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06-01-2007, 11:46 PM
First Men in the Moon, The
Author: Herbert George Wells

Chapter 1 - Mr. Bedford Meets Mr. Cavor at Lympne

As I sit down to write here amidst the shadows of vine-leaves under the
blue sky of southern Italy, it comes to me with a certain quality of
astonishment that my participation in these amazing adventures of Mr.
Cavor was, after all, the outcome of the purest accident. It might have
been any one. I fell into these things at a time when I thought myself
removed from the slightest possibility of disturbing experiences. I had
gone to Lympne because I had imagined it the most uneventful place in the
world. "Here, at any rate," said I, "I shall find peace and a chance to

And this book is the sequel. So utterly at variance is destiny with all
the little plans of men. I may perhaps mention here that very recently I
had come an ugly cropper in certain business enterprises. Sitting now
surrounded by all the circumstances of wealth, there is a luxury in
admitting my extremity. I can admit, even, that to a certain extent my
disasters were conceivably of my own making. It may be there are
directions in which I have some capacity, but the conduct of business
operations is not among these. But in those days I was young, and my youth
among other objectionable forms took that of a pride in my capacity for
affairs. I am young still in years, but the things that have happened to
me have rubbed something of the youth from my mind. Whether they have
brought any wisdom to light below it is a more doubtful matter.

It is scarcely necessary to go into the details of the speculations that
landed me at Lympne, in Kent. Nowadays even about business transactions
there is a strong spice of adventure. I took risks. In these things there
is invariably a certain amount of give and take, and it fell to me finally
to do the giving. Reluctantly enough. Even when I had got out of
everything, one cantankerous creditor saw fit to be malignant. Perhaps you
have met that flaming sense of outraged virtue, or perhaps you have only
felt it. He ran me hard. It seemed to me, at last, that there was nothing
for it but to write a play, unless I wanted to drudge for my living as a
clerk. I have a certain imagination, and luxurious tastes, and I meant to
make a vigorous fight for it before that fate overtook me. In addition to
my belief in my powers as a business man, I had always in those days had
an idea that I was equal to writing a very good play. It is not, I
believe, a very uncommon persuasion. I knew there is nothing a man can do
outside legitimate business transactions that has such opulent
possibilities, and very probably that biased my opinion. I had, indeed,
got into the habit of regarding this unwritten drama as a convenient
little reserve put by for a rainy day. That rainy day had come, and I set
to work.

I soon discovered that writing a play was a longer business than I had
supposed; at first I had reckoned ten days for it, and it was to have a
pied-a-terre while it was in hand that I came to Lympne. I reckoned myself
lucky in getting that little bungalow. I got it on a three years'
agreement. I put in a few sticks of furniture, and while the play was in
hand I did my own cooking. My cooking would have shocked Mrs. Bond. And
yet, you know, it had flavour. I had a coffee-pot, a sauce-pan for eggs,
and one for potatoes, and a frying-pan for sausages and bacon - such was
the simple apparatus of my comfort. One cannot always be magnificent, but
simplicity is always a possible alternative. For the rest I laid in an
eighteen-gallon cask of beer on credit, and a trustful baker came each
day. It was not, perhaps, in the style of Sybaris, but I have had worse
times. I was a little sorry for the baker, who was a very decent man
indeed, but even for him I hoped.

Certainly if any one wants solitude, the place is Lympne. It is in the
clay part of Kent, and my bungalow stood on the edge of an old sea cliff
and stared across the flats of Romney Marsh at the sea. In very wet
weather the place is almost inaccessible, and I have heard that at times
the postman used to traverse the more succulent portions of his route with
boards upon his feet. I never saw him doing so, but I can quite imagine
it. Outside the doors of the few cottages and houses that make up the
present village big birch besoms are stuck, to wipe off the worst of the
clay, which will give some idea of the texture of the district. I doubt if
the place would be there at all, if it were not a fading memory of things
gone for ever. It was the big port of England in Roman times, Portus
Lemanus, and now the sea is four miles away. All down the steep hill are
boulders and masses of Roman brickwork, and from it old Watling Street,
still paved in places, starts like an arrow to the north. I used to stand
on the hill and think of it all, the galleys and legions, the captives and
officials, the women and traders, the speculators like myself, all the
swarm and tumult that came clanking in and out of the harbour. And now
just a few lumps of rubble on a grassy slope, and a sheep or two - and me
And where the port had been were the levels of the marsh, sweeping round
in a broad curve to distant Jungeness, and dotted here and there with tree
clumps and the church towers of old medical towns that are following
Lemanus now towards extinction.

That outlook on the marsh was, indeed, one of the finest views I have ever
seen. I suppose Jungeness was fifteen miles away; it lay like a raft on
the sea, and farther westward were the hills by Hastings under the setting
sun. Sometimes they hung close and clear, sometimes they were faded and
low, and often the drift of the weather took them clean out of sight. And
all the nearer parts of the marsh were laced and lit by ditches and

The window at which I worked looked over the skyline of this crest, and it
was from this window that I first set eyes on Cavor. It was just as I was
struggling with my scenario, holding down my mind to the sheer hard work
of it, and naturally enough he arrested my attention.

The sun had set, the sky was a vivid tranquillity of green and yellow, and
against that he came out black - the oddest little figure.

He was a short, round-bodied, thin-legged little man, with a jerky quality
in his motions; he had seen fit to clothe his extraordinary mind in a
cricket cap, an overcoat, and cycling knickerbockers and stockings. Why he
did so I do not know, for he never cycled and he never played cricket. It
was a fortuitous concurrence of garments, arising I know not how. He
gesticulated with his hands and arms, and jerked his head about and
buzzed. He buzzed like something electric. You never heard such buzzing.
And ever and again he cleared his throat with a most extraordinary noise.

There had been rain, and that spasmodic walk of his was enhanced by the
extreme slipperiness of the footpath. Exactly as he came against the sun
he stopped, pulled out a watch, hesitated. Then with a sort of convulsive
gesture he turned and retreated with every manifestation of haste, no
longer gesticulating, but going with ample strides that showed the
relatively large size of his feet - they were, I remember, grotesquely
exaggerated in size by adhesive clay - to the best possible advantage.

This occurred on the first day of my sojourn, when my play-writing energy
was at its height and I regarded the incident simply as an annoying
distraction - the waste of five minutes. I returned to my scenario. But
when next evening the apparition was repeated with remarkable precision,
and again the next evening, and indeed every evening when rain was not
falling, concentration upon the scenario became a considerable effort.
"Confound the man," I said, "one would think he was learning to be a
marionette!" and for several evenings I cursed him pretty heartily. Then
my annoyance gave way to amazement and curiosity. Why on earth should a
man do this thing? On the fourteenth evening I could stand it no longer,
and so soon as he appeared I opened the french window, crossed the
verandah, and directed myself to the point where he invariably stopped.

He had his watch out as I came up to him. He had a chubby, rubicund face
with reddish brown eyes - previously I had seen him only against the
light. "One moment, sir," said I as he turned. He stared. "One moment,"
he said, "certainly. Or if you wish to speak to me for longer, and it is
not asking too much - your moment is up - would it trouble you to
accompany me? "

"Not in the least," said I, placing myself beside him.

"My habits are regular. My time for intercourse - limited."

"This, I presume, is your time for exercise? "

"It is. I come here to enjoy the sunset."

"You don't."

"Sir? "

"You never look at it."

"Never look at it? "

"No. I've watched you thirteen nights, and not once have you looked at the
sunset - not once."

He knitted his brows like one who encounters a problem.

"Well, I enjoy the sunlight - the atmosphere - I go along this path,
through that gate " - he jerked his head over his shoulder - " and round

"You don't. You never have been. It's all nonsense. There isn't a way.
To-night for instance"

"Oh! to-night! Let me see. Ah! I just glanced at my watch, saw that I had
already been out just three minutes over the precise half-hour, decided
there was not time to go round, turned -"

"You always do."

He looked at me - reflected. "Perhaps I do, now I come to think of it. But
what was it you wanted to speak to me about? "

"Why, this! "

"This? "

"Yes. Why do you do it? Every night you come making a noise"

"Making a noise? "

"Like this " - I imitated his buzzing noise. He looked at me, and it was
evident the buzzing awakened distaste. " Do I do that? " he asked.

"Every blessed evening."

"I had no idea."

He stopped dead. He regarded me gravely. " Can it be," he said, " that I
have formed a Habit ? "

"Well, it looks like it. Doesn't it? "

He pulled down his lower lip between finger and thumb. He regarded a
puddle at his feet.

"My mind is much occupied," he said. "And you want to know why! Well, sir,
I can assure you that not only do I not know why I do these things, but I
did not even know I did them. Come to think, it is just as you say; I
never have been beyond that field.... And these things annoy you? "

For some reason I was beginning to relent towards him. "Not annoy, I said.
"But - imagine yourself writing a play!"

"I couldn't."

"Well, anything that needs concentration."

"Ah!" he said, "of course," and meditated. His expression became so
eloquent of distress, that I relented still more. After all, there is a
touch of aggression in demanding of a man you don't know why he hums on a
public footpath.

"You see," he said weakly, " it's a habit."

"Oh, I recognise that."

"I must stop it."

"But not if it puts you out. After all, I had no business - it's something
of a liberty."

"Not at all, sir," he said, "not at all. I am greatly indebted to you. I
should guard myself against these things. In future I will. Could I
trouble you - once again? That noise? "

"Something like this," I said. " Zuzzoo, zuzzoo. But really, you know -"

"I am greatly obliged to you. In fact, I know I am getting absurdly
absent-minded. You are quite justified, sir - perfectly justified. Indeed,
I am indebted to you. The thing shall end. And now, sir, I have already
brought you farther than I should have done."

"I do hope my impertinence -"

"Not at all, sir, not at all."

We regarded each other for a moment. I raised my hat and wished him a good
evening. He responded convulsively, and so we went our ways.

At the stile I looked back at his receding figure. His bearing had changed
remarkably, he seemed limp, shrunken. The contrast with his former
gesticulating, zuzzoing self took me in some absurd way as pathetic. I
watched him out of sight. Then wishing very heartily I had kept to my own
business, I returned to my bungalow and my play.

The next evening I saw nothing of him, nor the next. But he was very much
in my mind, and it had occurred to me that as a sentimental comic
character he might serve a useful purpose in the development of my plot.
The third day he called upon me.

For a time I was puzzled to think what had brought him. He made
indifferent conversation in the most formal way, then abruptly he came to
business. He wanted to buy me out of my bungalow.

"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.
Oh! 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 - un -
discharged. 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

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

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 thing 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.

The three assistants were creditable specimens of the class of" handy-men
" from which they came. Conscientious if unintelligent, strong, civil, and
willing. One, Spargus, who did the cooking and all the metal work, had
been a sailor; a second, Gibbs, was a joiner; and the third was an
ex-jobbing gardener, and now general assistant. They were the merest
labourers. All the intelligent work was done by Cavor. Theirs was the
darkest ignorance compared even with my muddled impression.

And now, as to the nature of these inquiries. Here, unhappily, comes a
grave difficulty. I am no scientific expert, and if I were to attempt to
set forth in the highly scientific language of Mr. Cavor the aim to which
his experiments tended, I am afraid I should confuse not only the reader
but myself, and almost certainly I should make some blunder that would
bring upon me the mockery of every up-to-date student of mathematical
physics in the country. The best thing I can do therefore is, I think to
give my impressions in my own inexact language, without any attempt to
wear a garment of knowledge to which I have no claim.

The object of Mr. Cavor's search was a substance that should be "opaque "
- he used some other word I have forgotten, but "opaque" conveys the idea
- to "all forms of radiant energy." "Radiant energy," he made me
understand, was anything like light or heat, or those Rontgen Rays there
was so much talk about a year or so ago, or the electric waves of Marconi,
or gravitation. All these things, he said, radiate out from centres, and
act on bodies at a distance, whence comes the term "radiant energy." Now
almost all substances are opaque to some form or other of radiant energy.
Glass, for example, is transparent to light, but much less so to heat, so
that it is useful as a fire-screen; and alum is transparent to light, but
blocks heat completely. A solution of iodine in carbon bisulphide, on the
other hand, completely blocks light, but is quite transparent to heat. It
will hide a fire from you, but permit all its warmth to reach you. Metals
are not only opaque to light and heat, but also to electrical energy,
which passes through both iodine solution and glass almost as though they
were not interposed. And so on.

Now all known substances are "transparent" to gravitation. You can use
screens of various sorts to cut off the light or heat, or electrical
influence of the sun, or the warmth of the earth from anything; you can
screen things by sheets of metal from Marconi's rays, but nothing will cut
off the gravitational attraction of the sun or the gravitational
attraction of the earth. Yet why there should be nothing is hard to say.
Cavor did not see why such a substance should not exist, and certainly I
could not tell him. I had never thought of such a possibility before. He
showed me by calculations on paper, which Lord Kelvin, no doubt, or
Professor Lodge, or Professor Karl Pearson, or any of those great
scientific people might have understood, but which simply reduced me to a
hopeless muddle, that not only was such a substance possible, but that it
must satisfy certain conditions. It was an amazing piece of reasoning.
Much as it amazed and exercised me at the time, it would be impossible to
reproduce it here. "Yes," I said to it all, "yes; go on!" Suffice it for
this story that he believed he might be able to manufacture this possible
substance opaque to gravitation out of a complicated alloy of metals and
something new - a new element, I fancy - called, I believe, helium, which
was sent to him from London in sealed stone jars. Doubt has been thrown
upon this detail, but I am almost certain it was helium he had sent him in
sealed stone jars. It was certainly something very gaseous and thin. If
only I had taken notes...

But then, how was I to foresee the necessity of taking notes ?

Any one with the merest germ of an imagination will understand the
extraordinary possibilities of such a substance, and will sympathise a
little with the emotion I felt as this understanding emerged from the haze
of abstruse phrases in which Cavor expressed himself. Comic relief in a
play indeed! It was some time before I would believe that I had
interpreted him aright, and I was very careful not to ask questions that
would have enabled him to gauge the profundity of misunderstanding into
which he dropped his daily exposition. But no one reading the story of it
here will sympathise fully, because from my barren narrative it will be
impossible to gather the strength of my conviction that this astonishing
substance was positively going to be made.

I do not recall that I gave my play an hour's consecutive work at any time
after my visit to his house. My imagination had other things to do. There
seemed no limit to the possibilities of the stuff; whichever way I tried I
came on miracles and revolutions. For example, if one wanted to lift a
weight, however enormous, one had only to get a sheet of this substance
beneath it, and one might lift it with a straw My first natural impulse
was to apply this principle to guns and ironclads, and all the material
and methods of war, and from that to shipping, locomotion, building, every
conceivable form of human industry. The chance that had brought me into
the very birth-chamber of this new time - it was an epoch, no less - was
one of those chances that come once in a thousand years. The thing
unrolled, it expanded and expanded. Among other things I saw in it my
redemption as a business man. I saw a parent company, and daughter
companies, applications to right of us, applications to left, rings and
trusts, privileges, and concessions spreading and spreading, until one
vast, stupendous Cavorite company ran and ruled the world.

And I was in it!

I took my line straight away. I knew I was staking everything, but I
jumped there and then.

"We're on absolutely the biggest thing that has ever been invented," I
said, and put the accent on "we." "If you want to keep me out of this,
you'll have to do it with a gun. I'm coming down to be your fourth
labourer to-morrow."

He seemed surprised at my enthusiasm, but not a bit suspicious or hostile.
Rather, he was self-depreciatory. He looked at me doubtfully. "But do you
really think - ?" he said. "And your play! How about that play? "

" It's vanished!" I cried. "My dear sir, don't you see what you've got?
Don't you see what you're going to do?"

That was merely a rhetorical turn, but positively, he didn't. At first I
could not believe it. He had not had the beginning of the inkling of an
idea. This astonishing little man had been working on purely theoretical
grounds the whole time; When he said it was "the most important" research
the world had ever seen, he simply meant it squared up so many theories,
settled so much that was in doubt; he had troubled no more about the
application of the stuff he was going to turn out than if he had been a
machine that makes guns. This was a possible substance, and he was going
to make it! V'la tout, as the Frenchman says.

Beyond that, he was childish; If he made it, it would go down to posterity
as Cavorite or Cavorine, and he would be made an F.R.S., and his portrait
given away as a scientific worthy with Nature, and things like that. And
that was all he saw! He would have dropped this bombshell into the world
as though he had discovered a new species of gnat, if it had not happened
that I had come along. And there it would have lain and fizzled, like one
or two other little things these scientific people have lit and dropped
about us.

When I realised this, it was I did the talking, and Cavor who said, "Go
on!" I jumped up. I paced the room, gesticulating like a boy of twenty. I
tried to make him understand his duties and responsibilities in the matter
- our duties and responsibilities in the matter. I assured him we might
make wealth enough to work any sort of social revolution we fancied, we
might own and order the whole world. I told him of companies and patents,
and the case for secret processes. All these things seemed to take him
much as his mathematics had taken me. A look of perplexity came into his
ruddy little face. He stammered something about indifference to wealth,
but I brushed all that aside. He had got to be rich, and it was no good
his stammering. I gave him to understand the sort of man I was, and that I
had had very considerable business experience. I did not tell him I was an
undischarged bankrupt at the time, because that was temporary, but I think
I reconciled my evident poverty with my financial claims. And quite
insensibly, in the way such projects grow, the understanding of a Cavorite
monopoly grew up between us. He was to make the stuff, and I was to make
the boom.

I stuck like a leech to the "we" - "you" and "I" didn't exist for me.

His idea was that the profits I spoke of might go to endow research, but
that, of course, was a matter we had to settle later. "That's all right,"
I shouted, " that's all right." The great point, as I insisted, was to get
the thing done.

"Here is a substance," I cried, "no home, no factory, no fortress, no ship
can dare to be without - more universally applicable even than a patent
medicine. There isn't a solitary aspect of it, not one of its ten thousand
possible uses that will not make us rich, Cavor, beyond the dreams of
avarice! "

"No!" he said. "I begin to see. It's extraordinary how one gets new points
of view by talking over things!"

"And as it happens you have just talked to the right man! "

" I suppose no one," he said, "is absolutely averse to enormous wealth. Of
course there is one thing - "

He paused. I stood still.

" It is just possible, you know, that we may not be able to make it after
all! It may be one of those things that are a theoretical possibility, but
a practical absurdity. Or when we make it, there may be some little

"We'll tackle the hitch when it comes." said I.