H. G. Wells
Certainly, if ever a man found a guinea when he was looking for a pin, it
is my good friend Professor Gibberne. I have heard before of investigators
overshooting the mark, but never quite to the extent that he has done. He
has really, this time at any rate, without any touch of exaggeration in the
phrase, found something to revolutionise human life. And that when he was
simply seeking an all-round nervous stimulant to bring languid people up
to the stresses of these pushful days. I have tasted the stuff now several
times, and I cannot do better than describe the effect the thing had on
me. That there are astonishing experiences in store for all in search of
new sensations will become apparent enough.
Professor Gibberne, as many people know, is my neighbour in Folkestone.
Unless my memory plays me a trick, his portrait at various ages has
already appeared in The Strand Magazine—think late in 1899 but I
am unable to look it up because I have lent that volume to someone who has
never sent it back. The reader may, perhaps, recall the high forehead and
the singularly long black eyebrows that give such a Mephistophelean touch
to his face. He occupies one of those pleasant little detached houses in
the mixed style that make the western end of the Upper Sandgate Road so
interesting. His is the one with the Flemish gables and the Moorish
portico, and it is in the little room with the mullioned bay window that
he works when he is down here, and in which of an evening we have so often
smoked and talked together. He is a mighty jester, but, besides, he likes
to talk to me about his work; he is one of those men who find a help and
stimulus in talking, and so I have been able to follow the conception of
the New Accelerator right up from a very early stage. Of course, the
greater portion of his experimental work is not done in Folkestone, but in
Gower Street, in the fine new laboratory next to the hospital that he has
been the first to use.
As every one knows, or at least as all intelligent people know, the
special department in which Gibberne has gained so great and deserved a
reputation among physiologists is the action of drugs upon the nervous
system. Upon soporifics, sedatives, and anaesthetics he is, I am told,
unequalled. He is also a chemist of considerable eminence, and I suppose
in the subtle and complex jungle of riddles that centres about the
ganglion cell and the axis fibre there are little cleared places of his
making, little glades of illumination, that, until he sees fit to publish
his results, are still inaccessible to every other living man. And in the
last few years he has been particularly assiduous upon this question of
nervous stimulants, and already, before the discovery of the New
Accelerator, very successful with them. Medical science has to thank him
for at least three distinct and absolutely safe invigorators of unrivalled
value to practising men. In cases of exhaustion the preparation known as
Gibberne's B Syrup has, I suppose, saved more lives already than any
lifeboat round the coast.
"But none of these little things begin to satisfy me yet," he told me
nearly a year ago. "Either they increase the central energy without
affecting the nerves, or they simply increase the available energy by
lowering the nervous conductivity; and all of them are unequal and local
in their operation. One wakes up the heart and viscera and leaves the
brain stupefied, one gets at the brain champagne fashion, and does nothing
good for the solar plexus, and what I want—and what, if it's an earthly
possibility, I mean to have—is a stimulant that stimulates all round,
that wakes you up for a time from the crown of your head to the tip of
your great toe, and makes you go two—or even three—to everybody else's
one. Eh? That's the thing I'm after."
"It would tire a man," I said.
"Not a doubt of it. And you'd eat double or treble—and all that. But just
think what the thing would mean. Imagine yourself with a little phial like
this"—he held up a little bottle of green glass and marked his points
with it—"and in this precious phial is the power to think twice as fast,
move twice as quickly, do twice as much work in a given time as you could
"But is such a thing possible?"
"I believe so. If it isn't, I've wasted my time for a year. These various
preparations of the hypophosphites, for example, seem to show that
something of the sort… Even if it was only one and a half times as fast
it would do."
"It would do," I said.
"If you were a statesman in a corner, for example, time rushing up against
you, something urgent to be done, eh?"
"He could dose his private secretary," I said.
"And gain—double time. And think if you, for example, wanted to
finish a book."
"Usually," I said, "I wish I'd never begun 'em."
"Or a doctor, driven to death, wants to sit down and think out a case. Or
a barrister—or a man cramming for an examination."
"Worth a guinea a drop," said I, "and more—to men like that."
"And in a duel, again," said Gibberne, "where it all depends on your
quickness in pulling the trigger."
"Or in fencing," I echoed.
"You see," said Gibberne, "if I get it as an all-round thing, it will
really do you no harm at all—except perhaps to an infinitesimal degree it
brings you nearer old age. You will just have lived twice to other
"I suppose," I meditated, "in a duel—it would be fair?"
"That's a question for the seconds," said Gibberne.
I harked back further. "And you really think such a thing is
possible?" I said.
"As possible," said Gibberne, and glanced at something that went throbbing
by the window, "as a motor-bus. As a matter of fact—"
He paused and smiled at me deeply, and tapped slowly on the edge of his
desk with the green phial. "I think I know the stuff… Already I've got
something coming." The nervous smile upon his face betrayed the gravity of
his revelation. He rarely talked of his actual experimental work unless
things were very near the end. "And it may be, it may be—I shouldn't be
surprised—it may even do the thing at a greater rate than twice."
"It will be rather a big thing," I hazarded.
"It will be, I think, rather a big thing."
But I don't think he quite knew what a big thing it was to be, for all
I remember we had several talks about the stuff after that. "The New
Accelerator" he called it, and his tone about it grew more confident on
each occasion. Sometimes he talked nervously of unexpected physiological
results its use might have, and then he would get a little unhappy; at
others he was frankly mercenary, and we debated long and anxiously how the
preparation might be turned to commercial account. "It's a good thing,"
said Gibberne, "a tremendous thing. I know I'm giving the world something,
and I think it only reasonable we should expect the world to pay. The
dignity of science is all very well, but I think somehow I must have the
monopoly of the stuff for, say, ten years. I don't see why all the
fun in life should go to the dealers in ham."
My own interest in the coming drug certainly did not wane in the time. I
have always had a queer little twist towards metaphysics in my mind. I
have always been given to paradoxes about space and time, and it seemed to
me that Gibberne was really preparing no less than the absolute
acceleration of life. Suppose a man repeatedly dosed with such a
preparation: he would live an active and record life indeed, but he would
be an adult at eleven, middle-aged at twenty-five, and by thirty well on
the road to senile decay. It seemed to me that so far Gibberne was only
going to do for any one who took his drug exactly what Nature has done for
the Jews and Orientals, who are men in their teens and aged by fifty, and
quicker in thought and act than we are all the time. The marvel of drugs
has always been great to my mind; you can madden a man, calm a man, make
him incredibly strong and alert or a helpless log, quicken this passion
and allay that, all by means of drugs, and here was a new miracle to be
added to this strange armoury of phials the doctors use! But Gibberne was
far too eager upon his technical points to enter very keenly into my
aspect of the question.
It was the 7th or 8th of August when he told me the distillation that
would decide his failure or success for a time was going forward as we
talked, and it was on the 10th that he told me the thing was done and the
New Accelerator a tangible reality in the world. I met him as I was going
up the Sandgate Hill towards Folkestone—I think I was going to get my
hair cut, and he came hurrying down to meet me—I suppose he was coming to
my house to tell me at once of his success. I remember that his eyes were
unusually bright and his face flushed, and I noted even then the swift
alacrity of his step.
"It's done," he cried, and gripped my hand, speaking very fast; "it's more
than done. Come up to my house and see."
"Really!" he shouted. "Incredibly! Come up and see."
"And it does—twice?"
"It does more, much more. It scares me. Come up and see the stuff. Taste
it! Try it! It's the most amazing stuff on earth." He gripped my arm and;
walking at such a pace that he forced me into a trot, went shouting with
me up the hill. A whole char-à-banc-ful of people turned and stared
at us in unison after the manner of people in chars-à-banc. It was
one of those hot, clear days that Folkestone sees so much of, every colour
incredibly bright and every outline hard. There was a breeze, of course,
but not so much breeze as sufficed under these conditions to keep me cool
and dry. I panted for mercy.
"I'm not walking fast, am I?" cried Gibberne, and slackened his pace to a
"You've been taking some of this stuff," I puffed.
"No," he said. "At the utmost a drop of water that stood in a beaker from
which I had washed out the last traces of the stuff. I took some last
night, you know. But that is ancient history now."
"And it goes twice?" I said, nearing his doorway in a grateful
"It goes a thousand times, many thousand times!" cried Gibberne, with a
dramatic gesture, flinging open his Early English carved oak gate.
"Phew!" said I, and followed him to the door.
"I don't know how many times it goes," he said, with his latch-key in his
"It throws all sorts of light on nervous physiology, it kicks the theory
of vision into a perfectly new shape! … Heaven knows how many thousand
times. We'll try all that after——The thing is to try the stuff now."
"Try the stuff?" I said, as we went along the passage.
"Rather," said Gibberne, turning on me in his study. "There it is in that
little green phial there! Unless you happen to be afraid?"
I am a careful man by nature, and only theoretically adventurous. I
was afraid. But on the other hand, there is pride.
"Well," I haggled. "You say you've tried it?"
"I've tried it," he said, "and I don't look hurt by it, do I? I don't even
look livery, and I feel——"
I sat down. "Give me the potion," I said. "If the worst comes to the
worst it will save having my hair cut, and that, I think, is one of the
most hateful duties of a civilised man. How do you take the mixture?"
"With water," said Gibberne, whacking down a carafe.
He stood up in front of his desk and regarded me in his easy-chair; his
manner was suddenly affected by a touch of the Harley Street specialist.
"It's rum stuff, you know," he said.
I made a gesture with my hand.
"I must warn you, in the first place, as soon as you've got it down to
shut your eyes, and open them very cautiously in a minute or so's time.
One still sees. The sense of vision is a question of length of vibration,
and not of multitude of impacts; but there's a kind of shock to the
retina, a nasty giddy confusion just at the time if the eyes are open.
Keep 'em shut."
"Shut," I said. "Good!"
"And the next thing is, keep still. Don't begin to whack about. You may
fetch something a nasty rap if you do. Remember you will be going several
thousand times faster than you ever did before, heart, lungs, muscles,
brain—everything—and you will hit hard without knowing it. You won't
know it, you know. You'll feel just as you do now. Only everything in the
world will seem to be going ever so many thousand times slower than it
ever went before. That's what makes it so deuced queer."
"Lor," I said. "And you mean——"
"You'll see," said he, and took up a little measure. He glanced at the
material on his desk. "Glasses," he said, "water. All here. Mustn't take
too much for the first attempt."
The little phial glucked out its precious contents. "Don't forget what I
told you," he said, turning the contents of the measure into a glass in
the manner of an Italian waiter measuring whisky. "Sit with the eyes
tightly shut and in absolute stillness for two minutes," he said. "Then
you will hear me speak."
He added an inch or so of water to the little dose in each glass.
"By-the-by," he said, "don't put your glass down. Keep it in your hand and
rest your hand on your knee. Yes—so. And now——"
He raised his glass.
"The New Accelerator," I said.
"The New Accelerator," he answered, and we touched glasses and drank, and
instantly I closed my eyes.
You know that blank non-existence into which one drops when one has taken
"gas." For an indefinite interval it was like that. Then I heard Gibberne
telling me to wake up, and I stirred and opened my eyes. There he stood as
he had been standing, glass still in hand. It was empty, that was all the
"Well?" said I.
"Nothing out of the way?"
"Nothing. A slight feeling of exhilaration, perhaps. Nothing more."
"Things are still," I said. "By Jove! yes! They are still. Except
the sort of faint pat, patter, like rain falling on different things. What
"Analysed sounds," I think he said, but I am not sure. He glanced at the
window. "Have you ever seen a curtain before a window fixed in that way
I followed his eyes, and there was the end of the curtain, frozen, as it
were, corner high, in the act of flapping briskly in the breeze.
"No," said I; "that's odd."
"And here," he said, and opened the hand that held the glass. Naturally I
winced, expecting the glass to smash. But so far from smashing, it did not
even seem to stir; it hung in mid-air—motionless. "Roughly speaking,"
said Gibberne, "an object in these latitudes falls 16 feet in the first
second. This glass is falling 16 feet in a second now. Only, you see, it
hasn't been falling yet for the hundredth part of a second. That gives you
some idea of the pace of my Accelerator."
And he waved his hand round and round, over and under the slowly sinking
glass. Finally he took it by the bottom, pulled it down and placed it very
carefully on the table. "Eh?" he said to me, and laughed.
"That seems all right," I said, and began very gingerly to raise myself
from my chair. I felt perfectly well, very light and comfortable, and
quite confident in my mind. I was going fast all over. My heart, for
example, was beating a thousand times a second, but that caused me no
discomfort at all. I looked out of the window. An immovable cyclist, head
down and with a frozen puff of dust behind his driving-wheel, scorched to
overtake a galloping char-à-banc that did not stir. I gaped in
amazement at this incredible spectacle. "Gibberne," I cried, "how long
will this confounded stuff last?"
"Heaven knows!" he answered. "Last time I took it I went to bed and slept
it off. I tell you, I was frightened. It must have lasted some minutes, I
think—it seemed like hours. But after a bit it slows down rather
suddenly, I believe."
I was proud to observe that I did not feel frightened—I suppose because
there were two of us. "Why shouldn't we go out?" I asked.
"They'll see us."
"Not they. Goodness, no! Why, we shall be going a thousand times faster
than the quickest conjuring trick that was ever done. Come along! Which
way shall we go? Window, or door?"
And out by the window we went.
Assuredly of all the strange experiences that I have ever had, or
imagined, or read of other people having or imagining, that little raid I
made with Gibberne on the Folkestone Leas, under the influence of the New
Accelerator, was the strangest and maddest of all. We went out by his gate
into the road, and there we made a minute examination of the statuesque
passing traffic. The tops of the wheels and some of the legs of the horses
of this char-à-banc, the end of the whip-lash and the lower jaw of
the conductor—who was just beginning to yawn—were perceptibly in motion,
but all the rest of the lumbering conveyance seemed still. And quite
noiseless except for a faint rattling that came from one man's throat. And
as parts of this frozen edifice there were a driver, you know, and a
conductor, and eleven people! The effect as we walked about the thing
began by being madly queer and ended by being—disagreeable. There they
were, people like ourselves and yet not like ourselves, frozen in careless
attitudes, caught in mid-gesture. A girl and a man smiled at one another,
a leering smile that threatened to last for evermore; a woman in a floppy
capelline rested her arm on the rail and stared at Gibberne's house with
the unwinking stare of eternity; a man stroked his moustache like a figure
of wax, and another stretched a tiresome stiff hand with extended fingers
towards his loosened hat. We stared at them, we laughed at them, we made
faces at them, and then a sort of disgust of them came upon us, and we
turned away and walked round in front of the cyclist towards the Leas.
"Goodness!" cried Gibberne, suddenly; "look there!"
He pointed, and there at the tip of his finger and sliding down the air
with wings flapping slowly and at the speed of an exceptionally languid
snail—was a bee.
And so we came out upon the Leas. There the thing seemed madder than ever.
The band was playing in the upper stand, though all the sound it made for
us was a low-pitched, wheezy rattle, a sort of prolonged last sigh that
passed at times into a sound like the slow, muffled ticking of some
monstrous clock. Frozen people stood erect, strange, silent,
self-conscious-looking dummies hung unstably in mid-stride, promenading
upon the grass. I passed close to a little poodle dog suspended in the act
of leaping, and watched the slow movement of his legs as he sank to earth.
"Lord, look here!" cried Gibberne, and we halted for a moment
before a magnificent person in white faint—striped flannels, white shoes,
and a Panama hat, who turned back to wink at two gaily dressed ladies he
had passed. A wink, studied with such leisurely deliberation as we could
afford, is an unattractive thing. It loses any quality of alert gaiety,
and one remarks that the winking eye does not completely close, that under
its drooping lid appears the lower edge of an eyeball and a little line of
white. "Heaven give me memory," said I, "and I will never wink again."
"Or smile," said Gibberne, with his eye on the lady's answering teeth.
"It's infernally hot, somehow," said I, "Let's go slower."
"Oh, come along!" said Gibberne.
We picked our way among the bath-chairs in the path. Many of the people
sitting in the chairs seemed almost natural in their passive poses, but
the contorted scarlet of the bandsmen was not a restful thing to see. A
purple-faced little gentleman was frozen in the midst of a violent
struggle to refold his newspaper against the wind; there were many
evidences that all these people in their sluggish way were exposed to a
considerable breeze, a breeze that had no existence so far as our
sensations went. We came out and walked a little way from the crowd, and
turned and regarded it. To see all that multitude changed to a picture,
smitten rigid, as it were, into the semblance of realistic wax, was
impossibly wonderful. It was absurd, of course; but it filled me with an
irrational, an exultant sense of superior advantage. Consider the wonder
of it! All that I had said, and thought, and done since the stuff had
begun to work in my veins had happened, so far as those people, so far as
the world in general went, in the twinkling of an eye. "The New
Accelerator——" I began, but Gibberne interrupted me.
"There's that infernal old woman!" he said.
"What old woman?"
"Lives next door to me," said Gibberne. "Has a lapdog that yaps. Gods! The
temptation is strong!"
There is something very boyish and impulsive about Gibberne at times.
Before I could expostulate with him he had dashed forward, snatched the
unfortunate animal out of visible existence, and was running violently
with it towards the cliff of the Leas. It was most extraordinary. The
little brute, you know, didn't bark or wriggle or make the slightest sign
of vitality. It kept quite stiffly in an attitude of somnolent repose, and
Gibberne held it by the neck. It was like running about with a dog of
wood. "Gibberne," I cried, "put it down!" Then I said something else. "If
you run like that, Gibberne," I cried, "you'll set your clothes on fire.
Your linen trousers are going brown as it is!"
He clapped his hand on his thigh and stood hesitating on the verge.
"Gibberne," I cried, coming up, "put it down. This heat is too much! It's
our running so! Two or three miles a second! Friction of the air!"
"What?" he said, glancing at the dog.
"Friction of the air," I shouted. "Friction of the air. Going too fast.
Like meteorites and things. Too hot. And, Gibberne! Gibberne! I'm all over
pricking and a sort of perspiration. You can see people stirring slightly.
I believe the stuff's working off! Put that dog down."
"Eh?" he said.
"It's working off," I repeated. "We're too hot and the stuff's working
off! I'm wet through."
He stared at me, then at the band, the wheezy rattle of whose performance
was certainly going faster. Then with a tremendous sweep of the arm he
hurled the dog away from him and it went spinning upward, still inanimate,
and hung at last over the grouped parasols of a knot of chattering people.
Gibberne was gripping my elbow. "By Jove!" he cried, "I believe it
is! A sort of hot pricking and—yes. That man's moving his
pocket-handkerchief! Perceptibly. We must get out of this sharp."
But we could not get out of it sharply enough. Luckily, perhaps! For we
might have run, and if we had run we should, I believe, have burst into
flames. Almost certainly we should have burst into flames! You know we had
neither of us thought of that… But before we could even begin to run
the action of the drug had ceased. It was the business of a minute
fraction of a second. The effect of the New Accelerator passed like the
drawing of a curtain, vanished in the movement of a hand. I heard
Gibberne's voice in infinite alarm. "Sit down," he said, and flop, down
upon the turf at the edge of the Leas I sat—scorching as I sat. There is
a patch of burnt grass there still where I sat down. The whole stagnation
seemed to wake up as I did so, the disarticulated vibration of the band
rushed together into a blast of music, the promenaders put their feet down
and walked their ways, the papers and flags began flapping, smiles passed
into words, the winker finished his wink and went on his way complacently,
and all the seated people moved and spoke.
The whole world had come alive again, was going as fast as we were, or
rather we were going no faster than the rest of the world. It was like
slowing down as one comes into a railway station. Everything seemed to
spin round for a second or two, I had the most transient feeling of
nausea, and that was all. And the little dog, which had seemed to hang for
a moment when the force of Gibberne's arm was expended, fell with a swift
acceleration clean through a lady's parasol!
That was the saving of us. Unless it was for one corpulent old gentleman
in a bath-chair, who certainly did start at the sight of us, and
afterwards regarded us at intervals with a darkly suspicious eye, and,
finally, I believe, said something to his nurse about us, I doubt if a
solitary person remarked our sudden appearance among them. Plop! We must
have appeared abruptly. We ceased to smoulder almost at once, though the
turf beneath me was uncomfortably hot. The attention of every one—
including even the Amusements' Association band, which on this occasion,
for the only time in its history, got out of tune—was arrested by the
amazing fact, and the still more amazing yapping and uproar caused by the
fact, that a respectable, over-fed lapdog sleeping quietly to the east of
the bandstand should suddenly fall through the parasol of a lady on the
west—in a slightly singed condition due to the extreme velocity of its
movements through the air. In these absurd days, too, when we are all
trying to be as psychic, and silly, and superstitious as possible! People
got up and trod on other people, chairs were overturned, the Leas
policeman ran. How the matter settled itself I do not know—we were much
too anxious to disentangle ourselves from the affair and get out of range
of the eye of the old gentleman in the bath-chair to make minute
inquiries. As soon as we were sufficiently cool and sufficiently recovered
from our giddiness and nausea and confusion of mind to do so we stood up,
and skirting the crowd, directed our steps back along the road below the
Metropole towards Gibberne's house. But amidst the din I heard very
distinctly the gentleman who had been sitting beside the lady of the
ruptured sunshade using quite unjustifiable threats and language to one of
those chair-attendants who have "Inspector" written on their caps: "If you
didn't throw the dog," he said, "who did?"
The sudden return of movement and familiar noises, and our natural anxiety
about ourselves (our clothes were still dreadfully hot, and the fronts of
the thighs of Gibberne's white trousers were scorched a drabbish brown),
prevented the minute observations I should have liked to make on all these
things. Indeed, I really made no observations of any scientific value on
that return. The bee, of course, had gone. I looked for that cyclist, but
he was already out of sight as we came into the Upper Sandgate Road or
hidden from us by traffic; the char-à-banc, however, with its
people now all alive and stirring, was clattering along at a spanking pace
almost abreast of the nearer church.
We noted, however, that the window-sill on which we had stepped in getting
out of the house was slightly singed, and that the impressions of our feet
on the gravel of the path were unusually deep.
So it was I had my first experience of the New Accelerator. Practically we
had been running about and saying and doing all sorts of things in the
space of a second or so of time. We had lived half an hour while the band
had played, perhaps, two bars. But the effect it had upon us was that the
whole world had stopped for our convenient inspection. Considering all
things, and particularly considering our rashness in venturing out of the
house, the experience might certainly have been much more disagreeable
than it was. It showed, no doubt, that Gibberne has still much to learn
before his preparation is a manageable convenience, but its practicability
it certainly demonstrated beyond all cavil.
Since that adventure he has been steadily bringing its use under control,
and I have several times, and without the slightest bad result, taken
measured doses under his direction; though I must confess I have not yet
ventured abroad again while under its influence. I may mention, for
example, that this story has been written at one sitting and without
interruption, except for the nibbling of some chocolate, by its means. I
began at 6.25, and my watch is now very nearly at the minute past the
half-hour. The convenience of securing a long, uninterrupted spell of work
in the midst of a day full of engagements cannot be exaggerated. Gibberne
is now working at the quantitative handling of his preparation, with
especial reference to its distinctive effects upon different types of
constitution. He then hopes to find a Retarder, with which to dilute its
present rather excessive potency. The Retarder will, of course, have the
reverse effect to the Accelerator; used alone it should enable the patient
to spread a few seconds over many hours of ordinary time, and so to
maintain an apathetic inaction, a glacier-like absence of alacrity, amidst
the most animated or irritating surroundings. The two things together must
necessarily work an entire revolution in civilised existence. It is the
beginning of our escape from that Time Garment of which Carlyle speaks.
While this Accelerator will enable us to concentrate ourselves with
tremendous impact upon any moment or occasion that demands our utmost
sense and vigour, the Retarder will enable us to pass in passive
tranquillity through infinite hardship and tedium. Perhaps I am a little
optimistic about the Retarder, which has indeed still to be discovered,
but about the Accelerator there is no possible sort of doubt whatever. Its
appearance upon the market in a convenient, controllable, and assimilable
form is a matter of the next few months. It will be obtainable of all
chemists and druggists, in small green bottles, at a high but, considering
its extraordinary qualities, by no means excessive price. Gibberne's
Nervous Accelerator it will be called, and he hopes to be able to supply
it in three strengths: one in 200, one in 900, and one in 2000,
distinguished by yellow, pink, and white labels respectively.
No doubt its use renders a great number of very extraordinary things
possible; for, of course, the most remarkable and, possibly, even criminal
proceedings may be effected with impunity by thus dodging, as it were,
into the interstices of time. Like all potent preparations, it will be
liable to abuse. We have, however, discussed this aspect of the question
very thoroughly, and we have decided that this is purely a matter of
medical jurisprudence and altogether outside our province. We shall
manufacture and sell the Accelerator, and as for the consequences—we