The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells Ch. 4


I have told the circumstances of the stranger’s arrival in Iping with a
certain fulness of detail, in order that the curious impression he
created may be understood by the reader. But excepting two odd
incidents, the circumstances of his stay until the extraordinary day of
the club festival may be passed over very cursorily. There were a
number of skirmishes with Mrs. Hall on matters of domestic discipline,
but in every case until late April, when the first signs of penury
began, he over-rode her by the easy expedient of an extra payment. Hall
did not like him, and whenever he dared he talked of the advisability
of getting rid of him; but he showed his dislike chiefly by concealing
it ostentatiously, and avoiding his visitor as much as possible. “Wait
till the summer,” said Mrs. Hall sagely, “when the artisks are
beginning to come. Then we’ll see. He may be a bit overbearing, but
bills settled punctual is bills settled punctual, whatever you’d like
to say.”

The stranger did not go to church, and indeed made no difference
between Sunday and the irreligious days, even in costume. He worked, as
Mrs. Hall thought, very fitfully. Some days he would come down early
and be continuously busy. On others he would rise late, pace his room,
fretting audibly for hours together, smoke, sleep in the armchair by
the fire. Communication with the world beyond the village he had none.
His temper continued very uncertain; for the most part his manner was
that of a man suffering under almost unendurable provocation, and once
or twice things were snapped, torn, crushed, or broken in spasmodic
gusts of violence. He seemed under a chronic irritation of the greatest
intensity. His habit of talking to himself in a low voice grew steadily
upon him, but though Mrs. Hall listened conscientiously she could make
neither head nor tail of what she heard.

He rarely went abroad by daylight, but at twilight he would go out
muffled up invisibly, whether the weather were cold or not, and he
chose the loneliest paths and those most overshadowed by trees and
banks. His goggling spectacles and ghastly bandaged face under the
penthouse of his hat, came with a disagreeable suddenness out of the
darkness upon one or two home-going labourers, and Teddy Henfrey,
tumbling out of the “Scarlet Coat” one night, at half-past nine, was
scared shamefully by the stranger’s skull-like head (he was walking hat
in hand) lit by the sudden light of the opened inn door. Such children
as saw him at nightfall dreamt of bogies, and it seemed doubtful
whether he disliked boys more than they disliked him, or the reverse;
but there was certainly a vivid enough dislike on either side.

It was inevitable that a person of so remarkable an appearance and
bearing should form a frequent topic in such a village as Iping.
Opinion was greatly divided about his occupation. Mrs. Hall was
sensitive on the point. When questioned, she explained very carefully
that he was an “experimental investigator,” going gingerly over the
syllables as one who dreads pitfalls. When asked what an experimental
investigator was, she would say with a touch of superiority that most
educated people knew such things as that, and would thus explain that
he “discovered things.” Her visitor had had an accident, she said,
which temporarily discoloured his face and hands, and being of a
sensitive disposition, he was averse to any public notice of the fact.

Out of her hearing there was a view largely entertained that he was a
criminal trying to escape from justice by wrapping himself up so as to
conceal himself altogether from the eye of the police. This idea sprang
from the brain of Mr. Teddy Henfrey. No crime of any magnitude dating
from the middle or end of February was known to have occurred.
Elaborated in the imagination of Mr. Gould, the probationary assistant
in the National School, this theory took the form that the stranger was
an Anarchist in disguise, preparing explosives, and he resolved to
undertake such detective operations as his time permitted. These
consisted for the most part in looking very hard at the stranger
whenever they met, or in asking people who had never seen the stranger,
leading questions about him. But he detected nothing.

Another school of opinion followed Mr. Fearenside, and either accepted
the piebald view or some modification of it; as, for instance, Silas
Durgan, who was heard to assert that “if he chooses to show enself at
fairs he’d make his fortune in no time,” and being a bit of a
theologian, compared the stranger to the man with the one talent. Yet
another view explained the entire matter by regarding the stranger as a
harmless lunatic. That had the advantage of accounting for everything
straight away.

Between these main groups there were waverers and compromisers. Sussex
folk have few superstitions, and it was only after the events of early
April that the thought of the supernatural was first whispered in the
village. Even then it was only credited among the women folk.

But whatever they thought of him, people in Iping, on the whole, agreed
in disliking him. His irritability, though it might have been
comprehensible to an urban brain-worker, was an amazing thing to these
quiet Sussex villagers. The frantic gesticulations they surprised now
and then, the headlong pace after nightfall that swept him upon them
round quiet corners, the inhuman bludgeoning of all tentative advances
of curiosity, the taste for twilight that led to the closing of doors,
the pulling down of blinds, the extinction of candles and lamps—who
could agree with such goings on? They drew aside as he passed down the
village, and when he had gone by, young humourists would up with
coat-collars and down with hat-brims, and go pacing nervously after him
in imitation of his occult bearing. There was a song popular at that
time called “The Bogey Man”. Miss Statchell sang it at the schoolroom
concert (in aid of the church lamps), and thereafter whenever one or
two of the villagers were gathered together and the stranger appeared,
a bar or so of this tune, more or less sharp or flat, was whistled in
the midst of them. Also belated little children would call “Bogey Man!”
after him, and make off tremulously elated.

Cuss, the general practitioner, was devoured by curiosity. The bandages
excited his professional interest, the report of the thousand and one
bottles aroused his jealous regard. All through April and May he
coveted an opportunity of talking to the stranger, and at last, towards
Whitsuntide, he could stand it no longer, but hit upon the
subscription-list for a village nurse as an excuse. He was surprised to
find that Mr. Hall did not know his guest’s name. “He give a name,”
said Mrs. Hall—an assertion which was quite unfounded—“but I didn’t
rightly hear it.” She thought it seemed so silly not to know the man’s

Cuss rapped at the parlour door and entered. There was a fairly audible
imprecation from within. “Pardon my intrusion,” said Cuss, and then the
door closed and cut Mrs. Hall off from the rest of the conversation.

She could hear the murmur of voices for the next ten minutes, then a
cry of surprise, a stirring of feet, a chair flung aside, a bark of
laughter, quick steps to the door, and Cuss appeared, his face white,
his eyes staring over his shoulder. He left the door open behind him,
and without looking at her strode across the hall and went down the
steps, and she heard his feet hurrying along the road. He carried his
hat in his hand. She stood behind the door, looking at the open door of
the parlour. Then she heard the stranger laughing quietly, and then his
footsteps came across the room. She could not see his face where she
stood. The parlour door slammed, and the place was silent again.

Cuss went straight up the village to Bunting the vicar. “Am I mad?”
Cuss began abruptly, as he entered the shabby little study. “Do I look
like an insane person?”

“What’s happened?” said the vicar, putting the ammonite on the loose
sheets of his forth-coming sermon.

“That chap at the inn—”


“Give me something to drink,” said Cuss, and he sat down.

When his nerves had been steadied by a glass of cheap sherry—the only
drink the good vicar had available—he told him of the interview he had
just had. “Went in,” he gasped, “and began to demand a subscription for
that Nurse Fund. He’d stuck his hands in his pockets as I came in, and
he sat down lumpily in his chair. Sniffed. I told him I’d heard he took
an interest in scientific things. He said yes. Sniffed again. Kept on
sniffing all the time; evidently recently caught an infernal cold. No
wonder, wrapped up like that! I developed the nurse idea, and all the
while kept my eyes open. Bottles—chemicals—everywhere. Balance,
test-tubes in stands, and a smell of—evening primrose. Would he
subscribe? Said he’d consider it. Asked him, point-blank, was he
researching. Said he was. A long research? Got quite cross. ‘A damnable
long research,’ said he, blowing the cork out, so to speak. ‘Oh,’ said
I. And out came the grievance. The man was just on the boil, and my
question boiled him over. He had been given a prescription, most
valuable prescription—what for he wouldn’t say. Was it medical? ‘Damn
you! What are you fishing after?’ I apologised. Dignified sniff and
cough. He resumed. He’d read it. Five ingredients. Put it down; turned
his head. Draught of air from window lifted the paper. Swish, rustle.
He was working in a room with an open fireplace, he said. Saw a
flicker, and there was the prescription burning and lifting
chimneyward. Rushed towards it just as it whisked up the chimney. So!
Just at that point, to illustrate his story, out came his arm.”


“No hand—just an empty sleeve. Lord! I thought, _that’s_ a deformity!
Got a cork arm, I suppose, and has taken it off. Then, I thought,
there’s something odd in that. What the devil keeps that sleeve up and
open, if there’s nothing in it? There was nothing in it, I tell you.
Nothing down it, right down to the joint. I could see right down it to
the elbow, and there was a glimmer of light shining through a tear of
the cloth. ‘Good God!’ I said. Then he stopped. Stared at me with those
black goggles of his, and then at his sleeve.”


“That’s all. He never said a word; just glared, and put his sleeve back
in his pocket quickly. ‘I was saying,’ said he, ‘that there was the
prescription burning, wasn’t I?’ Interrogative cough. ‘How the devil,’
said I, ‘can you move an empty sleeve like that?’ ‘Empty sleeve?’
‘Yes,’ said I, ‘an empty sleeve.’

“‘It’s an empty sleeve, is it? You saw it was an empty sleeve?’ He
stood up right away. I stood up too. He came towards me in three very
slow steps, and stood quite close. Sniffed venomously. I didn’t flinch,
though I’m hanged if that bandaged knob of his, and those blinkers,
aren’t enough to unnerve any one, coming quietly up to you.

“‘You said it was an empty sleeve?’ he said. ‘Certainly,’ I said. At
staring and saying nothing a barefaced man, unspectacled, starts
scratch. Then very quietly he pulled his sleeve out of his pocket
again, and raised his arm towards me as though he would show it to me
again. He did it very, very slowly. I looked at it. Seemed an age.
‘Well?’ said I, clearing my throat, ‘there’s nothing in it.’

“Had to say something. I was beginning to feel frightened. I could see
right down it. He extended it straight towards me, slowly, slowly—just
like that—until the cuff was six inches from my face. Queer thing to
see an empty sleeve come at you like that! And then—”


“Something—exactly like a finger and thumb it felt—nipped my nose.”

Bunting began to laugh.

“There wasn’t anything there!” said Cuss, his voice running up into a
shriek at the “there.” “It’s all very well for you to laugh, but I tell
you I was so startled, I hit his cuff hard, and turned around, and cut
out of the room—I left him—”

Cuss stopped. There was no mistaking the sincerity of his panic. He
turned round in a helpless way and took a second glass of the excellent
vicar’s very inferior sherry. “When I hit his cuff,” said Cuss, “I tell
you, it felt exactly like hitting an arm. And there wasn’t an arm!
There wasn’t the ghost of an arm!”

Mr. Bunting thought it over. He looked suspiciously at Cuss. “It’s a
most remarkable story,” he said. He looked very wise and grave indeed.
“It’s really,” said Mr. Bunting with judicial emphasis, “a most
remarkable story.”


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