View Full Version : First Men in the Moon, The - Herbert George Wells

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06-01-2007, 11:58 PM
Chapter 21 - Mr. Bedford at Littlestone

My line of flight was about parallel with the surface as I came into the
upper air. The temperature of sphere began to rise forthwith. I knew it
behoved me to drop at once. Far below me, in a darkling twilight,
stretched a great expanse of sea. I opened every window I could, and fell
- out of sunshine into evening, and out of evening into night. Vaster grew
the earth and vaster, swallowing up the stars, and the silvery translucent
starlit veil of cloud it wore spread out to catch me. At last the world
seemed no longer a sphere but flat, and then concave. It was no longer a
planet in the sky, but the world of Man. I shut all but an inch or so of
earthward window, and dropped with a slackening velocity. The broadening
water, now so near that I could see the dark glitter of the waves, rushed
up to meet me. The sphere became very hot. I snapped the last strip of
window, and sat scowling and biting my knuckles, waiting for the impact.

The sphere hit the water with a huge splash: it must have sent it fathoms
high. At the splash I flung the Cavorite shutters open. Down I went, but
slower and slower, and then I felt the sphere pressing against my feet,
and so drove up again as a bubble drives. And at the last I was floating
and rocking upon the surface of the sea, and my journey in space was at an

The night was dark and overcast. Two yellow pinpoints far away showed the
passing of a ship, and nearer was a red glare that came and went. Had not
the electricity of my glow-lamp exhausted itself, I could have got picked
up that night. In spite of the inordinate fatigue I was beginning to feel,
I was excited now, and for a time hopeful, in a feverish, impatient way,
that so my travelling might end.

But at last I ceased to move about, and sat, wrists on knees, staring at a
distant red light. It swayed up and down, rocking, rocking. My excitement
passed. I realised I had yet to spend another night at least in the
sphere. I perceived myself infinitely heavy and fatigued. And so I fell

A change in my rhythmic motion awakened me. I peered through the
refracting glass, and saw that I had come aground upon a huge shallow of
sand. Far away I seemed to see houses and trees, and seaward a curve,
vague distortion of a ship hung between sea and sky.

I stood up and staggered. My one desire was to emerge. The manhole was
upward, and I wrestled with the screw. Slowly I opened the manhole. At
last the air was singing in again as once it had sung out. But this time
I did not wait until the pressure was adjusted. In another moment I had
the weight of the window on my hands, and I was open, wide open, to the
old familiar sky of earth.

The air hit me on the chest so that I gasped. I dropped the glass screw. I
cried out, put my hands to my chest, and sat down. For a time I was in
pain. Then I took deep breaths. At last I could rise and move about

I tried to thrust my head through the manhole, and the sphere rolled over.
It was as though something had lugged my head down directly it emerged. I
ducked back sharply, or I should have been pinned face under water. Alter
some wriggling and shoving I managed to crawl out upon sand, over which
the retreating waves still came and went.

I did not attempt to stand up. It seemed to me that my body must be
suddenly changed to lead. Mother Earth had her grip on me now - no
Cavorite intervening. I sat down heedless of the water that came over my

It was dawn, a gray dawn, rather overcast but showing here and there a
long patch of greenish gray. Some way out a ship was lying at anchor, a
pale silhouette of a ship with one yellow light. The water came rippling
in in long shallow waves. Away to the right curved the land, a shingle
bank with little hovels, and at last a lighthouse, a sailing mark and a
point. Inland stretched a space of level sand, broken here and there by
pools of water, and ending a mile away perhaps in a low shore of scrub. To
the north-east some isolated watering-place was visible, a row of gaunt
lodging-houses, the tallest things that I could see on earth, dull dabs
against the brightening sky. What strange men can have reared these
vertical piles in such an amplitude of space I do not know. There they
are, like pieces of Brighton lost in the waste.

For a long time I sat there, yawning and rubbing my face. At last I
struggled to rise. It made me feel that I was lifting a weight. I stood

I stared at the distant houses. For the first time since our starvation in
the crater I thought of earthly food. "Bacon," I whispered, "eggs. Good
toast and good coffee.... And how the devil am I going to all this stuff
to Lympne?" I wondered where I was. It was an east shore anyhow, and I
had seen Europe before I dropped.

I heard footsteps scrunching in the sand, and a little round-faced,
friendly-looking man in flannels, with a bathing towel wrapped about his
shoulders, and his bathing dress over his arm, appeared up the beach. I
knew instantly that I must be in England. He was staring most intently at
the sphere and me. He advanced staring. I dare say I looked a ferocious
savage enough - dirty, unkempt, to an indescribable degree; but it did not
occur to me at the time. He stopped at a distance of twenty yards.
"Hul-lo, my man! " he said doubtfully.

"Hullo yourself!" said I.

He advanced, reassured by that. "What on earth is that thing? " he asked.

"Can you tell me where I am?" I asked.

"That's Littlestone," he said, pointing to the houses; "and that's
Dungeness! Have you just landed? What's that thing you've got? Some sort
of machine?"


"Have you floated ashore? Have you been wrecked or something? What is it?"

I meditated swiftly. I made an estimate of the little man's appearance as
he drew nearer. "By Jove! " he said, "you've had a time of it! I thought
you - Well - Where were you cast away? Is that thing a sort of floating
thing for saving life?"

I decided to take that line for the present. I made a few vague
affirmatives. "I want help," I said hoarsely. " I want to get some stuff
up the beach - stuff I can't very well leave about." I became aware of
three other pleasant-looking young men with towels, blazers, and straw
hats, coming down the sands towards me. Evidently the early bathing
section of this Littlestone.

"Help!" said the young man: "rather!" He became vaguely active. "What
particularly do you want done? " He turned round and gesticulated. The
three young men accelerated their pace. In a minute they there about me,
plying me with questions I was indisposed to answer. "I'll tell all that
later," I said. "I'm dead beat. I'm a rag."

"Come up to the hotel," said the foremost little man. "We'll look after
that thing there."

I hesitated. "I can't," I said. "In that sphere there's two big bars of

They looked incredulously at one another, then at me with a new inquiry. I
went to the sphere, stooped, crept in, and presently they had the
Selenites' crowbars and the broken chain before them. If I had not been so
horribly fagged I could have laughed at them. It was like kittens round a
beetle. They didn't know what to do with the stuff. The fat little man
stooped and lifted the end of one of the bars, and then dropped it with a
grunt. Then they all did.

"It's lead, or gold!" said one.

"Oh, it's gold!" said another.

"Gold, right enough," said the third.

Then they all stared at me, and then they all stared at the ship lying at

"I say!" cried the little man. "But where did you get that?"

I was too tired to keep up a lie. "I got it in the moon."

I saw them stare at one another.

"Look here!" said I, "I'm not going to argue now. Help me carry these
lumps of gold up to the hotel - I guess, with rests, two of you can manage
one, and I'll trail this chain thing - and I'll tell you more when I've
had some food."

"And how about that thing?"

"It won't hurt there," I said. "Anyhow - confound it! - it must stop there
now. If the tide comes up, it will float all right."

And in a state of enormous wonderment, these young men most obediently
hoisted my treasures on their shoulders, and with limbs that felt like
lead I headed a sort of procession towards that distant fragment of
"sea-front." Half-way there we were reinforced by two awe-stricken little
girls with spades, and later a lean little boy, with a penetrating sniff,
appeared. He was, I remember, wheeling a bicycle, and he accompanied us at
a distance of about a hundred yards on our right flank, and then I
suppose, gave us up as uninteresting, mounted his bicycle and rode off
over the level sands in the direction of the sphere.

I glanced back after him.

"He won't touch it," said the stout young man reassuringly, and I was only
too willing to be reassured.

At first something of the gray of the morning was in my mind, but
presently the sun disengaged itself from the level clouds of the horizon
and lit the world, and turned the leaden sea to glittering waters. My
spirits rose. A sense of the vast importance of the things I had done and
had yet to do came with the sunlight into my mind. I laughed aloud as the
foremost man staggered under my gold. When indeed I took my place in the
world, how amazed the world would be!

If it had not been for my inordinate fatigue, the landlord of the
Littlestone hotel would have been amusing, as he hesitated between my gold
and my respectable company on the one and my filthy appearance on the
other. But at last I found myself in a terrestrial bathroom once more with
warm water to wash myself with, and a change of raiment, preposterously
small indeed, but anyhow clean, that the genial little man had lent me. He
lent me a razor too, but I could not screw up my resolution to attack even
the outposts of the bristling beard that covered my face.

I sat down to an English breakfast and ate with a sort of languid appetite
- an appetite many weeks old and very decrepit - and stirred myself to
answer the questions of the four young men. And I told them the truth.

"Well," said I, "as you press me - I got it in the moon."

"The moon?"

"Yes, the moon in the sky."

"But how do you mean?"

"What I say, confound it!"

"Then you have just come from the moon?"

"Exactly! through space - in that ball." And I took a delicious mouthful
of egg. I made a private note that when I went back to the moon I would
take a box of eggs.

I could see clearly that they did not believe one word what I told them,
but evidently they considered me the most respectable liar they had ever
met. They glanced at one another, and then concentrated the fire of their
eyes on me. I fancy they expected a clue to me in the way I helped myself
to salt. They seemed to find something significant in my peppering my egg.
These strangely shaped masses of gold they had staggered under held their
minds. There the lumps lay in front of me, each worth thousands of pounds,
and as impossible for any one to steal as a house or a piece of land. As I
looked at their curious faces over my coffee-cup, I realised something of
the enormous wilderness of explanations into which I should have to wander
to render myself comprehensible again.

"You don't really mean -" began the youngest young man, in the tone of one
who speaks to an obstinate child.

"Just pass me that toast-rack," I said, and shut him up completely.

"But look here, I say," began one of the others. "We're not going to
believe that, you know."

"Ah, well," said I, and shrugged my shoulders.

"He doesn't want to tell us," said the youngest young man in a stage
aside; and then, with an appearance of great sang-froid, " You don't mind
if I take a cigarette?"

I waved him a cordial assent, and proceeded with my breakfast. Two of the
others went and looked out of the farther window and talked inaudibly. I
was struck by a thought. "The tide," I said, "is running out?"

There was a pause, a doubt who should answer me.

"It's near the ebb," said the fat little man.

"Well, anyhow," I said, "it won't float far."

I decapitated my third egg, and began a little speech. "Look here," I
said. " Please don't imagine I'm surly or telling you uncivil lies, or
anything of that sort. I'm forced almost, to be a little short and
mysterious. I can quite understand this is as queer as it can be, and
that your imaginations must be going it. I can assure you, you're in at a
memorable time. But I can't make it clear to you now - it's impossible. I
give you my word of honour I've come from the moon, and that's all I can
tell you.... All the same, I'm tremendously obliged to you, you know,
tremendously. I hope that my manner hasn't in any way given you offence."

"Oh, not in the least!" said the youngest young man affably. "We can quite
understand," and staring hard at me all the time, he heeled his chair back
until it very nearly upset, and recovered with some exertion. "Not a bit
of it," said the fat young man.

"Don't you imagine that!" and they all got up and dispersed, and walked
about and lit cigarettes, and generally tried to show they were perfectly
amiable and disengaged, and entirely free from the slightest curiosity
about me and the sphere. "I'm going to keep an eye on that ship out there
all the same," I heard one of them remarking in an undertone. If only they
could have forced themselves to it, they would, I believe, even have gone
out and left me. I went on with my third egg.

"The weather," the fat little man remarked presently, "has been immense,
has it not? I don't know when we have had such a summer."

Phoo-whizz! Like a tremendous rocket!

And somewhere a window was broken....

"What's that?" said I.

"It isn't - ?" cried the little man, and rushed to the corner window.

All the others rushed to the window likewise. I sat staring at them.

Suddenly I leapt up, knocked over my third egg, rushed for the window
also. I had just thought of something. "Nothing to be seen there," cried
the little man, rushing for the door.

"It's that boy!" I cried, bawling in hoarse fury; "it's that accursed
boy!" and turning about I pushed the waiter aside - he was just bring me
some more toast - and rushed violently out of the room and down and out
upon the queer little esplanade in front of the hotel.

The sea, which had been smooth, was rough now with hurrying cat's-paws,
and all about where the sphere had been was tumbled water like the wake of
a ship. Above, a little puff of cloud whirled like dispersing smoke, and
the three or four people on the beach were bring up with interrogative
faces towards the point of that unexpected report. And that was all! Boots
and waiter and the four young men in blazers came rushing out behind me.
Shouts came from windows and doors, and all sorts of worrying people came
into sight - agape.

For a time I stood there, too overwhelmed by this new development to think
of the people.

At first I was too stunned to see the thing as any definite disaster - I
was just stunned, as a man is by some accidental violent blow. It is only
afterwards he begins to appreciate his specific injury.

"Good Lord!"

I felt as though somebody was pouring funk out of a can down the back of
my neck. My legs became feeble. I had got the first intimation of what the
disaster meant for me. There was that confounded boy - sky high! I was
utterly left. There was the gold in the coffee-room - my only possession
on earth. How would it all work out? The general effect was of a gigantic
unmanageable confusion.

"I say," said the voice of the little man behind. "I say, you know."

I wheeled about, and there were twenty or thirty people, a sort of
irregular investment of people, all bombarding me with dumb interrogation,
with infinite doubt and suspicion. I felt the compulsion of their eyes
intolerably. I groaned aloud.

"I can't! " I shouted. "I tell you I can't! I'm not equal to it! You must
puzzle and - and be damned to you!"

I gesticulated convulsively. He receded a step as though I had threatened
him. I made a bolt through them into the hotel. I charged back into the
coffee-room, rang the bell furiously. I gripped the waiter as he entered.
"D'ye hear?" I shouted. "Get help and carry these bars up to my room right

He failed to understand me, and I shouted and raved at him. A
scared-looking little old man in a green apron appeared, and further two
of the young men in flannels. I made a dash at them and commandeered their
services. As soon as the gold was in my room I felt free to quarrel. "Now
get out," I shouted; "all of you get out if you don't want to see a man go
mad before your eyes!" And I helped the waiter by the shoulder as he
hesitated in the doorway. And then, as soon as I had the door locked on
them all, I tore off the little man's clothes again, shied them right and
left, and got into bed forthwith. And there I lay swearing and panting and
cooling for a very long time.

At last I was calm enough to get out of bed and ring up the round-eyed
waiter for a flannel nightshirt, a soda and whisky, and some good cigars.
And these things being procured me, after an exasperating delay that drove
me several times to the bell, I locked the door again and proceeded very
deliberately to look entire situation in the face.

The net result of the great experiment presented itself as an absolute
failure. It was a rout, and I was the sole survivor. It was an absolute
collapse, and this was the final disaster. There was nothing for it but to
save myself, and as much as I could in the way of prospects from our
debacle. At one fatal crowning blow all my vague resolutions of return and
recovery had vanished. My intention of going back to the moon, of getting
a sphereful of gold, and afterwards of having a fragment of Cavorite
analysed and so recovering the great secret - perhaps, finally, even of
recovering Cavor's body - all these ideas vanished altogether.

I was the sole survivor, and that was all.

I think that going to bed was one of the luckiest ideas I have ever had in
an emergency. I really believe I should either have got loose-headed or
done some indiscreet thing. But there, locked in and secure from all
interruptions, I could think out the position in all its bearings and make
my arrangements at leisure.

Of course, it was quite clear to me what had happened to the boy. He had
crawled into the sphere, meddled with the studs, shut the Cavorite
windows, and gone up. It was highly improbable he had screwed the manhole
stopper, and, even if he had, the chances were a thousand to one against
his getting back. It was fairly evident that he would gravitate with my
bales to somewhere near the middle of the sphere and remain there, and so
cease to be a legitimate terrestrial interest, however remarkable he might
seem to the inhabitants of some remote quarter of space. I very speedily
convinced myself on that point. And as for any responsibility I might have
in the matter, the more I reflected upon that, the clearer it became that
if only I kept quiet about things, I need not trouble myself about that.
If I was faced by sorrowing parents demanding their lost boy, I had merely
to demand my lost sphere - or ask them what they meant. At first I had had
a vision of weeping parents and guardians, and all sorts of complications;
but now I saw that I simply had to keep my mouth shut, and nothing in that
way could arise. And, indeed, the more I lay and smoked and thought, the
more evident became the wisdom of impenetrability.

It is within the right of every British citizen, provided he does not
commit damage nor indecorum, to appear suddenly wherever he pleases, and
as ragged and filthy as he pleases, and with whatever amount of virgin
gold he sees fit to encumber himself, and no one has any right at all to
hinder and detain him in this procedure. I formulated that at last to
myself, and repeated it over as a sort of private Magna Charta of my

Once I had put that issue on one side, I could take up and consider in an
equable manner certain considerations I had scarcely dared to think of
before, namely, those arising out of the circumstances of my bankruptcy.
But now, looking at this matter calmly and at leisure, I could see that if
only I suppressed my identity by a temporary assumption of some less
well-known name, and if I retained the two months' beard that had grown
upon me, the risks of any annoyance from the spiteful creditor to whom I
have already alluded became very small indeed. From that to a definite
course of rational worldly action was plain sailing. It was all amazingly
petty, no doubt, but what was there remaining for me to do?

Whatever I did I was resolved that I would keep myself level and right
side up.

I ordered up writing materials, and addressed a letter to the New Romney
Bank - the nearest, the waiter informed me - telling the manager I wished
to open an account with him, and requesting him to send two trustworthy
persons properly authenticated in a cab with a good horse to fetch some
hundredweight of gold with which I happened to be encumbered. I signed the
letter "Blake," which seemed to me to be a thoroughly respectable sort of
name. This done, I got a Folkstone Blue Book, picked out an outfitter, and
asked him to send a cutter to measure me for a dark tweed suit, ordering
at the same time a valise, dressing bag, brown boots, shirts, hat (to
fit), and so forth; and from a watchmaker I also ordered a watch. And
these letters being despatched, I had up as good a lunch as the hotel
could give, and then lay smoking a cigar, as calm and ordinary as
possible, until in accordance with my instructions two duly authenticated
clerks came from the bank and weighed and took away my gold. After which I
pulled the clothes over my ears in order to drown any knocking, and went
very comfortably to sleep.

I went to sleep. No doubt it was a prosaic thing for the first man back
from the moon to do, and I can imagine that the young and imaginative
reader will find my behaviour disappointing. But I was horribly fatigued
and bothered, and, confound it! what else was there to do? There certainly
was not the remotest chance of my being believed, if I had told my story
then, and it would certainly have subjected me to intolerable annoyances.
I went to sleep. When at last I woke up again I was ready to face the
world as I have always been accustomed to face it since I came to years of
discretion. And so I got away to Italy, and there it is I am writing this
story. If the world will not have it as fact, then the world may take it
as fiction. It is no concern of mine.

And now that the account is finished, I am amazed to think how completely
this adventure is gone and done with. Everybody believes that Cavor was a
not very brilliant scientific experimenter who blew up his house and
himself at Lympne, and they explain the bang that followed my arrival at
Littlestone by a reference to the experiments with explosives that are
going on continually at the government establishment of Lydd, two miles
away. I must confess that hitherto I have not acknowledged my share in the
disappearance of Master Tommy Simmons, which was that little boy's name.
That, perhaps, may prove a difficult item of corroboration to explain
away. They account for my appearance in rags with two bars of indisputable
gold upon the Littlestone beach in various ingenious ways - it doesn't
worry me what they think of me. They say I have strung all these things
together to avoid being questioned too closely as to the source of my
wealth. I would like to see the man who could invent a story that would
hold together like this one. Well, they must take it as fiction - there it

I have told my story - and now, I suppose, I have to take up the worries
of this terrestrial life again. Even if one has been to the moon, one has
still to earn a living. So I am working here at Amalfi, on the scenario of
that play I sketched before Cavor came walking into my world, and I am
trying to piece my life together as it was before ever I saw him. I must
confess that I find it hard to keep my mind on the play when the moonshine
comes into my room. It is full moon here, and last night I was out on the
pergola for hours, staring away at the shining blankness that hides so
much. Imagine it! tables and chairs, and trestles and bars of gold!
Confound it! - if only one could hit on that Cavorite again! But a thing
like that doesn't come twice in a life. Here I am, a little better off
than I was at Lympne, and that is all. And Cavor has committed suicide in
a more elaborate way than any human being ever did before. So the story
closes as, finally and completely as a dream. It fits in so little with
all the other things of life, so much of it is so utterly remote from all
human experience, the leaping, the eating, the breathing, and these
weightless times, that indeed there are moments when, in spite of my moon
gold, I do more than half believe myself that the whole thing was a dream.