The Invisible Man Ch. 26 by H. G. Wells


The Invisible Man seems to have rushed out of Kemp’s house in a state
of blind fury. A little child playing near Kemp’s gateway was violently
caught up and thrown aside, so that its ankle was broken, and
thereafter for some hours the Invisible Man passed out of human
perceptions. No one knows where he went nor what he did. But one can
imagine him hurrying through the hot June forenoon, up the hill and on
to the open downland behind Port Burdock, raging and despairing at his
intolerable fate, and sheltering at last, heated and weary, amid the
thickets of Hintondean, to piece together again his shattered schemes
against his species. That seems the most probable refuge for him, for
there it was he re-asserted himself in a grimly tragical manner about
two in the afternoon.

One wonders what his state of mind may have been during that time, and
what plans he devised. No doubt he was almost ecstatically exasperated
by Kemp’s treachery, and though we may be able to understand the
motives that led to that deceit, we may still imagine and even
sympathise a little with the fury the attempted surprise must have
occasioned. Perhaps something of the stunned astonishment of his Oxford
Street experiences may have returned to him, for he had evidently
counted on Kemp’s co-operation in his brutal dream of a terrorised
world. At any rate he vanished from human ken about midday, and no
living witness can tell what he did until about half-past two. It was a
fortunate thing, perhaps, for humanity, but for him it was a fatal

During that time a growing multitude of men scattered over the
countryside were busy. In the morning he had still been simply a
legend, a terror; in the afternoon, by virtue chiefly of Kemp’s drily
worded proclamation, he was presented as a tangible antagonist, to be
wounded, captured, or overcome, and the countryside began organising
itself with inconceivable rapidity. By two o’clock even he might still
have removed himself out of the district by getting aboard a train, but
after two that became impossible. Every passenger train along the lines
on a great parallelogram between Southampton, Manchester, Brighton and
Horsham, travelled with locked doors, and the goods traffic was almost
entirely suspended. And in a great circle of twenty miles round Port
Burdock, men armed with guns and bludgeons were presently setting out
in groups of three and four, with dogs, to beat the roads and fields.

Mounted policemen rode along the country lanes, stopping at every
cottage and warning the people to lock up their houses, and keep
indoors unless they were armed, and all the elementary schools had
broken up by three o’clock, and the children, scared and keeping
together in groups, were hurrying home. Kemp’s proclamation—signed
indeed by Adye—was posted over almost the whole district by four or
five o’clock in the afternoon. It gave briefly but clearly all the
conditions of the struggle, the necessity of keeping the Invisible Man
from food and sleep, the necessity for incessant watchfulness and for a
prompt attention to any evidence of his movements. And so swift and
decided was the action of the authorities, so prompt and universal was
the belief in this strange being, that before nightfall an area of
several hundred square miles was in a stringent state of siege. And
before nightfall, too, a thrill of horror went through the whole
watching nervous countryside. Going from whispering mouth to mouth,
swift and certain over the length and breadth of the country, passed
the story of the murder of Mr. Wicksteed.

If our supposition that the Invisible Man’s refuge was the Hintondean
thickets, then we must suppose that in the early afternoon he sallied
out again bent upon some project that involved the use of a weapon. We
cannot know what the project was, but the evidence that he had the iron
rod in hand before he met Wicksteed is to me at least overwhelming.

Of course we can know nothing of the details of that encounter. It
occurred on the edge of a gravel pit, not two hundred yards from Lord
Burdock’s lodge gate. Everything points to a desperate struggle—the
trampled ground, the numerous wounds Mr. Wicksteed received, his
splintered walking-stick; but why the attack was made, save in a
murderous frenzy, it is impossible to imagine. Indeed the theory of
madness is almost unavoidable. Mr. Wicksteed was a man of forty-five or
forty-six, steward to Lord Burdock, of inoffensive habits and
appearance, the very last person in the world to provoke such a
terrible antagonist. Against him it would seem the Invisible Man used
an iron rod dragged from a broken piece of fence. He stopped this quiet
man, going quietly home to his midday meal, attacked him, beat down his
feeble defences, broke his arm, felled him, and smashed his head to a

Of course, he must have dragged this rod out of the fencing before he
met his victim—he must have been carrying it ready in his hand. Only
two details beyond what has already been stated seem to bear on the
matter. One is the circumstance that the gravel pit was not in Mr.
Wicksteed’s direct path home, but nearly a couple of hundred yards out
of his way. The other is the assertion of a little girl to the effect
that, going to her afternoon school, she saw the murdered man
“trotting” in a peculiar manner across a field towards the gravel pit.
Her pantomime of his action suggests a man pursuing something on the
ground before him and striking at it ever and again with his
walking-stick. She was the last person to see him alive. He passed out
of her sight to his death, the struggle being hidden from her only by a
clump of beech trees and a slight depression in the ground.

Now this, to the present writer’s mind at least, lifts the murder out
of the realm of the absolutely wanton. We may imagine that Griffin had
taken the rod as a weapon indeed, but without any deliberate intention
of using it in murder. Wicksteed may then have come by and noticed this
rod inexplicably moving through the air. Without any thought of the
Invisible Man—for Port Burdock is ten miles away—he may have pursued
it. It is quite conceivable that he may not even have heard of the
Invisible Man. One can then imagine the Invisible Man making
off—quietly in order to avoid discovering his presence in the
neighbourhood, and Wicksteed, excited and curious, pursuing this
unaccountably locomotive object—finally striking at it.

No doubt the Invisible Man could easily have distanced his middle-aged
pursuer under ordinary circumstances, but the position in which
Wicksteed’s body was found suggests that he had the ill luck to drive
his quarry into a corner between a drift of stinging nettles and the
gravel pit. To those who appreciate the extraordinary irascibility of
the Invisible Man, the rest of the encounter will be easy to imagine.

But this is pure hypothesis. The only undeniable facts—for stories of
children are often unreliable—are the discovery of Wicksteed’s body,
done to death, and of the blood-stained iron rod flung among the
nettles. The abandonment of the rod by Griffin, suggests that in the
emotional excitement of the affair, the purpose for which he took it—if
he had a purpose—was abandoned. He was certainly an intensely
egotistical and unfeeling man, but the sight of his victim, his first
victim, bloody and pitiful at his feet, may have released some long
pent fountain of remorse which for a time may have flooded whatever
scheme of action he had contrived.

After the murder of Mr. Wicksteed, he would seem to have struck across
the country towards the downland. There is a story of a voice heard
about sunset by a couple of men in a field near Fern Bottom. It was
wailing and laughing, sobbing and groaning, and ever and again it
shouted. It must have been queer hearing. It drove up across the middle
of a clover field and died away towards the hills.

That afternoon the Invisible Man must have learnt something of the
rapid use Kemp had made of his confidences. He must have found houses
locked and secured; he may have loitered about railway stations and
prowled about inns, and no doubt he read the proclamations and realised
something of the nature of the campaign against him. And as the evening
advanced, the fields became dotted here and there with groups of three
or four men, and noisy with the yelping of dogs. These men-hunters had
particular instructions in the case of an encounter as to the way they
should support one another. But he avoided them all. We may understand
something of his exasperation, and it could have been none the less
because he himself had supplied the information that was being used so
remorselessly against him. For that day at least he lost heart; for
nearly twenty-four hours, save when he turned on Wicksteed, he was a
hunted man. In the night, he must have eaten and slept; for in the
morning he was himself again, active, powerful, angry, and malignant,
prepared for his last great struggle against the world.



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