Book: The Mammoth Book of Extreme Fantasy

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The following, apart from some slight comparison with the Carnacki stories, is unlike anything else Hodgson wrote. He completed the story in January 1912 but was unable to find a market. That’s not too surprising, considering the subject matter, which some may have regarded as blasphemous. It was not until after his death that his widow, Betty, who meticulously kept track of Hodgson’s writings and continued to try and sell them after the War, managed to place it with Nash’s Illustrated Weekly. It appeared there in the issue for 17 September 1919 under the title “The Baumoff Experiment”.

The story is reprinted here under Hodgson’s original working title, which were amongst the last words Christ spoke on the cross, and translate as “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?

Dally, Whitlaw and I were discussing the recent stupendous explosion which had occurred in the vicinity of Berlin. We were marvelling concerning the extraordinary period of darkness that had followed, and which had aroused so much newspaper comment, with theories galore.

The papers had got hold of the fact that the War Authorities had been experimenting with a new explosive, invented by a certain chemist, named Baumoff, and they referred to it constantly as “The New Baumoff Explosive”.

We were in the Club, and the fourth man at our table was John Stafford, who was professionally a medical man, but privately in the Intelligence Department. Once or twice, as we talked, I had glanced at Stafford, wishing to fire a question at him; for he had been acquainted with Baumoff. But I managed to hold my tongue; for I knew that if I asked out pointblank, Stafford (who’s a good sort, but a bit of an ass as regards his almost ponderous code-of-silence) would be just as like as not to say that it was a subject upon which he felt he was not entitled to speak.

Oh, I know the old donkey’s way; and when he had once said that, we might just make up our minds never to get another word out of him on the matter as long as we lived. Yet, I was satisfied to notice that he seemed a bit restless, as if he were on the itch to shove in his oar; by which I guessed that the papers we were quoting had got things very badly muddled indeed, in some way or other, at least as regarded his friend Baumoff Suddenly, he spoke:

“What unmitigated, wicked piffle!” said Stafford, quite warm. “I tell you it is wicked, this associating of Baumoff’s name with war inventions and such horrors. He was the most intensely poetical and earnest follower of the Christ that I have ever met; and it is just the brutal Irony of Circumstance that has attempted to use one of the products of his genius for a purpose of Destruction. But you’ll find they won’t be able to use it, in spite of their having got hold of Baumoff’s formula. As an explosive it is not practicable. It is, shall I say, too impartial; there is no way of controlling it.

“I know more about it, perhaps, than any man alive; for I was Baumoff’s greatest friend, and when he died, I lost the best comrade a man ever had. I need make no secret about it to you chaps. I was on duty’ in Berlin, and I was deputed to get in touch with Baumoff. The government had long had an eye on him; he was an Experimental Chemist, you know, and altogether too jolly clever to ignore. But there was no need to worry about him. I got to know him, and we became enormous friends, for I soon found that he would never turn his abilities towards any new war-contrivance, and so, you see, I was able to enjoy my friendship with him, with a comfy conscience – a thing our chaps are not always able to do in their friendships. Oh, I tell you, it’s a mean, sneaking, treacherous sort of business, ours, though it’s necessary; just as some odd man, or other, has to be a hangsman. There’s a number of unclean jobs to be done to keep the Social Machine running!

“I think Baumoff was the most enthusiastic intelligent believer in Christ that it will be ever possible to produce. I learned that he was compiling and evolving a treatise of most extraordinary and convincing proofs in support of the more inexplicable things concerning the life and death of Christ. He was, when I became acquainted with him, concentrating his attention particularly upon endeavouring to show that the Darkness of the Cross, between the sixth and the ninth hours, was a very real thing, possessing a tremendous significance. He intended at one sweep to smash utterly all talk of a timely thunderstorm or any of the other more or less inefficient theories which have been brought forward from time to time to explain the occurrence away as being a thing of no particular significance.

“Baumoff had a pet aversion, an atheistic Professor of Physics, named Hautch, who – using the “marvellous” element of the life and death of Christ, as a fulcrum from which to attack Baumoff’s theories – smashed at him constantly, both in his lectures and in print. Particularly did he pour bitter unbelief upon Baumoff”s upholding that the Darkness of the Cross was anything more than a gloomy hour or two, magnified into blackness by the emotional inaccuracy of the Eastern mind and tongue.

“One evening, some time after our friendship had become very real, I called on Baumoff, and found him in a state of tremendous indignation over some article of the Professor’s which attacked him brutally; using his theory of the Significance of the ‘Darkness’, as a target. Poor Baumoff! It was certainly a marvellously clever attack; the attack of a thoroughly trained, well-balanced Logician. But Baumoff was something more, he was Genius. It is a title few have any rights to, but it was his!

“He talked to me about his theory, telling me that he wanted to show me a small experiment, presently, bearing out his opinions. In his talk, he told me several things that interested me extremely. Having first reminded me of the fundamental fact that light is conveyed to the eye through the means of that indefinable medium, named the Æther. He went a step further, and pointed out to me that, from an aspect which more approached the primary, Light was a vibration of the Æther, of a certain definite number of waves per second, which possessed the power of producing upon our retina the sensation which we term Light.

“To this, I nodded; being, as of course is everyone, acquainted with so well-known a statement. From this, he took a quick, mental stride, and told me that an ineffably vague, but measurable, darkening of the atmosphere (greater or smaller according to the personality-force of the individual) was always evoked in the immediate vicinity of the human, during any period of great emotional stress.

“Step by step, Baumoff showed me how his research had led him to the conclusion that this queer darkening (a million times too subtle to be apparent to the eye) could be produced only through something which had power to disturb or temporally interrupt or break up the Vibration of Light. In other words, there was, at any time of unusual emotional activity, some disturbance of the Æther in the immediate vicinity of the person suffering, which had some effect upon the Vibration of Light, interrupting it, and producing the aforementioned infinitely vague darkening.

“‘Yes?’ I said, as he paused, and looked at me, as if expecting me to have arrived at a certain definite deduction through his remarks. ‘Go on.’

“‘Well,’ he said, ‘don’t you see, the subtle darkening around the person suffering, is greater or less, according to the personality of the suffering human. Don’t you?’

“‘Oh!’ I said, with a little gasp of astounded comprehension, ‘I see what you mean. You – you mean that if the agony of a person of ordinary personality can produce a faint disturbance of the Æther, with a consequent faint darkening, then the Agony of Christ, possessed of the Enormous Personality of the Christ, would produce a terrific disturbance of the Æther, and therefore, it might chance, of the Vibration of Light, and that this is the true explanation of the Darkness of the Cross; and that the fact of such an extraordinary and apparently unnatural and improbable Darkness having been recorded is not a thing to weaken the Marvel of Christ. But one more unutterably wonderful, infallible proof of His God-like power? Is that it? Is it? Tell me?’

“Baumoff just rocked on his chair with delight, beating one fist into the palm of his other hand, and nodding all the time to my summary. How he loved to be understood; as the Searcher always craves to be understood.

“‘And now,’ he said, ‘I’m going to show you something.’

“He took a tiny, corked test-tube out of his waistcoat pocket, and emptied its contents (which consisted of a single, grey-white grain, about twice the size of an ordinary pin’s head) on to his dessert plate. He crushed it gently to powder with the ivory handle of a knife, then damped it gently, with a single minim of what I supposed to be water, and worked it up into a tiny patch of grey-white paste. He then took out his gold tooth-pick, and thrust it into the flame of a small chemist’s spirit lamp, which had been lit since dinner as a pipe-lighter. He held the gold tooth-pick in the flame, until the narrow, gold blade glowed whitehot.

“‘Now look!’ he said, and touched the end of the tooth-pick against the infinitesmal patch upon the dessert plate. There came a swift little violet flash, and suddenly I found that I was staring at Baumoff through a sort of transparent darkness, which faded swiftly into a black opaqueness. I thought at first this must be the complementary effect of the flash upon the retina. But a minute passed, and we were still in that extraordinary darkness.

“‘My Gracious! Man! What is it?’ I asked, at last.

“His voice explained then, that he had produced, through the medium of chemistry, an exaggerated effect which simulated, to some extent, the disturbance in the Æther produced by waves thrown off by any person during an emotional crisis or agony. The waves, or vibrations, sent out by his experiment produced only a partial simulation of the effect he wished to show me – merely the temporary interruption of the Vibration of Light, with the resulting darkness in which we both now sat.

“‘That stuff,’ said Baumoff, ‘would be a tremendous explosive, under certain conditions.’

I heard him puffing at his pipe, as he spoke, but instead of the glow of the pipe shining out visible and red, there was only a faint glare that wavered and disappeared in the most extraordinary fashion.

“‘My Goodness!’ I said, when’s this going away?’ And I stared across the room to where the big kerosene lamp showed only as a faintly glimmering patch in the gloom; a vague light that shivered and flashed oddly, as though I saw it through an immense gloomy depth of dark and disturbed water.

“‘It’s all right,’ Baumoff’s voice said from out of the darkness. ‘It’s going now; in five minutes the disturbance will have quieted, and the waves of light will flow off evenly from the lamp in their normal fashion. But, while we’re waiting, isn’t it immense, eh?’

“‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It’s wonderful; but it’s rather unearthly, you know’

“‘Oh, but I’ve something much finer to show you,’ he said. ‘The real thing. Wait another minute. The darkness is going. See! You can see the light from the lamp now quite plainly. It looks as if it were submerged in a boil of waters, doesn’t it? that are growing clearer and clearer and quieter and quieter all the time.’

“It was as he said; and we watched the lamp, silently, until all signs of the disturbance of the light-carrying medium had ceased. Then Baumoff faced me once more.

“‘Now,’ he said. ‘You’ve seen the somewhat casual effects of just crude combustion of that stuff of mine. I’m going to show you the effects of combusting it in the human furnace, that is, in my own body; and then, you’ll see one of the great wonders of Christ’s death reproduced on a miniature scale.’

“He went across to the mantelpiece, and returned with a small, 120 minim glass and another of the tiny, corked test-tubes, containing a single grey-white grain of his chemical substance. He uncorked the test-tube, and shook the grain of substance into the minim glass, and then, with a glass stirring-rod, crushed it up in the bottom of the glass, adding water, drop by drop as he did so, until there were sixty minims in the glass.

“‘Now!’ he said, and lifting it, he drank the stuff. ‘We will give it thirty-five minutes,’ he continued; ‘then, as carbonization proceeds, you will find my pulse will increase, as also the respiration, and presently there will come the darkness again, in the subtlest, strangest fashion; but accompanied now by certain physical and psychic phenomena, which will be owing to the fact that the vibrations it will throw off, will be blent into what I might call the emotional-vibrations, which I shall give off in my distress. These will be enormously intensified, and you will possibly experience an extraordinarily interesting demonstration of the soundness of my more theoretical reasonings. I tested it by myself last week’ (He waved a bandaged finger at me), ‘and I read a paper to the Club on the results. They are very enthusiastic, and have promised their co-operation in the big demonstration I intend to give on next Good Friday – that’s seven weeks off, to-day’

“He had ceased smoking; but continued to talk quietly in this fashion for the next thirty-five minutes. The Club to which he had referred was a peculiar association of men, banded together under the presidentship of Baumoff himself, and having for their appellation the title of- so well as I can translate it – ‘The Believers And Provers Of Christ’. If I may say so, without any thought of irreverence, they were, many of them, men fanatically crazed to uphold the Christ. You will agree later, I think, that I have not used an incorrect term, in describing the bulk of the members of this extraordinary club, which was, in its way, well worthy of one of the religio-maniacal extrudences which have been forced into temporary being by certain of the more religiously-emotional minded of our cousins across the water.

“Baumoff looked at the clock; then held out his wrist to me. ‘Take my pulse,’ he said, ‘it’s rising fast. Interesting data, you know.’

“I nodded, and drew out my watch. I had noticed that his respirations were increasing; and I found his pulse running evenly and strongly at 105. Three minutes later, it had risen to 175, and his respirations to 41. In a further three minutes, I took his pulse again, and found it running at 203, but with the rhythm regular. His respirations were then 49. He had, as I knew, excellent lungs, and his heart was sound. His lungs, I may say, were of exceptional capacity, and there was at this stage no marked dyspnoea. Three minutes later I found the pulse to be 227, and the respiration 54.

“‘You’ve plenty of red corpuscles, Baumoff!’ I said. ‘But I hope you’re not going to overdo things.’

“He nodded at me, and smiled; but said nothing. Three minutes later, when I took the last pulse, it was 233, and the two sides of the heart were sending out unequal quantities of blood, with an irregular rhythm. The respiration had risen to 67 and was becoming shallow and ineffectual, and dyspnoea was becoming very marked. The small amount of arterial blood leaving the left side of the heart betrayed itself in the curious bluish and white tinge of the face.

“‘Baumoff!’ I said, and began to remonstrate; but he checked me, with a queerly invincible gesture.

“‘It’s all right!’ he said, breathlessly, with a little note of impatience. ‘I know what I’m doing all the time. You must remember I took the same degree as you in medicine.’

“It was quite true. I remembered then that he had taken his MD in London; and this in addition to half a dozen other degrees in different branches of the sciences in his own country. And then, even as the memory reassured me that he was not acting in ignorance of the possible danger, he called out in a curious, breathless voice:

“‘The Darkness! It’s beginning. Take note of every single thing. Don’t bother about me. I’m all right!’

“I glanced swiftly round the room. It was as he had said. I perceived it now. There appeared to be an extraordinary quality of gloom growing in the atmosphere of the room. A kind of bluish gloom, vague, and scarcely, as yet, affecting the transparency of the atmosphere to light.

“Suddenly, Baumoff did something that rather sickened me. He drew his wrist away from me, and reached out to a small metal box, such as one sterilizes a hypodermic in. He opened the box, and took out four rather curious looking drawing-pins, I might call them, only they had spikes of steel fully an inch long, whilst all around the rim of the heads (which were also of steel) there projected downward, parallel with the central spike, a number of shorter spikes, maybe an eighth of an inch long.

“He kicked off his pumps; then stooped and slipped his socks off, and I saw that he was wearing a pair of linen inner-socks.

“‘Antiseptic!’ he said, glancing at me. ‘Got my feet ready before you came. No use running unnecessary risks.’ He gasped as he spoke. Then he took one of the curious little steel spikes.

“‘I’ve sterilized them,’ he said; and therewith, with deliberation, he pressed it in up to the head into his foot between the second and third branches of the dorsal artery.

“‘For God’s sake, what are you doing!’ I said, half rising from my chair.

“‘Sit down!’ he said, in a grim sort of voice. ‘I can’t have any interference. I want you simply to observe; keep note of everything. You ought to thank me for the chance, instead of worrying me, when you know I shall go my own way all the time.’

“As he spoke, he had pressed in the second of the steel spikes up to the hilt in his left instep, taking the same precaution to avoid the arteries. Not a groan had come from him; only his face betrayed the effect of this additional distress.

“‘My dear chap!’ he said, observing my upsetness. ‘Do be sensible. I know exactly what I’m doing. There simply must be distress, and the readiest way to reach that condition is through physical pain.’

“His speech had becomes a series of spasmodic words, between gasps, and sweat lay in great clear drops upon his lip and forehead. He slipped off his belt and proceeded to buckle it round both the back of his chair and his waist; as if he expected to need some support from falling.

“‘It’s wicked!’ I said. Baumoff made an attempt to shrug his heaving shoulders, that was, in its way, one of the most piteous things that I have seen, in its sudden laying bare of the agony that the man was making so little of.

“He was now cleaning the palms of his hands with a little sponge, which he dipped from time to time in a cup of solution. I knew what he was going to do, and suddenly he jerked out, with a painful attempt to grin, an explanation of his bandaged finger. He had held his finger in the flame of the spirit lamp, during his previous experiment; but now, as he made clear in gaspingly uttered words, he wished to simulate as far as possible the actual conditions of the great scene that he had so much in mind. He made it so clear to me that we might expect to experience something very extraordinary, that I was conscious of a sense of almost superstitious nervousness.

“‘I wish you wouldn’t, Baumoff!’ I said.

“‘Don’t – be – silly!’ he managed to say. But the two latter words were more groans than words; for between each, he had thrust home right to the heads in the palms of his hands the two remaining steel spikes. He gripped his hands shut, with a sort of spasm of savage determination, and I saw the point of one of the spikes break through the back of his hand, between the extensor tendons of the second and third fingers. A drop of blood beaded the point of the spike. I looked at Baumoff’s face; and he looked back steadily at me.

“‘No interference,’ he managed to ejaculate. ‘I’ve not gone through all this for nothing. I know – what – I’m doing. Look – it’s coming. Take note – everything!’

“He relapsed into silence, except for his painful gasping. I realised that I must give way, and I stared round the room, with a peculiar commingling of an almost nervous discomfort and a stirring of very real and sober curiosity.

“‘Oh,’ said Baumoff, after a moment’s silence, ‘something’s going to happen. I can tell. Oh, wait – till I – I have my – big demonstration. I’ll show that brute Hautch.”

“I nodded; but I doubt that he saw me; for his eyes had a distinctly in-turned look, the iris was rather relaxed. I glanced away round the room again; there was a distinct occasional breaking up of the light-rays from the lamp, giving a coming-and-going effect.

“The atmosphere of the room was also quite plainly darker – heavy, with an extraordinary sense of gloom. The bluish tint was unmistakably more in evidence; but there was, as yet, none of that opacity which we had experienced before, upon simple combustion, except for the occasional, vague coming-and-going of the lamp-light.

“Baurnoff began to speak again, getting his words out between gasps. ‘Th’ – this dodge of mine gets the – pain into the – the – right place. Right association of – of ideas – emotions – for – best – results. You follow me? Parallelizing things – as – much as – possible. Fixing whole attention – on the – the death scene – ‘

“He gasped painfully for a few moments. ‘We demonstrate truth of – of The Darkening; but – but there’s psychic effect to be – looked for, through – results of parallelization of – conditions. May have extraordinary simulation of – the actual thing. Keep note. Keep note.’ Then, suddenly, with a clear, spasmodic burst: ‘My God, Stafford, keep note of everything. Something’s going to happen. Something – wonderful – Promise not – to bother me. I know – what I’m doing.’

“Baurnoff ceased speaking, with a gasp, and there was only the labour of his breathing in the quietness of the room. As I stared at him, halting from a dozen things I needed to say, I realized suddenly that I could no longer see him quite plainly; a sort of wavering in the atmosphere, between us, made him seem momentarily unreal. The whole room had darkened perceptibly in the last thirty seconds; and as I stared around, I realized that there was a constant invisible swirl in the fast-deepening, extraordinary blue gloom that seemed now to permeate everything. When I looked at the lamp, alternate flashings of light and blue – darkness followed each other with an amazing swiftness.

“‘My God!’ I heard Baumoff whispering in the half-darkness, as if to himself, ‘how did Christ bear the nails!’

“I stared across at him, with an infinite discomfort, and an irritated pity troubling me; but I knew it was no use to remonstrate now. I saw him vaguely distorted through the wavering tremble of the atmosphere. It was somewhat as if I looked at him through convolutions of heated air; only there were marvellous waves of blue-blackness making gaps in my sight. Once I saw his face clearly, full of an infinite pain, that was somehow, seemingly, more spiritual than physical, and dominating everything was an expression of enormous resolution and concentration, making the livid, sweat-damp, agonized face somehow heroic and splendid.

“And then, drenching the room with waves and splashes of opaqueness, the vibration of his abnormally stimulated agony finally broke up the vibration of Light. My last, swift glance round, showed me, as it seemed, the invisible Æther boiling and eddying in a tremendous fashion; and, abruptly, the flame of the lamp was lost in an extraordinary swirling patch of light, that marked its position for several moments, shimmering and deadening, shimmering and deadening; until, abruptly, I saw neither that glimmering patch of light, nor anything else. I was suddenly lost in a black opaqueness of night, through which came the fierce, painful breathing of Baumoff.

“A full minute passed; but so slowly that, if I had not been counting Baumoff’s respirations, I should have said that it was five. Then Baumoff spoke suddenly, in a voice that was, somehow, curiously changed – a certain toneless note in it:

“‘My God!’ he said, from out of the darkness, ‘what must Christ have suffered!’

“It was in the succeeding silence, that I had the first realization that I was vaguely afraid; but the feeling was too indefinite and unfounded, and I might say subconscious, for me to face it out. Three minutes passed, while I counted the almost desperate respirations that came to me through the darkness. Then Baumoff began to speak again, and still in that peculiarly altering voice:

“‘By Thy Agony and Bloody Sweat,’ he muttered. Twice he repeated this. It was plain indeed that he had fixed his whole attention with tremendous intensity, in his abnormal state, upon the death scene.

“The effect upon me of his intensity was interesting and in some ways extraordinary. As well as I could, I analyzed my sensations and emotions and general state of mind, and realized that Baumoff was producing an effect upon me that was almost hypnotic.

“Once, partly because I wished to get my level by the aid of a normal remark, and also because I was suddenly newly anxious by a change in the breathsounds, I asked Baumoff how he was. My voice going with a peculiar and really uncomfortable blankness through that impenetrable blackness of opacity.

“He said: ‘Hush! I’m carrying the Cross.’ And, do you know, the effect of those simple words, spoken in that new, toneless voice, in that atmosphere of almost unbearable tenseness, was so powerful that, suddenly, with eyes wide open, I saw Baumoff clear and vivid against that unnatural darkness, carrying a Cross. Not, as the picture is usually shown of the Christ, with it crooked over the shoulder; but with the Cross gripped just under the cross-piece in his arms, and the end trailing behind, along rocky ground. I saw even the pattern of the grain of the rough wood, where some of the bark had been ripped away; and under the trailing end there was a tussock of tough wire-grass, that had been uprooted by the lowing end, and dragged and ground along upon the rocks, between the end of the Cross and the rocky ground. I can see the thing now, as I speak. Its vividness was extraordinary; but it had come and gone like a flash, and I was sitting there in the darkness, mechanically counting the respirations; yet unaware that I counted.

“As I sat there, it came to me suddenly – the whole entire marvel of the thing that Baumoff had achieved. I was sitting there in a darkness which was an actual reproduction of the miracle of the Darkness of the Cross. In short, Baumoff had, by producing in himself an abnormal condition, developed an Energy of Emotion that must have almost, in its effects, paralleled the Agony of the Cross. And in so doing, he had shown from an entirely new and wonderful point, the indisputable truth of the stupendous personality and the enormous spiritual force of the Christ. He had evolved and made practical to the average understanding a proof that would make to live again the reality of that wonder of the world – CHRIST. And for all this, I had nothing but admiration of an almost stupefied kind.

“But, at this point, I felt that the experiment should stop. I had a strangely nervous craving for Baumoff to end it right there and then, and not to try to parallel the psychic conditions. I had, even then, by some queer aid of sub-conscious suggestion, a vague reaching-out-towards the danger of ‘monstrosity’ being induced, instead of any actual knowledge gained.

“‘Baumoff!’ I said. ‘Stop it.’

“But he made no reply, and for some minutes there followed a silence, that was unbroken, save by his gasping breathing. Abruptly, Baumoff said, between his gasps: ‘Woman – behold – thy – son. ‘ He muttered this several times, in the same uncomfortably toneless voice in which he had spoken since the darkness became complete.

“‘Baumoff.’ I said again. ‘Baumoff! Stop it.’ “And as I listened for his answer, I was relieved to think that his breathing was less shallow. The abnormal demand for oxygen was evidently being met, and the extravagant call upon the heart’s efficiency was being relaxed.

“‘Baumoff!’ I said, once more. ‘Baumoff! Stop it!’

“And, as I spoke, abruptly, I thought the room was shaken a little.

“Now, I had already as you will have realized, been vaguely conscious of a peculiar and growing nervousness. I think that is the word that best describes it, up to this moment. At this curious little shake that seemed to stir through the utterly dark room, I was suddenly more than nervous. I felt a thrill of actual and literal fear; yet with no sufficient cause of reason to justify me; so that, after sitting very tense for some long minutes, and feeling nothing further, I decided that I needed to take myself in hand, and keep a firmer grip upon my nerves. And then, just as I had arrived at this more comfortable state of mind, the room was shaken again, with the most curious and sickening oscillatory movement, that was beyond all comfort of denial.

“‘My God!’ I whispered. And then, with a sudden effort of courage, I called: ‘Baumoff! For God’s sake stop it.

“You’ve no idea of the effort it took to speak aloud into that darkness; and when I did speak, the sound of my voice set me afresh on edge. It went so empty and raw across the room; and somehow, the room seemed to be incredibly big. Oh, I wonder whether you realize how beastly I felt, without my having to make any further effort to tell you.

“And Baumoff never answered a word; but I could hear him breathing, a little fuller; though still heaving his thorax painfully, in his need for air. The incredible shaking of the room eased away; and there succeeded a spasm of quiet, in which I felt that it was my duty to get up and step across to Baumoffs chair. But I could not do it. Somehow, I would not have touched Baumoff then for any cause whatever. Yet, even in that moment, as now I know, I was not aware that I was afraid to touch Baumoff.

“And then the oscillations commenced again. I felt the seat of my trousers slide against the seat of my chair, and I thrust out my legs, spreading my feet against the carpet, to keep me from sliding off one way or the other on to the floor. To say I was afraid, was not to describe my state at all. I was terrified. And suddenly, I had comfort, in the most extraordinary fashion; for a single idea literally glazed into my brain, and gave me a reason to which to cling. It was a single line:

“‘Æther, the soul of iron and sundry stuffs’ which Baumoff had once taken as a text for an extraordinary lecture on vibrations, in the earlier days of our friendship. He had formulated the suggestion that, in embryo, Matter was, from a primary aspect, a localized vibration, traversing a closed orbit. These primary localized vibrations were inconceivably minute. But were capable, under certain conditions, of combining under the action of keynote-vibrations into secondary vibrations of a size and shape to be determined by a multitude of only guessable factors. These would sustain their new form, so long as nothing occurred to disorganize their combination or depreciate or divert their energy – their unity being partially determined by the inertia of the still Æther outside of the closed path which their area of activities covered. And such combination of the primary localised vibrations was neither more nor less than matter. Men and worlds, aye! and universes.

“And then he had said the thing that struck me most. He had said, that if it were possible to produce a vibration of the Æther of a sufficient energy, it would be possible to disorganize or confuse the vibration of matter. That, given a machine capable of creating a vibration of the Æther of a sufficient energy, he would engage to destroy not merely the world, but the whole universe itself, including heaven and hell themselves, if such places existed, and had such existence in a material form.

“I remember how I looked at him, bewildered by the pregnancy and scope of his imagination. And now his lecture had come back to me to help my courage with the sanity of reason. Was it not possible that the Æther disturbance which he had produced, had sufficient energy to cause some disorganization of the vibration of matter, in the immediate vicinity, and had thus created a miniature quaking of the ground all about the house, and so set the house gently a-shake?

“And then, as this thought came to me, another and a greater, flashed into my mind. ‘My God!’ I said out loud into the darkness of the room. It explains one more mystery of the Cross, the disturbance of the Æther caused by Christ’s Agony, disorganized the vibration of matter in the vicinity of the Cross, and there was then a small local earthquake, which opened the graves, and rent the veil, possibly by disturbing its supports. And, of course, the earthquake was an effect, and not a cause, as belittlers of the Christ have always insisted.

“‘Baumoff!’ I called. ‘Baumoff, you’ve proved another thing. Baumoff! Baumoff! Answer me. Are you all right?’

“Baumoff answered, sharp and sudden out of the darkness; but not to me:

“‘My God!’ he said. ‘My God!’ His voice came out at me, a cry of veritable mental agony. He was suffering, in some hypnotic, induced fashion, something of the very agony of the Christ Himself.

“‘Baumoff!” I shouted, and forced myself to my feet. I heard his chair clattering, as he sat there and shook. ‘Baumoff!’

An extraordinary quake went across the floor of the room, and I heard a creaking of the woodwork, and something fell and smashed in the darkness. Baumoff’s gasps hurt me; but I stood there. I dared not go to him. I knew then that I was afraid of him – of his condition, or something I don’t know what. But, oh, I was horribly afraid of him.

“‘Bau – ‘ I began, but suddenly I was afraid even to speak to him. And I could not move. Abruptly, he cried out in a tone of incredible anguish:

“‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani!’ But the last word changed in his mouth, from his dreadful hypnotic grief and pain, to a scream of simply infernal terror.

“And, suddenly, a horrible mocking voice roared out in the room, from Baumoff’s chair: ‘Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani!’

“Do you understand, the voice was not Baumoff’s at all. It was not a voice of despair; but a voice sneering in an incredible, bestial, monstrous fashion. In the succeeding silence, as I stood in an ice of fear, I knew that Baumoff no longer gasped. The room was absolutely silent, the most dreadful and silent place in all this world. Then I bolted; caught my foot, probably in the invisible edge of the hearth-rug, and pitched headlong into a blaze of internal brain-stars. After which, for a very long time, certainly some hours, I knew nothing of any kind.

“I came back into this Present, with a dreadful headache oppressing me, to the exclusion of all else. But the Darkness had dissipated. I rolled over on to my side, and saw Baumoff and forgot even the pain in my head. He was leaning forward towards me: his eyes wide open, but dull. His face was enormously swollen, and there was, somehow, something beastly about him. He was dead, and the belt about him and the chair-back, alone prevented him from falling forward on to me. His tongue was thrust out of one corner of his mouth. I shall always remember how he looked. He was leering, like a human-beast, more than a man.

“I edged away from him, across the floor; but I never stopped looking at him, until I had got to the other side of the door, and closed between us. Of course, I got my balance in a bit, and went back to him; but there was nothing I could do.

“Baumoff died of heart-failure, of course, obviously! I should never be so foolish as to suggest to any sane jury that, in his extraordinary, self-hypnotized, defenseless condition, he was ‘entered’ by some Christ-apeing Monster of the Void. I’ve too much respect for my own claim to be a common-sensible man, to put forward such an idea with seriousness! Oh, I know I may seem to speak with a jeer; but what can I do but jeer at myself and all the world, when I dare not acknowledge, even secretly to myself, what my own thoughts are. Baumoff did, undoubtedly die of heart-failure; and, for the rest, how much was I hypnotized into believing. Only, there was over by the far wall, where it had been shaken down to the floor from a solidly fastened-up bracket, a little pile of glass that had once formed a piece of beautiful Venetian glassware. You remember that I heard something fall, when the room shook. Surely the room did shake? Oh, I must stop thinking. My head goes round.

“The explosive the papers are talking about. Yes, that’s Baumoff’s; that makes it all seem true, doesn’t it? They had the darkness at Berlin, after the explosion. There is no getting away from that. The Government know only that Baumoff’s formulae is capable of producing the largest quantity of gas, in the shortest possible time. That, in short, it is ideally explosive. So it is; but I imagine it will prove an explosive, as I have already said, and as experience has proved, a little too impartial in its action for it to create enthusiasm on either side of a battlefield. Perhaps this is but a mercy, in disguise; certainly a mercy, if Baumoff’s theories as to the possibility of disorganizing matter, be anywhere near to the truth.

“I have thought sometimes that there might be a more normal explanation of the dreadful thing that happened at the end. Baumoff may have ruptured a blood-vessel in the brain, owing to the enormous arterial pressure that his experiment induced; and the voice I heard and the mockery and the horrible expression and leer may have been nothing more than the immediate outburst and expression of the natural ‘obliqueness’ of a deranged mind, which so often turns up a side of a man’s nature and produces an inversion of character, that is the very complement of his normal state. And certainly, poor Baumoff’s normal religious attitude was one of marvellous reverence and loyalty towards the Christ.

“Also, in support of this line of explanation, I have frequently observed that the voice of a person suffering from mental derangement is frequently wonderfully changed, and has in it often a very repellant and inhuman quality. I try to think that this explanation fits the case. But I can never forget that room. Never.”

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