There was, until a year ago, a little and very grimy-looking
shop near Seven Dials, over which, in weather-worn yellow lettering,
the name of "C. Cave, Naturalist and Dealer in Antiquities,"
was inscribed. The contents of its window were curiously
variegated. They comprised some elephant tusks and an imperfect
set of chessmen, beads and weapons, a box of eyes, two
skulls of tigers and one human, several moth-eaten stuffed
monkeys (one holding a lamp), an old-fashioned cabinet, a
flyblown ostrich egg or so, some fishing-tackle, and an extraordinarily
dirty, empty glass fish-tank. There was also, at
the moment the story begins, a mass of crystal, worked into
the shape of an egg and brilliantly polished. And at that two
people, who stood outside the window, were looking, one of
them a tall, thin clergyman, the other a black-bearded young
man of dusky complexion and unobtrusive costume. The dusky
young man spoke with eager gesticulation, and seemed
anxious for his companion to purchase the article.
While they were there, Mr. Cave came into his shop, his
beard still wagging with the bread and butter of his tea. When
he saw these men and the object of their regard, his countenance
fell. He glanced guiltily over his shoulder, and softly shut
the door. He was a little old man, with pale face and peculiar
watery blue eyes; his hair was a dirty grey, and he wore a
shabby blue frock coat, an ancient silk hat, and carpet slippers
very much down at heel. He remained watching the two men
as they talked. The clergyman went deep into his trouser pocket,
examined a handful of money, and showed his teeth in an
agreeable smile. Mr. Cave seemed still more depressed when
they came into the shop.
The clergyman, without any ceremony, asked the price of the
crystal egg. Mr. Cave glanced nervously towards the door leading
into the parlour, and said five pounds. The clergyman protested
that the price was high, to his companion as well as to
Mr. Cave—it was, indeed, very much more than Mr. Cave had
intended to ask, when he had stocked the article—and an attempt
at bargaining ensued. Mr. Cave stepped to the shopdoor,
and held it open. "Five pounds is my price," he said, as
though he wished to save himself the trouble of unprofitable
discussion. As he did so, the upper portion of a woman's face
appeared above the blind in the glass upper panel of the door
leading into the parlour, and stared curiously at the two customers.
"Five pounds is my price," said Mr. Cave, with a quiver
in his voice.
The swarthy young man had so far remained a spectator,
watching Cave keenly. Now he spoke. "Give him five pounds,"
he said. The clergyman glanced at him to see if he were in
earnest, and, when he looked at Mr. Cave again, he saw that
the latter's face was white. "It's a lot of money," said the clergyman,
and, diving into his pocket, began counting his resources.
He had little more than thirty shillings, and he appealed
to his companion, with whom he seemed to be on terms
of considerable intimacy. This gave Mr. Cave an opportunity of
collecting his thoughts, and he began to explain in an agitated
manner that the crystal was not, as a matter of fact, entirely
free for sale. His two customers were naturally surprised at
this, and inquired why he had not thought of that before he
began to bargain. Mr. Cave became confused, but he stuck to
his story, that the crystal was not in the market that afternoon,
that a probable purchaser of it had already appeared.
The two, treating this as an attempt to raise the price still further,
made as if they would leave the shop. But at this point the
parlour door opened, and the owner of the dark fringe and the
little eyes appeared.
She was a coarse-featured, corpulent woman, younger and
very much larger than Mr. Cave; she walked heavily, and her
face was flushed. "That crystal is for sale," she said. "And five
pounds is a good enough price for it. I can't think what you're
about, Cave, not to take the gentleman's offer!"
Mr. Cave, greatly perturbed by the irruption, looked angrily
at her over the rims of his spectacles, and, without excessive
assurance, asserted his right to manage his business in his own
way. An altercation began. The two customers watched the
scene with interest and some amusement, occasionally assisting
Mrs. Cave with suggestions. Mr. Cave, hard driven, persisted
in a confused and impossible story of an enquiry for the
crystal that morning, and his agitation became painful. But he
stuck to his point with extraordinary persistence. It was the
young Oriental who ended this curious controversy. He proposed
that they should call again in the course of two days—so
as to give the alleged enquirer a fair chance. "And then we
must insist," said the clergyman, "Five pounds." Mrs. Cave took
it on herself to apologise for her husband, explaining that he
was sometimes "a little odd," and as the two customers left, the
couple prepared for a free discussion of the incident in all its
Mrs. Cave talked to her husband with singular directness.
The poor little man, quivering with emotion, muddled himself
between his stories, maintaining on the one hand that he had
another customer in view, and on the other asserting that the
crystal was honestly worth ten guineas. "Why did you ask five
pounds?" said his wife. "Do let me manage my business my
own way!" said Mr. Cave.
Mr. Cave had living with him a step-daughter and a step-son,
and at supper that night the transaction was re-discussed.
None of them had a high opinion of Mr. Cave's business methods,
and this action seemed a culminating folly.
"It's my opinion he's refused that crystal before," said the
step-son, a loose-limbed lout of eighteen.
"But Five Pounds!" said the step-daughter, an argumentative
young woman of six-and-twenty.
Mr. Cave's answers were wretched; he could only mumble
weak assertions that he knew his own business best. They
drove him from his half-eaten supper into the shop, to close it
for the night, his ears aflame and tears of vexation behind his
spectacles. "Why had he left the crystal in the window so long?
The folly of it!" That was the trouble closest in his mind. For a
time he could see no way of evading sale.
After supper his step-daughter and step-son smartened themselves
up and went out and his wife retired upstairs to reflect
upon the business aspects of the crystal, over a little sugar and
lemon and so forth in hot water. Mr. Cave went into the shop,
and stayed there until late, ostensibly to make ornamental
rockeries for goldfish cases but really for a private purpose
that will be better explained later. The next day Mrs. Cave
found that the crystal had been removed from the window, and
was lying behind some second-hand books on angling. She replaced
it in a conspicuous position. But she did not argue further
about it, as a nervous headache disinclined her from debate.
Mr. Cave was always disinclined. The day passed disagreeably.
Mr. Cave was, if anything, more absent-minded than
usual, and uncommonly irritable withal. In the afternoon, when
his wife was taking her customary sleep, he removed the crystal
from the window again.
The next day Mr. Cave had to deliver a consignment of dogfish
at one of the hospital schools, where they were needed for
dissection. In his absence Mrs. Cave's mind reverted to the
topic of the crystal, and the methods of expenditure suitable to
a windfall of five pounds. She had already devised some very
agreeable expedients, among others a dress of green silk for
herself and a trip to Richmond, when a jangling of the front
door bell summoned her into the shop. The customer was an
examination coach who came to complain of the non-delivery of
certain frogs asked for the previous day. Mrs. Cave did not approve
of this particular branch of Mr. Cave's business, and the
gentleman, who had called in a somewhat aggressive mood, retired
after a brief exchange of words—entirely civil so far as he
was concerned. Mrs. Cave's eye then naturally turned to the
window; for the sight of the crystal was an assurance of the
five pounds and of her dreams. What was her surprise to find it
She went to the place behind the locker on the counter,
where she had discovered it the day before. It was not there;
and she immediately began an eager search about the shop.
When Mr. Cave returned from his business with the dog-fish,
about a quarter to two in the afternoon, he found the shop in
some confusion, and his wife, extremely exasperated and on
her knees behind the counter, routing among his taxidermic
material. Her face came up hot and angry over the counter, as
the jangling bell announced his return, and she forthwith accused
him of "hiding it."
"Hid what?" asked Mr. Cave.
At that Mr. Cave, apparently much surprised, rushed to the
window. "Isn't it here?" he said. "Great Heavens! what has become
Just then, Mr. Cave's step-son re-entered the shop from the
inner room—he had come home a minute or so before Mr.
Cave—and he was blaspheming freely. He was apprenticed to a
second-hand furniture dealer down the road, but he had his
meals at home, and he was naturally annoyed to find no dinner
But, when he heard of the loss of the crystal, he forgot his
meal, and his anger was diverted from his mother to his stepfather.
Their first idea, of course, was that he had hidden it.
But Mr. Cave stoutly denied all knowledge of its fate—freely offering
his bedabbled affidavit in the matter—and at last was
worked up to the point of accusing, first, his wife and then his
step-son of having taken it with a view to a private sale. So
began an exceedingly acrimonious and emotional discussion,
which ended for Mrs. Cave in a peculiar nervous condition midway
between hysterics and amuck, and caused the step-son to
be half-an-hour late at the furniture establishment in the afternoon.
Mr. Cave took refuge from his wife's emotions in the
In the evening the matter was resumed, with less passion
and in a judicial spirit, under the presidency of the step-daughter.
The supper passed unhappily and culminated in a painful
scene. Mr. Cave gave way at last to extreme exasperation, and
went out banging the front door violently. The rest of the family,
having discussed him with the freedom his absence warranted,
hunted the house from garret to cellar, hoping to light
upon the crystal.
The next day the two customers called again. They were received
by Mrs. Cave almost in tears. It transpired that no
one couldimagine all that she had stood from Cave at various
times in her married pilgrimage… . She also gave a garbled account
of the disappearance. The clergyman and the Oriental
laughed silently at one another, and said it was very extraordinary.
As Mrs. Cave seemed disposed to give them the
complete history of her life they made to leave the shop.
Thereupon Mrs. Cave, still clinging to hope, asked for the
clergyman's address, so that, if she could get anything out of
Cave, she might communicate it. The address was duly given,
but apparently was afterwards mislaid. Mrs. Cave can remember
nothing about it.
In the evening of that day, the Caves seem to have exhausted
their emotions, and Mr. Cave, who had been out in the afternoon,
supped in a gloomy isolation that contrasted pleasantly
with the impassioned controversy of the previous days. For
some time matters were very badly strained in the Cave household,
but neither crystal nor customer reappeared.
Now, without mincing the matter, we must admit that Mr.
Cave was a liar. He knew perfectly well where the crystal was.
It was in the rooms of Mr. Jacoby Wace, Assistant Demonstrator
at St. Catherine's Hospital, Westbourne Street. It stood on
the sideboard partially covered by a black velvet cloth, and beside
a decanter of American whisky. It is from Mr. Wace, indeed,
that the particulars upon which this narrative is based
were derived. Cave had taken off the thing to the hospital hidden
in the dog-fish sack, and there had pressed the young investigator
to keep it for him. Mr. Wace was a little dubious at
first. His relationship to Cave was peculiar. He had a taste for
singular characters, and he had more than once invited the old
man to smoke and drink in his rooms, and to unfold his rather
amusing views of life in general and of his wife in particular.
Mr. Wace had encountered Mrs. Cave, too, on occasions when
Mr. Cave was not at home to attend to him. He knew the constant
interference to which Cave was subjected, and having
weighed the story judicially, he decided to give the crystal a
refuge. Mr. Cave promised to explain the reasons for his remarkable
affection for the crystal more fully on a later occasion,
but he spoke distinctly of seeing visions therein. He called
on Mr. Wace the same evening.
He told a complicated story. The crystal he said had come into
his possession with other oddments at the forced sale of another
curiosity dealer's effects, and not knowing what its value
might be, he had ticketed it at ten shillings. It had hung upon
his hands at that price for some months, and he was thinking
of "reducing the figure," when he made a singular discovery.
At that time his health was very bad—and it must be borne in
mind that, throughout all this experience, his physical condition
was one of ebb—and he was in considerable distress by
reason of the negligence, the positive ill-treatment even, he received
from his wife and step-children. His wife was vain, extravagant,
unfeeling, and had a growing taste for private drinking;
his step-daughter was mean and over-reaching; and his
step-son had conceived a violent dislike for him, and lost no
chance of showing it. The requirements of his business pressed
heavily upon him, and Mr. Wace does not think that he was
altogether free from occasional intemperance. He had begun
life in a comfortable position, he was a man of fair education,
and he suffered, for weeks at a stretch, from melancholia and
insomnia. Afraid to disturb his family, he would slip quietly
from his wife's side, when his thoughts became intolerable, and
wander about the house. And about three o'clock one morning,
late in August, chance directed him into the shop.
The dirty little place was impenetrably black except in one
spot, where he perceived an unusual glow of light. Approaching
this, he discovered it to be the crystal egg, which was
standing on the corner of the counter towards the window. A
thin ray smote through a crack in the shutters, impinged upon
the object, and seemed as it were to fill its entire interior.
It occurred to Mr. Cave that this was not in accordance with
the laws of optics as he had known them in his younger days.
He could understand the rays being refracted by the crystal
and coming to a focus in its interior, but this diffusion jarred
with his physical conceptions. He approached the crystal
nearly, peering into it and round it, with a transient revival of
the scientific curiosity that in his youth had determined his
choice of a calling. He was surprised to find the light not
steady, but writhing within the substance of the egg, as though
that object was a hollow sphere of some luminous vapour. In
moving about to get different points of view, he suddenly found
that he had come between it and the ray, and that the crystal
none the less remained luminous. Greatly astonished, he lifted
it out of the light ray and carried it to the darkest part of the
shop. It remained bright for some four or five minutes, when it
slowly faded and went out. He placed it in the thin streak of
daylight, and its luminousness was almost immediately
So far, at least, Mr. Wace was able to verify the remarkable
story of Mr. Cave. He has himself repeatedly held this crystal
in a ray of light (which had to be of a less diameter than one
millimetre). And in a perfect darkness, such as could be produced
by velvet wrapping, the crystal did undoubtedly appear
very faintly phosphorescent. It would seem, however, that the
luminousness was of some exceptional sort, and not equally
visible to all eyes; for Mr. Harbinger—whose name will be familiar
to the scientific reader in connection with the Pasteur
Institute—was quite unable to see any light whatever. And Mr.
Wace's own capacity for its appreciation was out of comparison
inferior to that of Mr. Cave's. Even with Mr. Cave the power
varied very considerably: his vision was most vivid during
states of extreme weakness and fatigue.
Now, from the outset this light in the crystal exercised a curious
fascination upon Mr. Cave. And it says more for his loneliness
of soul than a volume of pathetic writing could do, that he
told no human being of his curious observations. He seems to
have been living in such an atmosphere of petty spite that to
admit the existence of a pleasure would have been to risk the
loss of it. He found that as the dawn advanced, and the amount
of diffused light increased, the crystal became to all
appearance non-luminous. And for some time he was unable to
see anything in it, except at night-time, in dark corners of the
But the use of an old velvet cloth, which he used as a background
for a collection of minerals, occurred to him, and by
doubling this, and putting it over his head and hands, he was
able to get a sight of the luminous movement within the crystal
even in the daytime. He was very cautious lest he should be
thus discovered by his wife, and he practised this occupation
only in the afternoons, while she was asleep upstairs, and then
circumspectly in a hollow under the counter. And one day,
turning the crystal about in his hands, he saw something. It
came and went like a flash, but it gave him the impression that
the object had for a moment opened to him the view of a wide
and spacious and strange country; and, turning it about, he
did, just as the light faded, see the same vision again.
Now, it would be tedious and unnecessary to state all the
phases of Mr. Cave's discovery from this point. Suffice that the
effect was this: the crystal, being peered into at an angle of
about 137 degrees from the direction of the illuminating ray,
gave a clear and consistent picture of a wide and peculiar
countryside. It was not dream-like at all: it produced a definite
impression of reality, and the better the light the more real and
solid it seemed. It was a moving picture: that is to say, certain
objects moved in it, but slowly in an orderly manner like real
things, and, according as the direction of the lighting and vision
changed, the picture changed also. It must, indeed, have
been like looking through an oval glass at a view, and turning
the glass about to get at different aspects.
Mr. Cave's statements, Mr. Wace assures me, were extremely
circumstantial, and entirely free from any of that emotional
quality that taints hallucinatory impressions. But it must
be remembered that all the efforts of Mr. Wace to see any similar
clarity in the faint opalescence of the crystal were wholly
unsuccessful, try as he would. The difference in intensity of the
impressions received by the two men was very great, and it is
quite conceivable that what was a view to Mr. Cave was a mere
blurred nebulosity to Mr. Wace.
The view, as Mr. Cave described it, was invariably of an extensive
plain, and he seemed always to be looking at it from a
considerable height, as if from a tower or a mast. To the east
and to the west the plain was bounded at a remote distance by
vast reddish cliffs, which reminded him of those he had seen in
some picture; but what the picture was Mr. Wace was unable
to ascertain. These cliffs passed north and south—he could tell
the points of the compass by the stars that were visible of a
night—receding in an almost illimitable perspective and fading
into the mists of the distance before they met. He was nearer
the eastern set of cliffs, on the occasion of his first vision the
sun was rising over them, and black against the sunlight and
pale against their shadow appeared a multitude of soaring
forms that Mr. Cave regarded as birds. A vast range of buildings
spread below him; he seemed to be looking down upon
them; and, as they approached the blurred and refracted edge
of the picture, they became indistinct. There were also trees
curious in shape, and in colouring, a deep mossy green and an
exquisite grey, beside a wide and shining canal. And something
great and brilliantly coloured flew across the picture. But the
first time Mr. Cave saw these pictures he saw only in flashes,
his hands shook, his head moved, the vision came and went,
and grew foggy and indistinct. And at first he had the greatest
difficulty in finding the picture again once the direction of it
His next clear vision, which came about a week after the
first, the interval having yielded nothing but tantalising
glimpses and some useful experience, showed him the view
down the length of the valley. The view was different, but he
had a curious persuasion, which his subsequent observations
abundantly confirmed, that he was regarding this strange
world from exactly the same spot, although he was looking in a
different direction. The long façade of the great building,
whose roof he had looked down upon before, was now receding
in perspective. He recognised the roof. In the front of the
façade was a terrace of massive proportions and extraordinary
length, and down the middle of the terrace, at certain intervals,
stood huge but very graceful masts, bearing small shiny
objects which reflected the setting sun. The import of these
small objects did not occur to Mr. Cave until some time after,
as he was describing the scene to Mr. Wace. The terrace overhung
a thicket of the most luxuriant and graceful vegetation,
and beyond this was a wide grassy lawn on which certain
broad creatures, in form like beetles but enormously larger, reposed.
Beyond this again was a richly decorated causeway of
pinkish stone; and beyond that, and lined with
dense red weeds, and passing up the valley exactly parallel
with the distant cliffs, was a broad and mirror-like expanse of
water. The air seemed full of squadrons of great birds,
manœuvring in stately curves; and across the river was a multitude
of splendid buildings, richly coloured and glittering with
metallic tracery and facets, among a forest of moss-like and
lichenous trees. And suddenly something flapped repeatedly
across the vision, like the fluttering of a jewelled fan or the
beating of a wing, and a face, or rather the upper part of a face
with very large eyes, came as it were close to his own and as if
on the other side of the crystal. Mr. Cave was so startled and
so impressed by the absolute reality of these eyes, that he
drew his head back from the crystal to look behind it. He had
become so absorbed in watching that he was quite surprised to
find himself in the cool darkness of his little shop, with its familiar
odour of methyl, mustiness, and decay. And, as he
blinked about him, the glowing crystal faded, and went out.
Such were the first general impressions of Mr. Cave. The
story is curiously direct and circumstantial. From the outset,
when the valley first flashed momentarily on his senses, his
imagination was strangely affected, and, as he began to appreciate
the details of the scene he saw, his wonder rose to the
point of a passion. He went about his business listless and
distraught, thinking only of the time when he should be able to
return to his watching. And then a few weeks after his first
sight of the valley came the two customers, the stress and excitement
of their offer, and the narrow escape of the crystal
from sale, as I have already told.
Now, while the thing was Mr. Cave's secret, it remained a
mere wonder, a thing to creep to covertly and peep at, as a
child might peep upon a forbidden garden. But Mr. Wace has,
for a young scientific investigator, a particularly lucid and consecutive
habit of mind. Directly the crystal and its story came
to him, and he had satisfied himself, by seeing the phosphorescence
with his own eyes, that there really was a certain evidence
for Mr. Cave's statements, he proceeded to develop the
matter systematically. Mr. Cave was only too eager to come
and feast his eyes on this wonderland he saw, and he came
every night from half-past eight until half-past ten, and sometimes,
in Mr. Wace's absence, during the day. On Sunday afternoons,
also, he came. From the outset Mr. Wace made copious
notes, and it was due to his scientific method that the relation
between the direction from which the initiating ray entered the
crystal and the orientation of the picture were proved. And, by
covering the crystal in a box perforated only with a small aperture
to admit the exciting ray, and by substituting black holland
for his buff blinds, he greatly improved the conditions of
the observations; so that in a little while they were able to survey
the valley in any direction they desired.
So having cleared the way, we may give a brief account of
this visionary world within the crystal. The things were in all
cases seen by Mr. Cave, and the method of working was invariably
for him to watch the crystal and report what he saw, while
Mr. Wace (who as a science student had learnt the trick of
writing in the dark) wrote a brief note of his report. When the
crystal faded, it was put into its box in the proper position and
the electric light turned on. Mr. Wace asked questions, and
suggested observations to clear up difficult points. Nothing, indeed,
could have been less visionary and more matter-of-fact.
The attention of Mr. Cave had been speedily directed to the
bird-like creatures he had seen so abundantly present in each
of his earlier visions. His first impression was soon corrected,
and he considered for a time that they might represent a
diurnal species of bat. Then he thought, grotesquely enough,
that they might be cherubs. Their heads were round, and curiously
human, and it was the eyes of one of them that had so
startled him on his second observation. They had broad, silvery
wings, not feathered, but glistening almost as brilliantly as
new-killed fish and with the same subtle play of colour, and
these wings were not built on the plan of bird-wing or bat, Mr.
Wace learned, but supported by curved ribs radiating from the
body. (A sort of butterfly wing with curved ribs seems best to
express their appearance.) The body was small, but fitted with
two bunches of prehensile organs, like long tentacles, immediately
under the mouth. Incredible as it appeared to Mr. Wace,
the persuasion at last became irresistible, that it was these
creatures which owned the great quasi-human buildings and
the magnificent garden that made the broad valley so splendid.
And Mr. Cave perceived that the buildings, with other peculiarities,
had no doors, but that the great circular windows, which
opened freely, gave the creatures egress and entrance. They
would alight upon their tentacles, fold their wings to a smallness
almost rod-like, and hop into the interior. But among them
was a multitude of smaller-winged creatures, like great
dragon-flies and moths and flying beetles, and across the
greensward brilliantly-coloured gigantic ground-beetles
crawled lazily to and fro. Moreover, on the causeways and
terraces, large-headed creatures similar to the greater winged
flies, but wingless, were visible, hopping busily upon their
hand-like tangle of tentacles.
Allusion has already been made to the glittering objects upon
masts that stood upon the terrace of the nearer building. It
dawned upon Mr. Cave, after regarding one of these masts
very fixedly on one particularly vivid day, that the glittering object
there was a crystal exactly like that into which he peered.
And a still more careful scrutiny convinced him that each one
in a vista of nearly twenty carried a similar object.
Occasionally one of the large flying creatures would flutter
up to one, and, folding its wings and coiling a number of its
tentacles about the mast, would regard the crystal fixedly for a
space,—sometimes for as long as fifteen minutes. And a series
of observations, made at the suggestion of Mr. Wace, convinced
both watchers that, so far as this visionary world was
concerned, the crystal into which they peered actually stood at
the summit of the endmost mast on the terrace, and that on
one occasion at least one of these inhabitants of this other
world had looked into Mr. Cave's face while he was making
So much for the essential facts of this very singular story.
Unless we dismiss it all as the ingenious fabrication of Mr.
Wace, we have to believe one of two things: either that Mr.
Cave's crystal was in two worlds at once, and that, while it was
carried about in one, it remained stationary in the other, which
seems altogether absurd; or else that it had some peculiar relation
of sympathy with another and exactly similar crystal in
this other world, so that what was seen in the interior of the
one in this world was, under suitable conditions, visible to an
observer in the corresponding crystal in the other world;
and vice versa. At present, indeed, we do not know of any way
in which two crystals could so come en rapport, but nowadays
we know enough to understand that the thing is not altogether
impossible. This view of the crystals as en rapport was the supposition
that occurred to Mr. Wace, and to me at least it seems
extremely plausible… .
And where was this other world? On this, also, the alert intelligence
of Mr. Wace speedily threw light. After sunset, the sky
darkened rapidly—there was a very brief twilight interval indeed—and
the stars shone out. They were recognisably the
same as those we see, arranged in the same constellations. Mr.
Cave recognised the Bear, the Pleiades, Aldebaran, and Sirius:
so that the other world must be somewhere in the solar system,
and, at the utmost, only a few hundreds of millions of
miles from our own. Following up this clue, Mr. Wace learned
that the midnight sky was a darker blue even than our midwinter
sky, and that the sun seemed a little smaller. And there
were two small moons! "like our moon but smaller, and quite
differently marked" one of which moved so rapidly that its motion
was clearly visible as one regarded it. These moons were
never high in the sky, but vanished as they rose: that is, every
time they revolved they were eclipsed because they were so
near their primary planet. And all this answers quite completely,
although Mr. Cave did not know it, to what must be the
condition of things on Mars.
Indeed, it seems an exceedingly plausible conclusion that
peering into this crystal Mr. Cave did actually see the planet
Mars and its inhabitants. And, if that be the case, then the
evening star that shone so brilliantly in the sky of that distant
vision, was neither more nor less than our own familiar earth.
For a time the Martians—if they were Martians—do not seem
to have known of Mr. Cave's inspection. Once or twice one
would come to peer, and go away very shortly to some other
mast, as though the vision was unsatisfactory. During this time
Mr. Cave was able to watch the proceedings of these winged
people without being disturbed by their attentions, and, although
his report is necessarily vague and fragmentary, it is
nevertheless very suggestive. Imagine the impression of humanity
a Martian observer would get who, after a difficult process
of preparation and with considerable fatigue to the eyes,
was able to peer at London from the steeple of St. Martin's
Church for stretches, at longest, of four minutes at a time. Mr.
Cave was unable to ascertain if the winged Martians were the
same as the Martians who hopped about the causeways and
terraces, and if the latter could put on wings at will. He several
times saw certain clumsy bipeds, dimly suggestive of apes,
white and partially translucent, feeding among certain of the
lichenous trees, and once some of these fled before one of the
hopping, round-headed Martians. The latter caught one in its
tentacles, and then the picture faded suddenly and left Mr.
Cave most tantalisingly in the dark. On another occasion a vast
thing, that Mr. Cave thought at first was some gigantic insect,
appeared advancing along the causeway beside the canal with
extraordinary rapidity. As this drew nearer Mr. Cave perceived
that it was a mechanism of shining metals and of extraordinary
complexity. And then, when he looked again, it had passed out
After a time Mr. Wace aspired to attract the attention of the
Martians, and the next time that the strange eyes of one of
them appeared close to the crystal Mr. Cave cried out and
sprang away, and they immediately turned on the light and
began to gesticulate in a manner suggestive of signalling. But
when at last Mr. Cave examined the crystal again the Martian
Thus far these observations had progressed in early November,
and then Mr. Cave, feeling that the suspicions of his family
about the crystal were allayed, began to take it to and fro with
him in order that, as occasion arose in the daytime or night, he
might comfort himself with what was fast becoming the most
real thing in his existence.
In December Mr. Wace's work in connection with a forthcoming
examination became heavy, the sittings were reluctantly
suspended for a week, and for ten or eleven days—he is not
quite sure which—he saw nothing of Cave. He then grew
anxious to resume these investigations, and, the stress of his
seasonal labours being abated, he went down to Seven Dials.
At the corner he noticed a shutter before a bird fancier's window,
and then another at a cobbler's. Mr. Cave's shop was
He rapped and the door was opened by the step-son in black.
He at once called Mrs. Cave, who was, Mr. Wace could not but
observe, in cheap but ample widow's weeds of the most imposing
pattern. Without any very great surprise Mr. Wace learnt
that Cave was dead and already buried. She was in tears, and
her voice was a little thick. She had just returned from Highgate.
Her mind seemed occupied with her own prospects and
the honourable details of the obsequies, but Mr. Wace was at
last able to learn the particulars of Cave's death. He had been
found dead in his shop in the early morning, the day after his
last visit to Mr. Wace, and the crystal had been clasped in his
stone-cold hands. His face was smiling, said Mrs. Cave, and the
velvet cloth from the minerals lay on the floor at his feet. He
must have been dead five or six hours when he was found.
This came as a great shock to Wace, and he began to reproach
himself bitterly for having neglected the plain symptoms
of the old man's ill-health. But his chief thought was of
the crystal. He approached that topic in a gingerly manner, because
he knew Mrs. Cave's peculiarities. He was dumbfoundered
to learn that it was sold.
Mrs. Cave's first impulse, directly Cave's body had been
taken upstairs, had been to write to the mad clergyman who
had offered five pounds for the crystal, informing him of its recovery;
but after a violent hunt in which her daughter joined
her, they were convinced of the loss of his address. As they
were without the means required to mourn and bury Cave in
the elaborate style the dignity of an old Seven Dials inhabitant
demands, they had appealed to a friendly fellow-tradesman in
Great Portland Street. He had very kindly taken over a portion
of the stock at a valuation. The valuation was his own and the
crystal egg was included in one of the lots. Mr. Wace, after a
few suitable consolatory observations, a little off-handedly
proffered perhaps, hurried at once to Great Portland Street.
But there he learned that the crystal egg had already been sold
to a tall, dark man in grey. And there the material facts in this
curious, and to me at least very suggestive, story come abruptly
to an end. The Great Portland Street dealer did not
know who the tall dark man in grey was, nor had he observed
him with sufficient attention to describe him minutely. He did
not even know which way this person had gone after leaving
the shop. For a time Mr. Wace remained in the shop, trying the
dealer's patience with hopeless questions, venting his own exasperation.
And at last, realising abruptly that the whole thing
had passed out of his hands, had vanished like a vision of the
night, he returned to his own rooms, a little astonished to find
the notes he had made still tangible and visible upon his untidy
His annoyance and disappointment were naturally very
great. He made a second call (equally ineffectual) upon the
Great Portland Street dealer, and he resorted to advertisements
in such periodicals as were likely to come into the hands
of a bric-a-brac collector. He also wrote letters to The Daily
Chronicle and Nature, but both those periodicals, suspecting a
hoax, asked him to reconsider his action before they printed,
and he was advised that such a strange story, unfortunately so
bare of supporting evidence, might imperil his reputation as an
investigator. Moreover, the calls of his proper work were urgent.
So that after a month or so, save for an occasional reminder
to certain dealers, he had reluctantly to abandon the
quest for the crystal egg, and from that day to this it remains
undiscovered. Occasionally, however, he tells me, and I can
quite believe him, he has bursts of zeal, in which he abandons
his more urgent occupation and resumes the search.
Whether or not it will remain lost for ever, with the material
and origin of it, are things equally speculative at the present
time. If thepresent purchaser is a collector, one would have expected
the enquiries of Mr. Wace to have reached him through
the dealers. He has been able to discover Mr. Cave's clergyman
and "Oriental"—no other than the Rev. James Parker and
the young Prince of Bosso-Kuni in Java. I am obliged to them
for certain particulars. The object of the Prince was simply
curiosity—and extravagance. He was so eager to buy, because
Cave was so oddly reluctant to sell. It is just as possible that
the buyer in the second instance was simply a casual purchaser
and not a collector at all, and the crystal egg, for all I
know, may at the present moment be within a mile of me, decorating
a drawing-room or serving as a paper-weight—its remarkable
functions all unknown. Indeed, it is partly with the
idea of such a possibility that I have thrown this narrative into
a form that will give it a chance of being read by the ordinary
consumer of fiction.
My own ideas in the matter are practically identical with
those of Mr. Wace. I believe the crystal on the mast in Mars
and the crystal egg of Mr. Cave's to be in some physical, but at
present quite inexplicable, way en rapport, and we both believe
further that the terrestrial crystal must have been—possibly at
some remote date—sent hither from that planet, in order to
give the Martians a near view of our affairs. Possibly the fellows
to the crystals in the other masts are also on our globe.
No theory of hallucination suffices for the facts.
Merci pour la lecture!
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