The First Men in the Moon – Day 4 of 82

“You see,” he said, “I don’t blame you in the least, but you’ve destroyed a habit, and it disorganises my day. I’ve walked past here for years–years. No doubt I’ve hummed…. You’ve made all that impossible!”

I suggested he might try some other direction.

“No. There is no other direction. This is the only one. I’ve inquired. And now–every afternoon at four–I come to a dead wall.”

“But, my dear sir, if the thing is so important to you–“

“It’s vital. You see, I’m–I’m an investigator–I am engaged in a scientific research. I live–” he paused and seemed to think. “Just over there,” he said, and pointed suddenly dangerously near my eye. “The house with white chimneys you see just over the trees. And my circumstances are abnormal–abnormal. I am on the point of completing one of the most important–demonstrations–I can assure you one of the most important demonstrations that have ever been made. It requires constant thought, constant mental ease and activity. And the afternoon was my brightest time!–effervescing with new ideas–new points of view.”

“But why not come by still?”

“It would be all different. I should be self-conscious. I should think of you at your play–watching me irritated–instead of thinking of my work. No! I must have the bungalow.”

I meditated. Naturally, I wanted to think the matter over thoroughly before anything decisive was said. I was generally ready enough for business in those days, and selling always attracted me; but in the first place it was not my bungalow, and even if I sold it to him at a good price I might get inconvenienced in the delivery of goods if the current owner got wind of the transaction, and in the second I was, well–undischarged. It was clearly a business that required delicate handling. Moreover, the possibility of his being in pursuit of some valuable invention also interested me. It occurred to me that I would like to know more of this research, not with any dishonest intention, but simply with an idea that to know what it was would be a relief from play-writing. I threw out feelers.

He was quite willing to supply information. Indeed, once he was fairly under way the conversation became a monologue. He talked like a man long pent up, who has had it over with himself again and again. He talked for nearly an hour, and I must confess I found it a pretty stiff bit of listening. But through it all there was the undertone of satisfaction one feels when one is neglecting work one has set oneself. During that first interview I gathered very little of the drift of his work. Half his words were technicalities entirely strange to me, and he illustrated one or two points with what he was pleased to call elementary mathematics, computing on an envelope with a copying-ink pencil, in a manner that made it hard even to seem to understand. “Yes,” I said, “yes. Go on!” Nevertheless I made out enough to convince me that he was no mere crank playing at discoveries. In spite of his crank-like appearance there was a force about him that made that impossible. Whatever it was, it was a thing with mechanical possibilities. He told me of a work-shed he had, and of three assistants–originally jobbing carpenters–whom he had trained. Now, from the work-shed to the patent office is clearly only one step. He invited me to see those things. I accepted readily, and took care, by a remark or so, to underline that. The proposed transfer of the bungalow remained very conveniently in suspense.

At last he rose to depart, with an apology for the length of his call. Talking over his work was, he said, a pleasure enjoyed only too rarely. It was not often he found such an intelligent listener as myself, he mingled very little with professional scientific men.

“So much pettiness,” he explained; “so much intrigue! And really, when one has an idea–a novel, fertilising idea–I don’t want to be uncharitable, but–“

I am a man who believes in impulses. I made what was perhaps a rash proposition. But you must remember, that I had been alone, play-writing in Lympne, for fourteen days, and my compunction for his ruined walk still hung about me. “Why not,” said I, “make this your new habit? In the place of the one I spoilt? At least, until we can settle about the bungalow. What you want is to turn over your work in your mind. That you have always done during your afternoon walk. Unfortunately that’s over–you can’t get things back as they were. But why not come and talk about your work to me; use me as a sort of wall against which you may throw your thoughts and catch them again? It’s certain I don’t know enough to steal your ideas myself–and I know no scientific men–“

I stopped. He was considering. Evidently the thing, attracted him. “But I’m afraid I should bore you,” he said.

“You think I’m too dull?”

“Oh, no; but technicalities–“

“Anyhow, you’ve interested me immensely this afternoon.”

“Of course it would be a great help to me. Nothing clears up one’s ideas so much as explaining them. Hitherto–“

“My dear sir, say no more.”

“But really can you spare the time?”

“There is no rest like change of occupation,” I said, with profound conviction.

The affair was over. On my verandah steps he turned. “I am already greatly indebted to you,” he said.

I made an interrogative noise.

“You have completely cured me of that ridiculous habit of humming,” he explained.

I think I said I was glad to be of any service to him, and he turned away.

Immediately the train of thought that our conversation had suggested must have resumed its sway. His arms began to wave in their former fashion. The faint echo of “zuzzoo” came back to me on the breeze….

Well, after all, that was not my affair….

He came the next day, and again the next day after that, and delivered two lectures on physics to our mutual satisfaction. He talked with an air of being extremely lucid about the “ether” and “tubes of force,” and “gravitational potential,” and things like that, and I sat in my other folding-chair and said, “Yes,” “Go on,” “I follow you,” to keep him going. It was tremendously difficult stuff, but I do not think he ever suspected how much I did not understand him. There were moments when I doubted whether I was well employed, but at any rate I was resting from that confounded play. Now and then things gleamed on me clearly for a space, only to vanish just when I thought I had hold of them. Sometimes my attention failed altogether, and I would give it up and sit and stare at him, wondering whether, after all, it would not be better to use him as a central figure in a good farce and let all this other stuff slide. And then, perhaps, I would catch on again for a bit.

At the earliest opportunity I went to see his house. It was large and carelessly furnished; there were no servants other than his three assistants, and his dietary and private life were characterised by a philosophical simplicity. He was a water-drinker, a vegetarian, and all those logical disciplinary things. But the sight of his equipment settled many doubts. It looked like business from cellar to attic–an amazing little place to find in an out-of-the-way village. The ground-floor rooms contained benches and apparatus, the bakehouse and scullery boiler had developed into respectable furnaces, dynamos occupied the cellar, and there was a gasometer in the garden. He showed it to me with all the confiding zest of a man who has been living too much alone. His seclusion was overflowing now in an excess of confidence, and I had the good luck to be the recipient.

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