“Good night, Uncle,” whispered the child, as she
climbed on to his knee and gave him a resounding
kiss. “It’s time for me to disappop into bed—at least, so
“Disappop, then,” he replied, returning her kiss,
“although I doubt....”
He hesitated. He remembered the word was her father’s
invention, descriptive of the way rabbits pop into their
holes and disappear, and the way good children should
leave the room the instant bed-time was announced. The
father—his twin brother—seemed to enter the room and
stand beside them. “Then give me another kiss, and disappop!”
he said quickly. The child obeyed the first part
of his injunction, but had not obeyed the second when the
queer thing happened. She had not left his knee; he was
still holding her at the full stretch of both arms; he was
staring into her laughing eyes, when she suddenly went
far away into an extraordinary distance. She retired.
Minute, tiny, but still in perfect proportion and clear as
before, she was withdrawn in space till she was small as a
doll. He saw his own hands holding her, and they too were
minute. Down this long corridor of space, as it were, he
saw her diminutive figure.
“Uncle!” she cried, yet her voice was loud as before,
“but what a funny face! You’re pretending you’ve seen a
ghost”—and she was gone from his knee and from the
room, the door closing quietly behind her. He saw her
cross the floor, a tiny figure. Then, just as she reached the
door, she became of normal size again, as if she crossed
He felt dizzy. The loud voice close to his ear issuing
from a diminutive figure half a mile away had a distressing
effect upon him. He knew a curious qualm as he sat
there in the dark. He heard the wind walking round the
house, trying the doors and windows. He was troubled
by a memory he could not seize.
Yet the emotion instantly resolved itself into one of personal
anxiety: something had gone wrong with his eyes.
Sight, his most precious possession as an artist, was of
course affected. He was conscious of a little trembling in
him, as he at once began trying his sight at various objects—his
hands, the high ceiling, the trees dim in the twilight
on the lawn outside. He opened a book and read half a
dozen lines, at changing distances; finally he stared carefully
at the second hand of his watch. “Right as a trivet!”
he exclaimed aloud. He emitted a long sigh; he was immensely
relieved. “Nothing wrong with my eyes.”
He thought about the actual occurrence a great deal—he
felt as puzzled as any other normal person must have
felt. While he held the child actually in his arms, gripping
her with both hands, he had seen her suddenly half a
mile away. “Half a mile!” he repeated under his breath,
“why it was even more, it was easily a mile.” It had been
exactly as though he suddenly looked at her down the
wrong end of a powerful telescope. It had really happened;
he could not explain it; there was no more to be
This was the first time it happened to him.
At the theatre, a week later, when the phenomenon was
repeated, the stage he was watching fixedly at the moment
went far away, as though he saw it from a long way off.
The distance, so far as he could judge, was the same as
before, about a mile. It was an Eastern scene, realistically
costumed and produced, that without an instant’s warning
withdrew. The entire stage went with it, although he did
not actually see it go. He did not see movement, that is.
It was suddenly remote, while yet the actors’ voices, the
orchestra, the general hubbub retained their normal
volume. He experienced again the distressing dizziness;
he closed his eyes, covering them with his hand, then rubbing
the eyeballs slightly; and when he looked up the next
minute, the world was as it should be, as it had been, at
any rate. Unwilling to experience a repetition of the
thing in a public place, however, and fortunately being
alone, he left the theatre at the end of the act.
Twice this happened to him, once with an individual,
his brother’s child, and once with a landscape, an Eastern
stage scene. Both occurrences were within the week, during
which time he had been considering a visit to the
oculist, though without putting his decision into execution.
He was the kind of man that dreaded doctors, dentists,
oculists, always postponing, always finding reasons for
delay. He found reasons now, the chief among them being
an unwelcome one—that it was perhaps a brain specialist,
rather than an oculist, he ought to consult. This particular
notion hung unpleasantly about his mind, when, the
day after the theatre visit, the thing recurred, but with a
While idly watching a blue-bottle fly that climbed the
window-pane with remorseless industry, only to slip down
again at the very instant when escape into the open air
was within its reach, the fly grew abruptly into gigantic
proportions, became blurred and indistinct as it did so,
covered the entire pane with its furry, dark, ugly mass,
and frightened him so that he stepped back with a cry
and nearly lost his balance altogether. He collapsed into
a chair. He listened with closed eyes. The metallic buzzing
was audible, a small, exasperating sound, ordinarily
unable to stir any emotion beyond a mild annoyance. Yet
it was terrible; that so huge an insect should make so faint
a sound seemed to him terrible.
At length he cautiously opened his eyes. The fly was
of normal size once more. He hastily flicked it out of the
An hour later he was talking with the famous oculist in
Harley Street ... about the advisability of starting reading-glasses.
He found it difficult to relate the rest. A
curious shyness restrained him.
“Your optic nerves might belong to a man of twenty,”
was the verdict. “Both are perfect. But at your age it
is wise to save the sight as much as possible. There is a
slight astigmatism....” And a prescription for the
glasses was written out. It was only when paying the fee,
and as a means of drawing attention from the awkward
moment, that his story found expression. It seemed to
come out in spite of himself. He made light of it even
then, telling it without conviction. It seemed foolish suddenly
as he told it. “How very odd,” observed the oculist
vaguely, “dear me, yes, curious indeed. But that’s nothing.
H’m, h’m!” Either it was no concern of his, or he
deemed it negligible.... His only other confidant was a
friend of psychological tendencies who was interested and
eager to explain. It is on the instant plausible explanation
of anything and everything that the reputation of such
folk depends; this one was true to type: “A spontaneous
invention, my dear fellow—a pictorial rendering of your
thought. You are a painter, aren’t you? Well, this is
merely a rendering in picture-form of”—he paused for
effect, the other hung upon his words—“of the odd expression
“Ah!” exclaimed the painter.
“You see everything pictorially, of course, don’t you?”
“Yes—as a rule.”
“There you have it. Your painter’s psychology saw the
child ‘disappopping.’ That’s all.”
“And the fly?” but the fly was easily explained, since
it was merely the process reversed. “Once a process has
established itself in your mind, you see, it may act in either
direction. When a madman says ‘I’m afraid Smith will
do me an injury,’ it means, ‘I will do an injury to Smith,’”
And he repeated with finality, “That’s it.”
The explanations were not very satisfactory, the illustration
even tactless, but then the problem had not been
stated quite fully. Neither to the oculist nor to the other
had all the facts been given. The same shyness had been a
restraining influence in both cases; a detail had been
omitted, and this detail was that he connected the occurrences
somehow with his brother whom the war had taken.
The phenomenon made one more appearance—the last—before
its character, its field of action rather, altered.
He was reading a book when the print became now large,
now small; it blurred, grew remote and tiny, then so huge
that a single word, a letter even, filled the whole page. He
felt as if someone were playing optical tricks with the
mechanism of his eyes, trying first one, then another focus.
More curious still, the meaning of the words themselves
became uncertain; he did not understand them any more;
the sentences lost their meaning, as though he read a
strange language, or a language little known. The flash
came then—someone was using his eyes—someone else was
looking through them.
No, it was not his brother. The idea was preposterous
in any case. Yet he shivered again, as when he heard the
walking wind, for an uncanny conviction came over him
that it was someone who did not understand eyes but was
manipulating their mechanism experimentally. With the
conviction came also this: that, while not his brother, it
was someone connected with his brother.
Here, moreover, was an explanation of sorts, for if the
supernatural existed—he had never troubled his head about
it—he could accept this odd business as a manifestation,
and leave it at that. He did so, and his mind was eased.
This was his attitude: “The supernatural may exist. Why
not? We cannot know. But we can watch.” His eyes and
brain, at any rate, were proved in good condition.
He watched. No change of focus, no magnifying or
diminishing, came again. For some weeks he noticed nothing
unusual of any kind, except that his mind often filled
now with Eastern pictures. Their sudden irruption caught
his attention, but no more than that; they were sometimes
blurred and sometimes vivid; he had never been in the
East; he attributed them to his constant thinking of his
brother, missing in Mesopotamia these six months. Photographs
in magazines and newspapers explained the rest.
Yet the persistence of the pictures puzzled him: tents beneath
hot cloudless skies, palms, a stretch of desert, dry
watercourses, camels, a mosque, a minaret—typical
snatches of this kind flashed into his mind with a sense of
faint familiarity often. He knew, again, the return of a
fugitive memory he could not seize.... He kept a note of
the dates, all of them subsequent to the day he read his
brother’s fate in the official Roll of Honour: “Believed
missing; now killed.” Only when the original phenomenon
returned, but in its altered form, did he stop the practice.
The change then affected his life too fundamentally to
trouble about mere dates and pictures.
For the phenomenon, shifting its field of action, abruptly
became mental, and the singular change of focus took
place now in his mind. Events magnified or contracted
themselves out of all relation with their intrinsic values,
sense of proportion went hopelessly astray. Love, hate and
fear experienced sudden intensification, or abrupt dwindling
into nothing; the familiar everyday emotions, commonplace
daily acts, suffered exaggerated enlargement, or
reduction into insignificance, that threatened the stability
of his personality. Fortunately, as stated, they were of
brief duration; to examine them in detail were to touch
the painful absurdities of incipient mania almost; that a
lost collar stud could block his exasperated mind for hours,
filling an entire day with emotion, while a deep affection
of long standing could ebb towards complete collapse suddenly
without apparent cause...!
It was the unexpected suddenness of Turkey’s spectacular
defeat that closed the painful symptoms. The
Armistice saw them go. He knew a quick relief he was
unable to explain. The telegram that his brother was alive
and safe came after his recovery of mental balance. It was
a shock. But the phenomena had ceased before the shock.
It was in the light of his brother’s story that he reviewed
the puzzling phenomena described. The story was
not more curious than many another, perhaps, yet the details
were queer enough. That a wounded Turk to whom
he gave water should have remembered gratitude was likely
enough, for all travellers know that these men are kindly
gentlemen at times; but that this Mohammedan peasant
should have been later a member of a prisoner’s escort and
have provided the means of escape and concealment—weeks
in a dry watercourse and months in a hut outside
the town—seemed an incredible stroke of good fortune.
“He brought me food and water three times a week. I
had no money to give him, so I gave him my Zeiss glasses.
I taught him a bit of English too. But he liked the glasses
best. He was never tired of playing with ’em—making big
and little, as he called it. He learned precious little English....”
“My pair, weren’t they?” interrupted his brother. “My
old climbing glasses.”
“Your present to me when I went out, yes. So really
you helped me to save my life. I told the old Turk that.
I was always thinking about you.”
“And the Turk?”
“No doubt.... Through my mind, that is. At any
rate, he asked a lot of questions about you. I showed him
your photo. He died, poor chap—at least they told me
so. Probably they shot him.”