Chapter Seventeen : DR. KEMP’S VISITOR
Dr. Kemp had continued writing in his study until the shots aroused him. Crack, crack, crack, they came one after the other.
“Hullo!” said Dr. Kemp, putting his pen into his mouth again and listening. “Who’s letting off revolvers in Burdock? What are the asses at now?”
He went to the south window, threw it up, and leaning out stared down on the network of windows, beaded gas-lamps and shops, with its black interstices of roof and yard that made up the town at night. “Looks like a crowd down the hill,” he said, “by ‘The Cricketers,’” and remained watching. Thence his eyes wandered over the town to far away where the ships’ lights shone, and the pier glowed—a little illuminated, facetted pavilion like a gem of yellow light. The moon in its first quarter hung over the westward hill, and the stars were clear and almost tropically bright.
After five minutes, during which his mind had travelled into a remote speculation of social conditions of the future, and lost itself at last over the time dimension, Dr. Kemp roused himself with a sigh, pulled down the window again, and returned to his writing desk.
It must have been about an hour after this that the front-door bell rang. He had been writing slackly, and with intervals of abstraction, since the shots. He sat listening. He heard the servant answer the door, and waited for her feet on the staircase, but she did not come. “Wonder what that was,” said Dr. Kemp.
He tried to resume his work, failed, got up, went downstairs from his study to the landing, rang, and called over the balustrade to the housemaid as she appeared in the hall below. “Was that a letter?” he asked.
“Only a runaway ring, sir,” she answered.
“I’m restless to-night,” he said to himself. He went back to his study, and this time attacked his work resolutely. In a little while he was hard at work again, and the only sounds in the room were the ticking of the clock and the subdued shrillness of his quill, hurrying in the very centre of the circle of light his lampshade threw on his table.
It was two o’clock before Dr. Kemp had finished his work for the night. He rose, yawned, and went downstairs to bed. He had already removed his coat and vest, when he noticed that he was thirsty. He took a candle and went down to the dining-room in search of a syphon and whiskey.
Dr. Kemp’s scientific pursuits have made him a very observant man, and as he recrossed the hall, he noticed a dark spot on the linoleum near the mat at the foot of the stairs. He went on upstairs, and then it suddenly occurred to him to ask himself what the spot on the linoleum might be. Apparently some subconscious element was at work. At any rate, he turned with his burden, went back to the hall, put down the syphon and whiskey, and bending down, touched the spot. Without any great surprise he found it had the stickiness and colour of drying blood.
He took up his burden again, and returned upstairs, looking about him and trying to account for the blood-spot. On the landing he saw something and stopped astonished. The door-handle of his own room was blood-stained.
He looked at his own hand. It was quite clean, and then he remembered that the door of his room had been open when he came down from his study, and that consequently he had not touched the handle at all. He went straight into his room, his face quite calm—perhaps a trifle more resolute than usual. His glance, wandering inquisitively, fell on the bed. On the counterpane was a mess of blood, and the sheet had been torn. He had not noticed this before because he had walked straight to the dressing-table. On the further side the bedclothes were depressed as if someone had been recently sitting there.
Then he had an odd impression that he had heard a low voice say, “Good Heavens!—Kemp!” But Dr. Kemp was no believer in voices.
He stood staring at the tumbled sheets. Was that really a voice? He looked about again, but noticed nothing further than the disordered and blood-stained bed. Then he distinctly heard a movement across the room, near the wash-hand stand. All men, however highly educated, retain some superstitious inklings. The feeling that is called “eerie” came upon him. He closed the door of the room, came forward to the dressing-table, and put down his burdens. Suddenly, with a start, he perceived a coiled and blood-stained bandage of linen rag hanging in mid-air, between him and the wash-hand stand.
He stared at this in amazement. It was an empty bandage, a bandage properly tied but quite empty. He would have advanced to grasp it, but a touch arrested him, and a voice speaking quite close to him.
“Kemp!” said the Voice.
“Eh?” said Kemp, with his mouth open.
“Keep your nerve,” said the Voice. “I’m an Invisible Man.”
Kemp made no answer for a space, simply stared at the bandage. “Invisible Man,” he said.
“I am an Invisible Man,” repeated the Voice.
The story he had been active to ridicule only that morning rushed through Kemp’s brain. He does not appear to have been either very much frightened or very greatly surprised at the moment. Realisation came later.
“I thought it was all a lie,” he said. The thought uppermost in his mind was the reiterated arguments of the morning. “Have you a bandage on?” he asked.
“Yes,” said the Invisible Man.
“Oh!” said Kemp, and then roused himself. “I say!” he said. “But this is nonsense. It’s some trick.” He stepped forward suddenly, and his hand, extended towards the bandage, met invisible fingers.
He recoiled at the touch and his colour changed.
“Keep steady, Kemp, for God’s sake! I want help badly. Stop!”
The hand gripped his arm. He struck at it.
“Kemp!” cried the Voice. “Kemp! Keep steady!” and the grip tightened.
A frantic desire to free himself took possession of Kemp. The hand of the bandaged arm gripped his shoulder, and he was suddenly tripped and flung backwards upon the bed. He opened his mouth to shout, and the corner of the sheet was thrust between his teeth. The Invisible Man had him down grimly, but his arms were free and he struck and tried to kick savagely.
“Listen to reason, will you?” said the Invisible Man, sticking to him in spite of a pounding in the ribs. “By Heaven! you’ll madden me in a minute!
“Lie still, you fool!” bawled the Invisible Man in Kemp’s ear.
Kemp struggled for another moment and then lay still.
“If you shout, I’ll smash your face,” said the Invisible Man, relieving his mouth.
“I’m an Invisible Man. It’s no foolishness, and no magic. I really am an Invisible Man. And I want your help. I don’t want to hurt you, but if you behave like a frantic rustic, I must. Don’t you remember me, Kemp? Griffin, of University College?”
“Let me get up,” said Kemp. “I’ll stop where I am. And let me sit quiet for a minute.”
He sat up and felt his neck.
“I am Griffin, of University College, and I have made myself invisible. I am just an ordinary man—a man you have known—made invisible.”
“Griffin?” said Kemp.
“Griffin,” answered the Voice. A younger student than you were, almost an albino, six feet high, and broad, with a pink and white face and red eyes, who won the medal for chemistry.”
“I am confused,” said Kemp. “My brain is rioting. What has this to do with Griffin?”
“I am Griffin.”
Kemp thought. “It’s horrible,” he said. “But what devilry must happen to make a man invisible?”
“It’s no devilry. It’s a process, sane and intelligible enough—”
“It’s horrible!” said Kemp. “How on earth—?”
“It’s horrible enough. But I’m wounded and in pain, and tired … Great God! Kemp, you are a man. Take it steady. Give me some food and drink, and let me sit down here.”
Kemp stared at the bandage as it moved across the room, then saw a basket chair dragged across the floor and come to rest near the bed. It creaked, and the seat was depressed the quarter of an inch or so. He rubbed his eyes and felt his neck again. “This beats ghosts,” he said, and laughed stupidly.
“That’s better. Thank Heaven, you’re getting sensible!”
“Or silly,” said Kemp, and knuckled his eyes.
“Give me some whiskey. I’m near dead.”
“It didn’t feel so. Where are you? If I get up shall I run into you? There! all right. Whiskey? Here. Where shall I give it to you?”
The chair creaked and Kemp felt the glass drawn away from him. He let go by an effort; his instinct was all against it. It came to rest poised twenty inches above the front edge of the seat of the chair. He stared at it in infinite perplexity. “This is—this must be—hypnotism. You have suggested you are invisible.”
“Nonsense,” said the Voice.
“Listen to me.”
“I demonstrated conclusively this morning,” began Kemp, “that invisibility—”
“Never mind what you’ve demonstrated!—I’m starving,” said the Voice, “and the night is chilly to a man without clothes.”
“Food?” said Kemp.
The tumbler of whiskey tilted itself. “Yes,” said the Invisible Man rapping it down. “Have you a dressing-gown?”
Kemp made some exclamation in an undertone. He walked to a wardrobe and produced a robe of dingy scarlet. “This do?” he asked. It was taken from him. It hung limp for a moment in mid-air, fluttered weirdly, stood full and decorous buttoning itself, and sat down in his chair. “Drawers, socks, slippers would be a comfort,” said the Unseen, curtly. “And food.”
“Anything. But this is the insanest thing I ever was in, in my life!”
He turned out his drawers for the articles, and then went downstairs to ransack his larder. He came back with some cold cutlets and bread, pulled up a light table, and placed them before his guest. “Never mind knives,” said his visitor, and a cutlet hung in mid-air, with a sound of gnawing.
“Invisible!” said Kemp, and sat down on a bedroom chair.
“I always like to get something about me before I eat,” said the Invisible Man, with a full mouth, eating greedily. “Queer fancy!”
“I suppose that wrist is all right,” said Kemp.
“Trust me,” said the Invisible Man.
“Of all the strange and wonderful—”
“Exactly. But it’s odd I should blunder into your house to get my bandaging. My first stroke of luck! Anyhow I meant to sleep in this house to-night. You must stand that! It’s a filthy nuisance, my blood showing, isn’t it? Quite a clot over there. Gets visible as it coagulates, I see. It’s only the living tissue I’ve changed, and only for as long as I’m alive…. I’ve been in the house three hours.”
“But how’s it done?” began Kemp, in a tone of exasperation. “Confound it! The whole business—it’s unreasonable from beginning to end.”
“Quite reasonable,” said the Invisible Man. “Perfectly reasonable.”
He reached over and secured the whiskey bottle. Kemp stared at the devouring dressing gown. A ray of candle-light penetrating a torn patch in the right shoulder, made a triangle of light under the left ribs. “What were the shots?” he asked. “How did the shooting begin?”
“There was a real fool of a man—a sort of confederate of mine—curse him!—who tried to steal my money. Has done so.”
“Is he invisible too?”
“Can’t I have some more to eat before I tell you all that? I’m hungry—in pain. And you want me to tell stories!”
Kemp got up. “You didn’t do any shooting?” he asked.
“Not me,” said his visitor. “Some fool I’d never seen fired at random. A lot of them got scared. They all got scared at me. Curse them!—I say—I want more to eat than this, Kemp.”
“I’ll see what there is to eat downstairs,” said Kemp. “Not much, I’m afraid.”
After he had done eating, and he made a heavy meal, the Invisible Man demanded a cigar. He bit the end savagely before Kemp could find a knife, and cursed when the outer leaf loosened. It was strange to see him smoking; his mouth, and throat, pharynx and nares, became visible as a sort of whirling smoke cast.
“This blessed gift of smoking!” he said, and puffed vigorously. “I’m lucky to have fallen upon you, Kemp. You must help me. Fancy tumbling on you just now! I’m in a devilish scrape—I’ve been mad, I think. The things I have been through! But we will do things yet. Let me tell you—”
He helped himself to more whiskey and soda. Kemp got up, looked about him, and fetched a glass from his spare room. “It’s wild—but I suppose I may drink.”
“You haven’t changed much, Kemp, these dozen years. You fair men don’t. Cool and methodical—after the first collapse. I must tell you. We will work together!”
“But how was it all done?” said Kemp, “and how did you get like this?”
“For God’s sake, let me smoke in peace for a little while! And then I will begin to tell you.”
But the story was not told that night. The Invisible Man’s wrist was growing painful; he was feverish, exhausted, and his mind came round to brood upon his chase down the hill and the struggle about the inn. He spoke in fragments of Marvel, he smoked faster, his voice grew angry. Kemp tried to gather what he could.
“He was afraid of me, I could see that he was afraid of me,” said the Invisible Man many times over. “He meant to give me the slip—he was always casting about! What a fool I was!
“I should have killed him!”
“Where did you get the money?” asked Kemp, abruptly.
The Invisible Man was silent for a space. “I can’t tell you to-night,” he said.
He groaned suddenly and leant forward, supporting his invisible head on invisible hands. “Kemp,” he said, “I’ve had no sleep for near three days, except a couple of dozes of an hour or so. I must sleep soon.”
“Well, have my room—have this room.”
“But how can I sleep? If I sleep—he will get away. Ugh! What does it matter?”
“What’s the shot wound?” asked Kemp, abruptly.
“Nothing—scratch and blood. Oh, God! How I want sleep!”
The Invisible Man appeared to be regarding Kemp. “Because I’ve a particular objection to being caught by my fellow-men,” he said slowly.
“Fool that I am!” said the Invisible Man, striking the table smartly. “I’ve put the idea into your head.”