The Invisible Man Ch. 19 by H.G. Wells


“What’s the matter?” asked Kemp, when the Invisible Man admitted him.

“Nothing,” was the answer.

“But, confound it! The smash?”

“Fit of temper,” said the Invisible Man. “Forgot this arm; and it’s

“You’re rather liable to that sort of thing.”

“I am.”

Kemp walked across the room and picked up the fragments of broken
glass. “All the facts are out about you,” said Kemp, standing up with
the glass in his hand; “all that happened in Iping, and down the hill.
The world has become aware of its invisible citizen. But no one knows
you are here.”

The Invisible Man swore.

“The secret’s out. I gather it was a secret. I don’t know what your
plans are, but of course I’m anxious to help you.”

The Invisible Man sat down on the bed.

“There’s breakfast upstairs,” said Kemp, speaking as easily as
possible, and he was delighted to find his strange guest rose
willingly. Kemp led the way up the narrow staircase to the belvedere.

“Before we can do anything else,” said Kemp, “I must understand a
little more about this invisibility of yours.” He had sat down, after
one nervous glance out of the window, with the air of a man who has
talking to do. His doubts of the sanity of the entire business flashed
and vanished again as he looked across to where Griffin sat at the
breakfast-table—a headless, handless dressing-gown, wiping unseen lips
on a miraculously held serviette.

“It’s simple enough—and credible enough,” said Griffin, putting the
serviette aside and leaning the invisible head on an invisible hand.

“No doubt, to you, but—” Kemp laughed.

“Well, yes; to me it seemed wonderful at first, no doubt. But now,
great God! … But we will do great things yet! I came on the stuff
first at Chesilstowe.”


“I went there after I left London. You know I dropped medicine and took
up physics? No; well, I did. Light fascinated me.”


“Optical density! The whole subject is a network of riddles—a network
with solutions glimmering elusively through. And being but
two-and-twenty and full of enthusiasm, I said, ‘I will devote my life
to this. This is worth while.’ You know what fools we are at

“Fools then or fools now,” said Kemp.

“As though knowing could be any satisfaction to a man!

“But I went to work—like a slave. And I had hardly worked and thought
about the matter six months before light came through one of the meshes
suddenly—blindingly! I found a general principle of pigments and
refraction—a formula, a geometrical expression involving four
dimensions. Fools, common men, even common mathematicians, do not know
anything of what some general expression may mean to the student of
molecular physics. In the books—the books that tramp has hidden—there
are marvels, miracles! But this was not a method, it was an idea, that
might lead to a method by which it would be possible, without changing
any other property of matter—except, in some instances colours—to lower
the refractive index of a substance, solid or liquid, to that of air—so
far as all practical purposes are concerned.”

“Phew!” said Kemp. “That’s odd! But still I don’t see quite … I can
understand that thereby you could spoil a valuable stone, but personal
invisibility is a far cry.”

“Precisely,” said Griffin. “But consider, visibility depends on the
action of the visible bodies on light. Either a body absorbs light, or
it reflects or refracts it, or does all these things. If it neither
reflects nor refracts nor absorbs light, it cannot of itself be
visible. You see an opaque red box, for instance, because the colour
absorbs some of the light and reflects the rest, all the red part of
the light, to you. If it did not absorb any particular part of the
light, but reflected it all, then it would be a shining white box.
Silver! A diamond box would neither absorb much of the light nor
reflect much from the general surface, but just here and there where
the surfaces were favourable the light would be reflected and
refracted, so that you would get a brilliant appearance of flashing
reflections and translucencies—a sort of skeleton of light. A glass box
would not be so brilliant, nor so clearly visible, as a diamond box,
because there would be less refraction and reflection. See that? From
certain points of view you would see quite clearly through it. Some
kinds of glass would be more visible than others, a box of flint glass
would be brighter than a box of ordinary window glass. A box of very
thin common glass would be hard to see in a bad light, because it would
absorb hardly any light and refract and reflect very little. And if you
put a sheet of common white glass in water, still more if you put it in
some denser liquid than water, it would vanish almost altogether,
because light passing from water to glass is only slightly refracted or
reflected or indeed affected in any way. It is almost as invisible as a
jet of coal gas or hydrogen is in air. And for precisely the same

“Yes,” said Kemp, “that is pretty plain sailing.”

“And here is another fact you will know to be true. If a sheet of glass
is smashed, Kemp, and beaten into a powder, it becomes much more
visible while it is in the air; it becomes at last an opaque white
powder. This is because the powdering multiplies the surfaces of the
glass at which refraction and reflection occur. In the sheet of glass
there are only two surfaces; in the powder the light is reflected or
refracted by each grain it passes through, and very little gets right
through the powder. But if the white powdered glass is put into water,
it forthwith vanishes. The powdered glass and water have much the same
refractive index; that is, the light undergoes very little refraction
or reflection in passing from one to the other.

“You make the glass invisible by putting it into a liquid of nearly the
same refractive index; a transparent thing becomes invisible if it is
put in any medium of almost the same refractive index. And if you will
consider only a second, you will see also that the powder of glass
might be made to vanish in air, if its refractive index could be made
the same as that of air; for then there would be no refraction or
reflection as the light passed from glass to air.”

“Yes, yes,” said Kemp. “But a man’s not powdered glass!”

“No,” said Griffin. “He’s more transparent!”


“That from a doctor! How one forgets! Have you already forgotten your
physics, in ten years? Just think of all the things that are
transparent and seem not to be so. Paper, for instance, is made up of
transparent fibres, and it is white and opaque only for the same reason
that a powder of glass is white and opaque. Oil white paper, fill up
the interstices between the particles with oil so that there is no
longer refraction or reflection except at the surfaces, and it becomes
as transparent as glass. And not only paper, but cotton fibre, linen
fibre, wool fibre, woody fibre, and bone, Kemp, flesh, Kemp,
hair, Kemp, nails and nerves, Kemp, in fact the whole fabric of a
man except the red of his blood and the black pigment of hair, are all
made up of transparent, colourless tissue. So little suffices to make
us visible one to the other. For the most part the fibres of a living
creature are no more opaque than water.”

“Great Heavens!” cried Kemp. “Of course, of course! I was thinking only
last night of the sea larvae and all jelly-fish!”

“Now you have me! And all that I knew and had in mind a year after I
left London—six years ago. But I kept it to myself. I had to do my work
under frightful disadvantages. Oliver, my professor, was a scientific
bounder, a journalist by instinct, a thief of ideas—he was always
prying! And you know the knavish system of the scientific world. I
simply would not publish, and let him share my credit. I went on
working; I got nearer and nearer making my formula into an experiment,
a reality. I told no living soul, because I meant to flash my work upon
the world with crushing effect and become famous at a blow. I took up
the question of pigments to fill up certain gaps. And suddenly, not by
design but by accident, I made a discovery in physiology.”


“You know the red colouring matter of blood; it can be made
white—colourless—and remain with all the functions it has now!”

Kemp gave a cry of incredulous amazement.

The Invisible Man rose and began pacing the little study. “You may well
exclaim. I remember that night. It was late at night—in the daytime one
was bothered with the gaping, silly students—and I worked then
sometimes till dawn. It came suddenly, splendid and complete in my
mind. I was alone; the laboratory was still, with the tall lights
burning brightly and silently. In all my great moments I have been
alone. ‘One could make an animal—a tissue—transparent! One could make
it invisible! All except the pigments—I could be invisible!’ I said,
suddenly realising what it meant to be an albino with such knowledge.
It was overwhelming. I left the filtering I was doing, and went and
stared out of the great window at the stars. ‘I could be invisible!’ I

“To do such a thing would be to transcend magic. And I beheld,
unclouded by doubt, a magnificent vision of all that invisibility might
mean to a man—the mystery, the power, the freedom. Drawbacks I saw
none. You have only to think! And I, a shabby, poverty-struck,
hemmed-in demonstrator, teaching fools in a provincial college, might
suddenly become—this. I ask you, Kemp if you … Anyone, I tell you,
would have flung himself upon that research. And I worked three years,
and every mountain of difficulty I toiled over showed another from its
summit. The infinite details! And the exasperation! A professor, a
provincial professor, always prying. ‘When are you going to publish
this work of yours?’ was his everlasting question. And the students,
the cramped means! Three years I had of it—

“And after three years of secrecy and exasperation, I found that to
complete it was impossible—impossible.”

“How?” asked Kemp.

“Money,” said the Invisible Man, and went again to stare out of the

He turned around abruptly. “I robbed the old man—robbed my father.

“The money was not his, and he shot himself.”



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