass of pinkish fluid held towards him. He took the dose. Directly he had taken it he began to weep naturally and refreshingly.
Presently he looked at their faces, suddenly laughed through his tears, a little foolishly. "But--two--hun--dred--years!" he said. He grimaced hysterically and covered his face again.
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