by H. G. Wells
The transitory mental aberration of Sidney Davidson, remarkable
enough in itself, is still more remarkable if Wade's explanation is to
be credited. It sets one dreaming of the oddest possibilities of
intercommunication in the future, of spending an intercalary five
minutes on the other side of the world, or being watched in our most
secret operations by unsuspected eyes. It happened that I was the
immediate witness of Davidson's seizure, and so it falls naturally to
me to put the story upon paper.
When I say that I was the immediate witness of his seizure, I mean
that I was the first on the scene. The thing happened at the Harlow
Technical College just beyond the Highgate Archway. He was alone in the
larger laboratory when the thing happened. I was in the smaller room,
where the balances are, writing up some notes. The thunderstorm had
completely upset my work, of course. It was just after one of the
louder peals that I thought I heard some glass smash in the other room.
I stopped writing, and turned round to listen. For a moment I heard
nothing; the hail was playing the devil's tattoo on the corrugated zinc
of the roof. Then came another sound, a smash—no doubt of. it this
time. Something heavy had been knocked off the bench. I jumped up at
once and went and opened the door leading into the big laboratory.
I was surprised to hear a queer sort of laugh, and saw Davidson
standing unsteadily in the middle of the room, with a dazzled look on
his face. My first impression was that he was drunk. He did not notice
me. He was clawing out at something invisible a yard in front of his
face. He put out his hand, slowly, rather hesitatingly, and then
clutched nothing. “What's come to it?” he said. He held up his hands to
his face, fingers spread out. “Great Scott!” he said. The thing
happened three or four years ago, when everyone swore by that
personage. Then he began raising his feet clumsily, as though he had
expected to find them glued to the floor.
“Davidson!” cried I. ``What's the matter with you?” He turned round
in my direction and looked about for me. He looked over me and at me
and on either side of me, without the slightest sign of seeing me.
“Waves,” he said; “and a remarkably neat schooner. I'd swear that was
Bellows's voice. Hullo!” He shouted suddenly at the top of his
I thought he was up to some foolery. Then I saw littered about his
feet the shattered remains of the best of our electrometers. “What's
up, man?” said I. “You've smashed the electrometer!”
“Bellows again!” said he. “Friends left, if my hands are gone.
Something about electrometers. Which way are you, Bellows?” He
suddenly came staggering towards me. “The damned stuff cuts like
butter,” he said. He walked straight into the bench and recoiled. “None
so buttery, that!” he said, and stood swaying.
I felt scared. “Davidson,” said I, “what on earth's come over you?”
He looked round him in every direction. “I could swear that was
Bellows. Why don't you show yourself like a man, Bellows?”
It occurred to me that he must be suddenly struck blind. I walked
round the table and laid my hand upon his arm. I never saw a man more
startled in my life. He jumped away from me, and came round into an
attitude of self-defense, his face fairly distorted with terror: “Good
God!” he cried. “What was that?”
“It's I—Bellows. Confound it, Davidson!”
He jumped when I answered him and stared—how can I express it?—
right through me. He began talking, not to me, but to himself. “Here in
broad daylight on a clear beach. Not a place to hide in.” He looked
about him wildly. “Here! I'm off .” He suddenly turned and ran
headlong into the big electro-magnet—so violently that, as we found
afterwards, he bruised his shoulder and jawbone cruelly. At that he
stepped back a pace, and cried out with almost a whimper, “What, in
Heaven's name, has come over me?” He stood, blanched with terror and
trembling violently, with his right arm clutching his left, where that
had collided with the magnet.
By that time I was excited, and fairly excited. “Davidson,” said I,
“don't be afraid. “
He was startled at my voice, but not so excessively as before. I
repeated my words in as clear and firm a tone as I could assume.
“Bellows,” he said, “is that you?”
“Can't you see it's me?”
He laughed. “I can't even see it's myself. Where the devil are we?”
“Here,” said I, “in the laboratory.”
“The laboratory!” he answered, in a puzzled tone, and put his hand to
his forehead. “I was in the laboratory—till that flash came,
but I'm hanged if I'm there now. What ship is that?”
“There's no ship,” said I. “Do be sensible, old chap.”
“No ship!” he repeated, and seemed to forget my denial forthwith. “I
suppose,” said he, slowly, “we're both dead. But the rummy part is I
feel just as though I still had a body. Don't get used to it all at
once, I suppose. The old shop was struck by lightning, I suppose. Jolly
quick thing, Bellows—eigh?”
“Don't talk nonsense. You're very much alive. You are in the
laboratory, blundering about. You've just smashed a new electrometer. I
don't envy you when Boyce arrives.”
He stared away from me towards the diagrams of cryohydrates. “I must
be deaf,” said he. “They've fired a gun, for there goes the puff of
smoke, and I never heard a sound.”
I put my hand on his arm again, and this time he was less alarmed.
“We seem to have a sort of invisible bodies,” said he. “By Jove!
there's a boat coming round the headland! It's very much like the old
life after all—in a different climate. “
I shook his arm. “Davidson,” I cried, “wake up!”
It was just then that Boyce came in. So soon as he spoke Davidson
exclaimed: “Old Boyce! Dead too! What a lark!” I hastened to explain
that Davidson was in a kind of somnambulistic trance. Boyce was
interested at once. We both did all we could to rouse the fellow out of
his extraordinary state. He answered our questions, and asked us some
of his own, but his attention seemed distracted by his hallucination
about a beach and a ship. He kept interpolating observations concerning
some boat and the davits and sails filling with the wind. It made one
feel queer, in the dusky laboratory, to hear him saying such things.
He was blind and helpless. We had to walk him down the passage, one
at each elbow, to Boyce's private room, and while Boyce talked to him
there, and humored him about this ship idea, I went along the corridor
and asked old Wade to come and look at him. The voice of our Dean
sobered him a little, but not very much. He asked where his hands were,
and why he had to walk about up to his waist in the ground. Wade
thought over him a long time—you know how he knits his brows—and
then made him feel the couch, guiding his hands to it. “That's a
couch,” said Wade. “The couch in the private room of Professor Boyce.
Davidson felt about, and puzzled over it, and answered presently that
he could feel it all right, but he couldn't see it.
“What do you see?” asked Wade. Davidson said he could see
nothing but a lot of sand and broken-up shells. Wade gave him some
other things to feel, telling him what they were, and watching him
“The ship is almost hull down,” said Davidson, presently, apropos
of nothing. “Never mind the ship,” said Wade. “Listen to me, Davidson.
Do you know what hallucination means?”
“Rather,” said Davidson.
“Well, everything you see is hallucinatory.” “Bishop Berkeley,” said
“Don't mistake me,” said Wade. “You are alive, and in this room of
Boyce's. But something has happened to your eyes. You cannot see; you
can feel and hear, but not see. Do you follow me?”
“It seems to me that I see too much.” Davidson rubbed his knuckles
into his eyes. “Well?” he said.
“That's all. Don't let it perplex you. Bellows, here, and I will take
you home in a cab. “
“Wait a bit.” Davidson thought. “Help me to sit down,” said he,
presently; “and now—I'm sorry to trouble you—but will you tell me
all that over again?”
Wade repeated it very patiently. Davidson shut his eyes, and pressed
upon his forehead. “Yes,” said he. “It's quite right. Now my eyes are
shut I know you're right. That's you, Bellows, sitting by me on the
couch. I'm in England again. And we're in the dark.”
Then he opened his eyes. “And there,” said he, “is the sun just
rising, and the yards of the ship, and a tumbled sea, and a couple of
birds flying. I never saw anything so real. And I'm sitting up to my
neck in a bank of sand.”
He bent forward and covered his face with his hands. Then he opened
his eyes again. “Dark sea and sunrise! And yet I'm sitting on a sofa in
old Boyce's room!—God help me!”
That was the beginning. For three weeks this strange affection of
Davidson's eyes continued unabated. It was far worse than being blind.
He was absolutely helpless, and had to be fed like a newly-hatched
bird, and led about and undressed. If he attempted to move he fell over
things or struck himself against walls or doors. After a day or so he
got used to hearing our voices without seeing us, and willingly
admitted he was at home, and that Wade was right in what he told him.
My sister, to whom he was engaged, insisted on coming to see him, and
would sit for hours every day while he talked about this beach of his.
Holding her hand seemed to comfort him immensely. He explained that
when we left the College and drove home,—he lived in Hampstead
Village—it appeared to him as if we drove right through a sandhill—
it was perfectly black until he emerged again—and through rocks and
trees and solid obstacles, and when he was taken to his own room it
made him giddy and almost frantic with the fear of falling, because
going upstairs seemed to lift him thirty or forty feet above the rocks
of his imaginary island. He kept saying he should smash all the eggs.
The end was that he had to be taken down into his father's consulting
room and laid upon a couch that stood there.
He described the island as being a bleak kind of place on the whole,
with very little vegetation, except some peaty stuff, and a lot of bare
rock. There were multitudes of penguins, and they made the rocks white
and disagreeable to see. The sea was often rough, and once there was a
thunderstorm, and he lay and shouted at the silent flashes. Once or
twice seals pulled up on the beach, bu, only on the first two or three
days. He said it was very funny the way in which the penguins used to
waddle right through him, and how he seemed to lie among them without
I remember one odd thing, and that was when he wanted very badly to
smoke. We put a pipe in his hands—he almost poked his eye out with it
—and lit it. But he couldn't taste anything. I've since found it's the
same with me—I don't know if it's the usual case—that I cannot
enjoy tobacco at all unless I can see the smoke.
But the queerest part of his vision came when Wade sent him out in a
bath- chair to get fresh air. The Davidsons hired a chair, and got that
deaf and obstinate dependent of theirs, Widgery, to attend to it.
Widgery's ideas of healthy expeditions were peculiar. My sister, who
had been to the Dog's Home, met them in Camden Town, towards King's
Cross. Widgery trotting along complacently, and Davidson evidently most
distressed, trying in his feeble, blind way to attract Widgery's
He positively wept when my sister spoke to him. “Oh, get me out of
this horrible darkness!” he said, feeling for her hand. “I must get out
of it, or I shall die.” He was quite incapable of explaining what was
the matter, but my sister decided he must go home, and presently, as
they went up the hill towards Hampstead, the horror seemed to drop from
him. He said it was good to see the stars again, though it was then
about noon and a blazing day.
“It seemed,” he told me afterwards, “as if I was being carried
irresistibly towards the water. I was not very much alarmed at first.
Of course it was night there—a lovely night. “
“Of course?” I asked, for that struck me as odd.
“Of course,” said he. “It's always night there when it is day here—
Well, we went right into the water, which was calm and shining under
the moonlight—just a broad swell that seemed to grow broader and
flatter as I came down into it. The surface glistened just like a skin
—it might have been empty space underneath for all I could tell to the
contrary. Very slowly, for I rode slanting into it, the water crept up
to my eyes. Then I went under, and the skin seemed to break and heal
again about my eyes. The moon gave a jump up in the sky and grew green
and dim, and fish, faintly glowing, came darting round me—and things
that seemed made of luminous glass, and I passed through a tangle of
seaweeds that shone with an oily luster. And so I drove down into the
sea, and the stars went out one by one, and the moon grew greener and
darker, and the seaweed became a luminous purple-red. It was all very
faint and mysterious, and everything seemed to quiver. And all the
while I could hear the wheels of the bath-chair creaking, and the
footsteps of people going by, and a man with a bell crying coals.
“I kept sinking down deeper and deeper into the water. It became inky
black about me, not a ray from above came down into that darkness, and
the phosphorescent things grew brighter and brighter. The snaky
branches of the deeper weeds flickered like the flames of spirit lamps;
but, after a time, there were no more weeds. The fishes came staring
and gaping towards me, and into me and through me. I never imagined
such fishes before. They had lines of fire along the sides of them as
though they had been outlined with a luminous pencil. And there was a
ghastly thing swimming backwards with a lot of twining arms. And then I
saw, coming very slowly towards me through the gloom, a hazy mass of
light that resolved itself as it drew nearer into multitudes of fishes,
struggling and darting round something that drifted. I drove on
straight towards it, and presently I saw in the midst of the tumult,
and by the light of the fish, .a bit of splintered spar looming over
me, and a dark hull tilting over, and some glowing phosphorescent forms
that were shaken and writhed as the fish bit at them. Then it was I
began to try to attract Widgery's attention. A horror came upon me.
Ugh! I should have driven right into those half-eaten—things. If your
sister had not come! They had great holes in them, Bellows, and—Never
mind. But it was ghastly!”
For three weeks Davidson remained in this singular state, seeing what
at the time we imagined was an altogether phantasmal world, and stone
blind to the world around him. Then, one Tuesday, when I called, I met
old Davidson in the passage. “He can see his thumb!” the old gentleman
said, in a perfect transport. He was struggling into his overcoat. “He
can see his thumb, Bellows!” he said, with the tears in his eyes. “The
lad will be all right yet.”
I rushed in to Davidson. He was holding up a little book before his
face, and looking at it and laughing in a weak kind of way.
“It's amazing,” said he. “There's a kind of patch come there.” He
pointed with his finger. “I'm on the rocks as usual, and the penguins
are staggering and flapping about as usual, and there's been a whale
showing every now and then, but it's got too dark now to make him out.
But put something there, and I see it—I do see it. It's very
dim and broken in places, but I see it all the same, like a faint
specter of itself. I found it out this morning while they were dressing
me. It's like a hole in this infernal phantom world. Just put your hand
by mine. No—not there. Ah! Yes! I see it. The base of your thumb and
a bit of cuff! It looks like the ghost of a bit of your hand sticking
out of the darkening sky. Just by it there's a group of stars like a
cross coming out.”
From that time Davidson began to mend. His account of the change,
like his account of the vision, was oddly convincing. Over patches of
his field of vision the phantom world grew fainter, grew transparent,
as it were, and through these translucent gaps he began to see dimly
the real world about him. The patches grew in size and number, ran
together and spread until only here and there were blind spots left
upon his eyes. He was able to get up and steer himself about, feed
himself once more, read, smoke, and behave like an ordinary citizen
again. At first it was very confusing to him to have these two pictures
overlapping each other like the changing views of a lantern, but in a
little while he began to distinguish the real from the illusory.
At first he was unfeignedly glad, and seemed only too anxious to
complete his cure by taking exercise and tonics. But as that odd island
of his began to fade away from him, he became queerly interested in it.
He wanted particularly to go down into the deep sea again, and would
spend half his time wandering about the low-lying parts of London,
trying to find the water-logged wreck he had seen drifting. The glare
of real daylight very soon impressed him so vividly as to blot out
everything of his shadowy world, but of a nighttime, in a darkened
room, he could still see the white-splashed rocks of the island, and
the clumsy penguins staggering to and fro. But even these grew fainter
and fainter, and, at last, soon after he married my sister, he saw them
for the last time.
And now to tell of the queerest thing of all. About two years after
his cure, I dined with the Davidsons, and after dinner a man named
Atkins called in. He is a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and a pleasant,
talkative man. He was on friendly terms with my brother-in-law, and was
soon on friendly terms with me. It came out that he was engaged to
Davidson's cousin, and incidentally he took out a kind of pocket
photograph case to show us a new rendering of his fiancée. “And,
by-the-by,” said he, “here's the old Fulmar.”
Davidson looked at it casually. Then suddenly his face lit up. “Good
heavens!” said he. “I could almost swear—”
“What?” said Atkins.
“That I had seen that ship before.”
“Don't see how you can have. She hasn't been out of the South Seas
for six years, and before then—”
“But,” began Davidson, and then, “Yes—that's the ship I dreamt of.
I'm sure that's the ship I dreamt of. She was standing off an island
that swarmed with penguins, and she fired a gun.”
“Good Lord!” said Atkins, who had never heard the particulars of the
seizure. “How the deuce could you dream that?”
And then, bit by bit, it came out that on the very day Davidson was
seized, H.M.S. Fulmar had actually been off a little rock to the
south of Antipodes Island. A boat had landed overnight to get penguins'
eggs, had been delayed, and a thunderstorm drifting up, the boat's crew
had waited until the morning before rejoining the ship. Atkins had been
one of them, and he corroborated, word for word, the descriptions
Davidson had given of the island and the boat. There is not the
slightest doubt in any of our minds that Davidson has really seen the
place. In some unaccountable way, while he moved hither and thither in
London, his sight moved hither and thither in a manner that
corresponded, about this distant island. How is absolutely a
That completes the remarkable story of Davidson's eyes. It is perhaps
the best authenticated case in existence of a real vision at a
distance. Explanation there is none forthcoming, except what Professor
Wade has thrown out. But his explanation invokes the Fourth Dimension,
and a dissertation on theoretical kinds of space. To talk of there
being “a kink in space” seems mere nonsense to me; it may be because I
am no mathematician. When I said that nothing would alter the fact that
the place is eight thousand miles away, he answered that two points
might be a yard away on a sheet of paper and yet be brought together by
bending the paper round. The reader may grasp his argument, but I
certainly do not. His idea seems to be that Davidson, stooping between
the poles of the big electro- magnet, had some extraordinary twist
given to his retinal elements through the sudden change in the field of
force due to the lightning.
He thinks, as a consequence of this, that it may be possible to live
visually in one part of the world, while one lives bodily in another.
He has even made some experiments in support of his views; but, so far,
he has simply succeeded in blinding a few dogs. I believe that is the
net result of his work, though I have not seen him for some weeks.
Latterly, I have been so busy with my work in connection with the Saint
Pancras installation that I have had little opportunity of calling to
see him. But the whole of his theory seems fantastic . to me. The facts
concerning Davidson stand on an altogether different footing, and I can
testify personally to the accuracy of every detail I have given.
This story was originally written by H.G. Wells. It was
published in the book The stolen bacillus and other incidents by
Metheun of London, England, in 1895. The story is here repeated as it
was originally published.