The excellent Mr. Morris was an Englishman, and he lived in the days of Queen Victoria the Good. He was a prosperous and very sensible man; he read The Times and went to church, and as he grew towards middle age an expression of quiet contented contempt for all who were not as himself settled on his face. He was one of those people who do everything that is right and proper and sensible with inevitable regularity. He always wore just the right and proper clothes, steering the narrow way between the smart and the shabby, always subscribed to the right charities, just the judicious compromise between ostentation and meanness, and never failed to have his hair cut to exactly the proper length.
Everything that it was right and proper for a man in his position to possess, he possessed; and everything that it was not right and proper for a man in his position to possess, he did not possess.
And among other right and proper possessions, this Mr. Morris had a wife and children. They were the right sort of wife, and the right sort and number of children, of course; nothing imaginative or highty-flighty about any of them, so far as Mr. Morris could see; they wore perfectly correct clothing, neither smart nor hygienic nor faddy in any way, but just sensible; and they lived in a nice sensible house in the later Victorian sham Queen Anne style of architecture, with sham half-timbering of chocolate-painted plaster in the gables, Lincrusta Walton sham carved oak panels, a terrace of terra cotta to imitate stone, and cathedral glass in the front door. His boys went to good solid schools, and were put to respectable professions; his girls, in spite of a fantastic protest or so, were all married to suitable, steady, oldish young men with good prospects. And when it was a fit and proper thing for him to do so, Mr. Morris died. His tomb was of marble and, without any art nonsense or laudatory inscription, quietly imposing — such being the fashion of his time.
He underwent various changes according to the accepted custom in these cases, and long before this story begins his bones even had become dust, and were scattered to the four quarters of heaven. And his sons and his grandsons and his great-grandsons and his great-great-grandsons, they too were dust and ashes, and were scattered likewise. It was a thing he could not have imagined, that a day would come when even his great-great-grandsons would be scattered to the four winds of heaven. If any one had suggested it to him he would have resented it. He was one of those worthy people who take no interest in the future of mankind at all. He had grave doubts indeed, if there was any future for mankind after he was dead.
It seemed quite impossible and quite uninteresting to imagine anything happening after he was dead. Yet the thing was so, and when even his great-great-grandson was dead and decayed and forgotten, when the sham half-timbered house had gone the way of all shams, and The Times was extinct, and the silk hat a ridiculous antiquity, and the modestly imposing stone that had been sacred to Mr. Morris had been burnt to make lime for mortar, and all that Mr. Morris had found real and important was sere and dead, the world was still going on, and people were still going about it, just as heedless and impatient of the Future or, indeed, of anything but their own selves and property, as Mr. Morris had been.
And, strange to tell, and much as Mr. Morris would have been angered if any one had foreshadowed it to him, all over the world there scattered a multitude of people, filled with the breath of life, in whose veins the blood of Mr. Morris flowed. Just as some day the life which is gathered now in the reader of this very story may also be scattered far and wide about this world, and mingled with a thousand alien strains, beyond all thought and tracing.
And among the descendants of this Mr. Morris was one almost as sensible and clear-headed as his ancestor. He had just the same stout, short frame as that ancient man of the nineteenth century, from whom his name of Morris — he spelt it Mwres — came; he had the same half-contemptuous expression of face. He was a prosperous person too, as times went, and he disliked the “new-fangled,” and bothers about the future and the lower classes, just as much as the ancestral Morris had done. He did not read The Times: indeed, he did not know there ever had been a Times — that institution had foundered somewhere in the intervening gulf of years; but the phonograph machine, that talked to him as he made his toilet of a morning, might have been the voice of a reincarnated Blowitz when it dealt with the world’s affairs. This phonographic machine was the size and shape of a Dutch clock, and down the front of it were electric barometric indicators, and an electric clock and calendar, and automatic engagement reminders, and where the clock would have been was the mouth of a trumpet. When it had news the trumpet gobbled like a turkey, “Galloop, galloop,” and then brayed out its message as, let us say, a trumpet might bray. It would tell Mwres in full, rich, throaty tones about the overnight accidents to the omnibus flying-machines that plied around the world, the latest arrivals at the fashionable resorts in Tibet, and of all the great monopolist company meetings of the day before, while he was dressing. If Mwres did not like hearing what it said, he had only to touch a stud, and it would choke a little and talk about something else.
Of course his toilet differed very much from that of his ancestor. It is doubtful which would have been the more shocked and pained to find himself in the clothing of the other. Mwres would certainly have sooner gone forth to the world stark naked than in the silk hat, frock coat, grey trousers and watch-chain that had filled Mr. Morris with sombre self-respect in the past. For Mwres there was no shaving to do; a skilful operator had long ago removed every hair-root from his face. His legs he encased in pleasant pink and amber garments of an air-tight material, which with the help of an ingenious little pump he distended so as to suggest enormous muscles. Above this he also wore pneumatic garments beneath an amber silk tunic, so that he was clothed in air and admirably protected against sudden extremes of heat or cold. Over this he flung a scarlet cloak with its edge fantastically curved. On his head, which had been skilfully deprived of every scrap of hair, he adjusted a pleasant little cap of bright scarlet, held on by suction and inflated with hydrogen, and curiously like the comb of a cock. So his toilet was complete and, conscious of being soberly and becomingly attired, he was ready to face his fellow-beings with a tranquil eye.
This Mwres — the civility of “Mr.” had vanished ages ago — was one of the officials under the Wind Vane and Waterfall Trust, the great company that owned every wind wheel and waterfall in the world, and which pumped all the water and supplied all the electric energy that people in these latter days required. He lived in a vast hotel near that part of London called Seventh Way, and had very large and comfortable apartments on the seventeenth floor. Households and family life had long since disappeared with the progressive refinements of manners; and indeed the steady rise in rents and land values, the disappearance of domestic servants, the elaboration of cookery, had rendered the separate domicile of Victorian times impossible, even had any one desired such a savage seclusion. When his toilet was completed he went towards one of the two doors of his apartment — there were doors at opposite ends, each marked with a huge arrow pointing one way and one the other — touched a stud to open it, and emerged on a wide passage, the centre of which bore chairs and was moving at a steady pace to the left. On some of these chairs were seated gaily-dressed men and women. He nodded to an acquaintance — it was not in those days etiquette to talk before breakfast — and seated himself on one of these chairs, and in a few seconds he had been carried to the doors of a lift, by which he descended to the great and splendid hall in which his breakfast would be automatically served.
It was a very different meal from a Victorian breakfast. The rude masses of bread needing to be carved and smeared over with animal fat before they could be made palatable, the still recognisable fragments of recently killed animals, hideously charred and hacked, the eggs torn ruthlessly from beneath some protesting hen — such things as these, though they constituted the ordinary fare of Victorian times, would have awakened only horror and disgust in the refined minds of the people of these latter days. Instead were pastes and cakes of agreeable and variegated design, without any suggestion in colour or form of the unfortunate animals from which their substance and juices were derived. They appeared on little dishes sliding out upon a rail from a little box at one side of the table. The surface of the table, to judge by touch and eye, would have appeared to a nineteenth-century person to be covered with fine white damask, but this was really an oxidised metallic surface, and could be cleaned instantly after a meal. There were hundreds of such little tables in the hall, and at most of them were other latter-day citizen singly or in groups. And as Mwres seated himself before his elegant repast, the invisible orchestra, which had been resting during an interval, resumed and filled the air with music.
But Mwres did not display any great interest either in his breakfast or the music; his eye wandered incessantly about the hall, as though he expected a belated guest. At last he rose eagerly and waved his hand, and simultaneously across the hall appeared a tall dark figure in a costume of yellow and olive green. As this person, walking amidst the tables with measured steps drew near, the pallid earnestness of his face and the unusual intensity of his eyes became apparent. Mwres reseated himself and pointed to a chair beside him.
“I feared you would never come,” he said. In spite of the intervening space of time, the English language was still almost exactly the same as it had been in England under Victoria the Good. The invention of the phonograph and suchlike means of recording sound, and the gradual replacement of books by such contrivances, had not only saved the human eyesight from decay, but had also by the establishment of a sure standard arrested the process of change in accent that had hitherto been so inevitable.
“I was delayed by an interesting case,” said the man in green and yellow. “A prominent politician — ahem —! Suffering from overwork.” He glanced at the breakfast and seated himself. “I have been awake for forty hours.”
“Eh dear!” said Mwres; “Fancy that! You hypnotists have your work to do.”
The hypnotist helped himself to some attractive amber-coloured jelly. “I happen to be a good deal in request,” he said modestly.
“Heaven knows what we should do without you.”
“Oh! We’re not so indispensable as all that,” said the hypnotist, ruminating the flavour of the jelly. “The world did very well without us for some thousands of years. Two hundred years ago even — not one! In practice, that is . . . Physicians by the thousand, of course — frightfully clumsy brutes for the most part, and following one another like sheep — but doctors of the mind, except a few empirical flounderers there were none.”
He concentrated his mind on the jelly.
“But were people so sane —?” began Mwres.
The hypnotist shook his head. “It didn’t matter then if they were a bit silly or faddy. Life was so easy-going then. No competition worth speaking of — no pressure. A human being had to be very lopsided before anything happened. Then, you know, they clapped ’em away in what they called a lunatic asylum.”
“I know,” said Mwres. “In these confounded historical romances that every one is listening to, they always rescue a beautiful girl from an asylum or something of the sort. I don’t know if you attend to that rubbish.”
“I must confess I do,” said the hypnotist. “It carries one out of oneself to hear of those quaint, adventurous, half-civilised days of the nineteenth century, when men were stout and women simple. I like a good swaggering story before all things. Curious times they were, with their smutty railways and puffing old iron trains, their rum little houses and their horse vehicles. I suppose you don’t read books?”
“Dear, no!” said Mwres. “I went to a modern school and we had none of that old-fashioned nonsense. Phonographs are good enough for me.”
“Of course,” said the hypnotist, “of course,” and surveyed the table for his next choice. “You know,” he said, helping himself to a dark blue confection that promised well, “in those days our business was scarcely thought of. I daresay if any one had told them that in two hundred years’ time a class of men would be entirely occupied in impressing things upon the memory, effacing unpleasant ideas, controlling and overcoming instinctive but undesirable impulses, and so forth, by means of hypnotism, they would have refused to believe the thing possible. Few people knew that an order made during a mesmeric trance, even an order to forget or an order to desire, could be given so as to be obeyed after the trance was over. Yet there were men alive then who could have told them the thing was as absolutely certain to come about as — well, the transit of Venus.”
“They knew of hypnotism, then?”
“Oh, dear, yes! They used it — for painless dentistry and things like that! This blue stuff is confoundedly good: what is it?”
“Haven’t the faintest idea,” said Mwres, “but I admit it’s very good. Take some more.”
The hypnotist repeated his praises, and there was an appreciative pause.
“Speaking of these historical romances,” said Mwres, with an attempt at an easy, off-hand manner, “brings me — ah — to the matter I— ah — had in mind when I asked you — when I expressed a wish to see you.” He paused and took a deep breath.
The hypnotist turned an attentive eye upon him, and continued eating.
“The fact is,” said Mwres, “I have a — in fact a — daughter. Well, you know I have given her — ah — every educational advantage. Lectures — not a solitary lecturer of ability in the world but she has had a telephone direct, dancing, deportment, conversation, philosophy, art criticism . . . ” He indicated catholic culture by a gesture of his hand. “I had intended her to marry a very good friend of mine — Bindon of the Lighting Commission — plain little man, you know, and a bit unpleasant in some of his ways, but an excellent fellow really — an excellent fellow.”
“Yes,” said the hypnotist, “go on. How old is she?”
“A dangerous age. Well?”
“Well: it seems she has been indulging in these historical romances — excessively. Excessively. Even to the neglect of her philosophy. Filled her mind with unutterable nonsense about soldiers who fight — what is it —? Etruscans?”
Egyptians — very probably. Hack about with swords and revolvers and things — blood-shed galore — horrible —! And about young men on torpedo catchers who blow up — Spaniards, I fancy — and all sorts of irregular adventurers. And she has got it into her head that she must marry for Love, and that poor little Bindon —”
“I’ve met similar cases,” said the hypnotist. “Who is the other young man?”
Mwres maintained an appearance of resigned calm. “You may well ask,” he said. “He is — ” and his voice sank with shame —“a mere attendant upon the stage on which the flying-machines from Paris alight. He has — as they say in the romances — good looks. He is quite young and very eccentric. Affects the antique — he can read and write! So can she. And instead of communicating by telephone, like sensible people, they write and deliver — what is it?”
“No — not notes . . . Ah — poems.”
The hypnotist raised his eyebrows. “How did she meet him?”
“Tripped coming down from the flying-machine from Paris — and fell into his arms. The mischief was done in a moment!”
“Well — that’s all. Things must be stopped. That is what I want to consult you about. What must be done? What can be done? Of course I’m not a hypnotist; my knowledge is limited. But you —?”
“Hypnotism is not magic,” said the man in green, putting both arms on the table.
“Oh, precisely! But still —!”
“People cannot be hypnotised without their consent. If she is able to stand out against marrying Bindon, she will probably stand out against being hypnotised. But if once she can be hypnotised — even by somebody else — the thing is done.”
“You can —?”
“Oh, certainly! Once we get her amenable, then we can suggest that she must marry Bindon — that, that is her fate; or that the young man is repulsive, and that when she sees him, she will be giddy and faint, or any little thing of that sort. Or if we can get her into a sufficiently profound trance we can suggest that she should forget him altogether —”
“But the problem is to get her hypnotised. Of course no sort of proposal or suggestion must come from you — because no doubt she already distrusts you in the matter.”
The hypnotist leant his head upon his arm and thought.
“It’s hard a man cannot dispose of his own daughter,” said Mwres irrelevantly.
“You must give me the name and address of the young lady,” said the hypnotist, “and any information bearing upon the matter. And, by the bye, is there any money in the affair?”
“There’s a sum — in fact, a considerable sum — invested in the Patent Road Company. From her mother. That’s what makes the thing so exasperating.”
“Exactly,” said the hypnotist. And he proceeded to cross-examine Mwres on the entire affair.
It was a lengthy interview.
And meanwhile “Elizebe8 Mwres,” as she spelt her name, or “Elizabeth Morris,” as a nineteenth-century person would have put it, was sitting in a quite waiting-place beneath the great stage upon which the flying-machine from Paris descended. And beside her sat her slender, handsome lover reading her the poem he had written that morning while on duty upon the stage. When he had finished they sat for a time in silence; and then, as if for their special entertainment, the great machine that had come flying through the air from America that morning rushed down out of the sky.
At first it was a little oblong, faint and blue amidst the distant fleecy clouds; and then it grew swiftly large and white, and larger and whiter, until they could see the separate tiers of sails, each hundreds of feet wide, and the lank body they supported, and at last even the swinging seats of the passengers in a dotted row. Although it was falling it seemed to them to be rushing up the sky, and over the roof-spaces of the city below its shadow leapt towards them. They heard the whistling rush of the air about it and its yelling siren, shrill and swelling, to warn those who were on its landing-stage of its arrival. And abruptly the note fell down a couple of octaves, and it had passed, and the sky was clear and void, and she could turn her sweet eyes again to Denton at her side.
Their silence ended; and Denton, speaking in a little language of broken English that was, they fancied, their private possession — though lovers have used such little languages since the world began — told her how they too would leap into the air one morning out of all the obstacles and difficulties about them, and fly to a sunlit city of delight he knew of in Japan, halfway about the world.
She loved the dream, but she feared the leap; and she put him off with “Some day, dearest one, some day,” to all his pleading that it might be soon; and at last came a shrilling of whistles, and it was time for him to go back to his duties on the stage. They parted — as lovers have been wont to part for thousands of years. She walked down a passage to a lift, and so came to one of the streets of that latter-day London, all glazed in with glass from the weather, and with incessant moving platforms that went to all parts of the city. And by one of these she returned to her apartments in the Hotel for Women where she lived, the apartments that were in telephonic communication with all the best lecturers in the world. But the sunlight of the flying stage was in her heart, and the wisdom of all the best lecturers in the world seemed folly in that light.
She spent the middle part of the day in the gymnasium, and took her midday meal with two other girls and their common chaperone — for it was still the custom to have a chaperone in the case of motherless girls of the more prosperous classes. The chaperone had a visitor that day, a man in green and yellow, with a white face and vivid eyes, who talked amazingly. Among other things, he fell to praising a new historical romance that one of the great popular story-tellers of the day had just put forth. It was, of course, about the spacious times of Queen Victoria; and the author, among other pleasing novelties, made a little argument before each section of the story, in imitation of the chapter headings of the old-fashioned books: as for example, “How the Cabmen of Pimlico stopped the Victoria Omnibuses, and of the Great Fight in Palace Yard,” and “How the Piccadilly Policeman was slain in the midst of his Duty.” The man in green and yellow praised this innovation. “These pithy sentences,” he said, “are admirable. They show at a glance those headlong, tumultuous times, when men and animals jostled in the filthy streets, and death might wait for one at every corner. Life was life then! How great the world must have seemed then! How marvellous! There were still parts of the world absolutely unexplored. Nowadays we have almost abolished wonder, we lead lives so trim and orderly that courage, endurance, faith, all the noble virtues seem fading from mankind.”
And so on, taking the girls’ thoughts with him, until the life they led, life in the vast and intricate London of the twenty-second century, a life interspersed with soaring excursions to every part of the globe, seemed to them a monotonous misery compared with daedal past.
At first Elizabeth did not join in the conversation, but after a time the subject became so interesting that she made a few shy interpolations. But he scarcely seemed to notice her as he talked. He went on to describe a new method of entertaining people. They were hypnotised, and then suggestions were made to them so skilfully that they seemed to be living in ancient times again. They played out a little romance in the past as vivid as reality, and when at last they awakened they remembered all they had been through as though it were a real thing.
“It is a thing we have sought to do for years and years,” said the hypnotist. “It is practically an artificial dream. And we know the way at last. Think of all it opens out to us — the enrichment of our experience, the recovery of adventure, the refuge it offers from this sordid, competitive life in which we live! Think!”
“And you can do that!” said the chaperone eagerly.
“The thing is possible at last,” the hypnotist said. “You may order a dream as you wish.”
The chaperone was the first to be hypnotised, and the dream, she said, was wonderful, when she came to again.
The other two girls, encouraged by her enthusiasm, also placed themselves in the hands of the hypnotist and had plunges into the romantic past. No one suggested that Elizabeth should try this novel entertainment; it was at her own request at last that she was taken into that land of dreams where there is neither any freedom of choice nor will . . .
And so the mischief was done.
One day, when Denton went down to that quiet seat beneath the flying stage, Elizabeth was not in her wonted place. He was disappointed, and a little angry. The next day she did not come, and the next also. He was afraid. To hide his fears from himself, he set to work to write sonnets for her when she should come again . . .
For three days he fought against his dread by such distraction, and then the truth was before him clear and cold, and would not be denied. She might be ill, she might be dead; but he would not believe that he had been betrayed. There followed a week of misery. And then he knew she was the only thing on earth worth having, and that he must seek her, however hopeless the search, until she was found once more.
He had some small private means of his own, and so he threw over his appointment on the flying stage, and set himself to find this girl who had become at last all the world to him. He did not know where she lived, and little of her circumstances; for it had been part of the delight of her girlish romance that he should know nothing of her, nothing of the difference of their station. The ways of the city opened before him east and west, north and south. Even in Victorian days London was a maze, that little London with its poor four millions of people; but the London he explored, the London of the twenty-second century, was a London of thirty million souls. At first he was energetic and headlong, taking time neither to eat nor sleep. He sought for weeks and months, he went through every imaginable phase of fatigue and despair, over-excitement and anger. Long after hope was dead, by the sheer inertia of his desire he still went to and fro, peering into faces and looking this way and that, in the incessant ways and lifts and passages of that interminable hive of men.
At last chance was kind to him, and he saw her.
It was in a time of festivity. He was hungry; he had paid the inclusive fee and had gone into one of the gigantic dining-places of the city; he was pushing his way among the tables and scrutinising by mere force of habit every group he passed.
He stood still, robbed of all power of motion, his eyes wide, his lips apart. Elizabeth sat scarcely twenty yards away from him, looking straight at him. Her eyes were as hard to him, as hard and expressionless and void of recognition, as the eyes of a statue.
She looked at him for a moment, and then her gaze passed beyond him.
Had he had only her eyes to judge by, he might have doubted if it was indeed Elizabeth, but he knew her by the gesture of her hand, by the grace of a wanton little curl that floated over her ear as she moved her head. Something was said to her, and she turned smiling tolerantly to the man beside her, a little man in foolish raiment knobbed and spiked like some odd reptile with pneumatic horns — the Bindon of her father’s choice.
For a moment Denton stood white and wild-eyed; then came a terrible faintness, and he sat before one of the little tables. He sat down with his back to her, and for a time he did not dare to look at her again. When at last he did, she and Bindon and two other people were standing up to go. The others were her father and her chaperone.
He sat as if incapable of action until the four figures were remote and small, and then he rose up possessed with the idea of pursuit. For a space he feared he had lost them, and then he came upon Elizabeth and her chaperone again in one of the streets of moving platforms that intersected the city. Bindon and Mwres had disappeared.
He could not control himself to patience. He felt he must speak to her forthwith, or die. He pushed forward to where they were seated, and sat down beside them. His white face was convulsed with half-hysterical excitement.
He laid his hand on her wrist. “Elizabeth?” he said.
She turned in unfeigned astonishment. Nothing but the fear of a strange man showed in her face.
“Elizabeth,” he cried, and his voice was strange to him: “dearest — you know me?”
Elizabeth’s face showed nothing but alarm and perplexity. She drew herself away from him. The chaperone, a little grey-headed woman with mobile features, lent forward to intervene. Her resolute bright eyes examined Denton. “What do you say?” she asked.
“This young lady,” said Denton — “she knows me.”
“Do you know him, dear?”
“No,” said Elizabeth in a strange voice, and with a hand to her forehead, speaking almost as one who repeats a lesson. “No, I do not know him. I know — I do not know him.”
“But — but . . . Not know me! It is I— Denton. Denton! To whom you used to talk. Don’t you remember the flying stages? The little seat in the open air? The verses —”
“No” cried Elizabeth — “no. I do not know him. I do not know him. There is something . . . But I don’t know. All I know is that I do not know him.” Her face was a face of infinite distress.
The sharp eyes of the chaperone flitted to and fro from the girl to the man. “You see?” she said, with the faint shadow of a smile. “She does not know you.”
“I do not know you,” said Elizabeth. “Of that I am sure.”
“But, dear — the songs — the little verses —”
“She does not know you,” said the chaperone. “You must not . . . You have made a mistake. You must not go on talking to us after that. You must not annoy us on the public ways.”
“But —” said Denton, and for a moment his miserably haggard face appealed against fate.
“You must not persist, young man,” protested the chaperone.
“Elizabeth!” he cried.
Her face was the face of one who is tormented. “I do not know you,” she cried, hand to brow. “Oh, I do not know you!”
For an instant Denton sat stunned. Then he stood up and groaned aloud.
He made a strange gesture of appeal towards the remote glass roof of the public way, then turned and went plunging recklessly from one moving platform to another, and vanished amidst the swarms of people going to and fro thereon. The chaperone’s eyes followed him, and then she looked at the curious faces about her.
“Dear,” asked Elizabeth, clasping her hand, and too deeply moved to heed observation, “who was that man? Who was that man?”
The chaperone raised her eyebrows. She spoke in a clear, audible voice. “Some half-witted creature. I have never set eyes on him before.”
“Never, dear. Do not trouble your mind about a thing like this.”
And soon after this the celebrated hypnotist who dressed in green and yellow had another client. The young man paced his consulting-room, pale and disordered. “I want to forget,” he cried. “I must forget.”
The hypnotist watched him with quiet eyes, studied his face and clothes and bearing. “To forget anything — pleasure or pain — is to be, by so much — less. However, you know your own concern. My fee is high.”
“If only I can forget —”
“That’s easy enough with you. You wish it. I’ve done much harder things. Quite recently. I hardly expected to do it: the thing was done against the will of the hypnotised person. A love affair too — like yours. A girl. So rest assured.”
The young man came and sat beside the hypnotist. His manner was a forced calm. He looked into the hypnotist’s eyes. “I will tell you. Of course you will want to know what it is. There was a girl. Her name was Elizabeth Mwres. Well . . . ”
He stopped. He had seen the instant surprise on the hypnotist’s face. In that instant he knew. He stood up. He seemed to dominate the seated figure by his side. He gripped the shoulder of green and gold. For a time he could not find words.
“Give her me back!” he said at last. “Give her me back!”
“What do you mean?” gasped the hypnotist.
“Give her me back.”
“Elizabeth Mwres — the girl —”
The hypnotist tried to free himself; he rose to his feet. Denton’s grip tightened.
“Let go!” cried the hypnotist, thrusting an arm against Denton’s chest.
In a moment the two men were locked in a clumsy wrestle. Neither had the slightest training — for athleticism, except for exhibition and to afford opportunity for betting, had faded out the earth — but Denton was not only the younger but the stronger of the two. They swayed across the room, and then the hypnotist had gone down under his antagonist. They fell together . . .
Denton leaped to his feet, dismayed at his own fury; but the hypnotist lay still, and suddenly from a little white mark where his forehead had struck a stool, shot a hurrying band of red. For a space Denton stood over him irresolute, trembling.
A fear of the consequences entered his gently nurtured mind. He turned towards the door. “No,” he said aloud, and came back to the middle of the room. Overcoming the instinctive repugnance of one who had seen no act of violence in all his life before, he knelt down beside his antagonist and felt his heart. Then he peered at the wound. He rose quickly and looked about him. He began to see more of the situation.
When presently the hypnotist recovered his senses, his head ached severely, his back was against Denton’s knees and Denton was sponging his face.
The hypnotist did not speak. But presently he indicated by a gesture that in his opinion he had been sponged enough. “Let me get up,” he said.
“Not yet,” said Denton.
“You have assaulted me, you scoundrel!”
“We are alone,” said Denton, “and the door is secure.”
There was an interval of thought.
“Unless I sponge,” said Denton, “your forehead will develop a tremendous bruise.”
“You can go on sponging,” said the hypnotist sulkily.
There was another pause.
“We might be in the Stone Age,” said the hypnotist. “Violence! Struggle!”
“In the Stone Age no man dared to come between man and woman,” said Denton.
The hypnotist thought again.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“While you were insensible I found the girl’s address on your tablets. I did not know it before. I telephoned. She will be here soon. Then —”
“She will bring her chaperone.”
“That is all right.”
“But what —? I don’t see. What do you mean to do?”
“I looked about for a weapon also. It is an astonishing thing how few weapons there are nowadays. If you consider that in the Stone Age men owned scarcely anything but weapons. I hit at last upon this lamp. I have wrenched off the wires and things, and I hold it so.” He extended it over the hypnotist’s shoulders. “With that I can quite easily smash your skull. I will — unless you do as I tell you.”
“Violence is no remedy,” said the hypnotist, quoting from the “Modern Man’s Book of Moral Maxims.”
“It’s an undesirable disease,” said Denton.
“You will tell that chaperone you are going to order the girl to marry that knobby little brute with the red hair and ferrety eyes. I believe that’s how things stand?”
“Yes — that’s how things stand.”
“And, pretending to do that, you will restore her memory of me.”
“Look here! If I cannot have that girl I would rather die than not. I don’t propose to respect your little fancies. If anything goes wrong you shall not live five minutes. This is a rude makeshift of a weapon, and it may quite conceivably be painful to kill you. But I will. It is unusual, I know, nowadays to do things like this — mainly because there is so little in life that is worth being violent about.”
“The chaperone will see you directly she comes —”
“I shall stand in that recess. Behind you.”
The hypnotist thought. “You are a determined young man,” he said, “and only half civilised. I have tried to do my duty to my client, but in this affair you seem likely to get your own way . . . ”
“You mean to deal straightly.”
“I’m not going to risk having my brains scattered in a petty affair like this.”
“There is nothing a hypnotist or doctor hates so much as a scandal. I at least am no savage. I am annoyed . . . But in a day or so I shall bear no malice . . . ”
“Thank you. And that we understand each other, there is no necessity to keep you sitting any longer on the floor.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02