When the Sleeper Wakes, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 2

The Trance

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 mediocre man, 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.”

“It was a cataleptic rigour at first, wasn’t it?”

“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, of course, the little doctor — what was his name?”

“Smithers?”

“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 —”

“Induction coils.”

“Yes. You could see his muscles throb and jump, and he twisted about. There was 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.”

Pause.

“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 waking or a death; sometimes first one and then the other. Isbister noted the marks the physicians had made in injecting nourishment, for that device 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 lad. 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 — 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 —”

“Yes?”

“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.”

“It’s Bellamy,” said Warming. “There has been a lot of change certainly. 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 connections of ours. It is a grotesque and unprecedented position.”

“It is,” said Isbister. “As a matter of fact, it’s a case for a public trustee, if only we had such a functionary.”

“It seems to me it’s a case for 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?”

“Partly.”

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-ill 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 wake,” he said at last. He sighed “He will never wake again.”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30