Then Bindon, as he had arranged with his spiritual adviser, went into retreat. The retreat of the Huysmanite sect was a beautiful place, with the sweetest air in London, lit by natural sunlight, and with restful quadrangles of real grass open to the sky, where at the same time the penitent man of pleasure might enjoy all the pleasures of loafing and all the satisfaction of distinguished austerity. And, save for participation in the simple and wholesome dietary of the place and in certain magnificent chants, Bindon spent all his time in meditation upon the theme of Elizabeth, and the extreme purification his soul had undergone since he first saw her, and whether he would be able to get a dispensation to marry her from the experienced and sympathetic Father in spite of the approaching "sin" of her divorce; and then ... Bindon would lean against a pillar of the quadrangle and lapse into reveries on the superiority of virtuous love to any other form of indulgence. A curious feeling in his back and chest that was trying to attract his attention, a disposition to be hot or shiver, a general sense of ill-health and cutaneous discomfort he did his best to ignore. All that of course belonged to the old life that he was shaking off.
When he came out of retreat he went at once to Mwres to ask for news of Elizabeth. Mwres was clearly under the impression that he was an exemplary father, profoundly touched about the heart by his child's unhappiness. "She was pale", he said, greatly moved; "She was pale. When I asked her to come away and leave him - and be happy - she put her head down upon the table" - Mwres sniffed - "and cried."
His agitation was so great that he could say no more.
"Ah!" said Bindon, respecting this manly grief. "Oh!" said Bindon quite suddenly, with his hand to his side.
Mwres looked up sharply out of the pit of his sorrows, startled. "What's the matter?" he asked, visibly concerned.
"A most violent pain. Excuse me! You were telling me about Elizabeth."
And Mwres, after a decent solicitude for Bindon's pain, proceeded with his report. It was even unexpectedly hopeful. Elizabeth, in her first emotion at discovering that her father had not absolutely deserted her, had been frank with him about her sorrows and disgusts.
"Yes", said Bindon, magnificently, "I shall have her yet." And then that novel pain twitched him for the second time.
For these lower pains the priest was comparatively ineffectual, inclining rather to regard the body and them as mental illusions amenable to contemplation; so Bindon took it to a man of a class he loathed, a medical man of extraordinary repute and incivility. "We must go all over you", said the medical man, and did so with the most disgusting frankness. "Did you ever bring any children into the world?" asked this gross materialist among other impertinent questions.
"Not that I know of", said Bindon, too amazed to stand upon his dignity.
"Ah!" said the medical man, and proceeded with his punching and sounding. Medical science in those days was just reaching the beginnings of precision. "You'd better go right away", said the medical man, "and make the Euthanasia. The sooner the better."
Bindon gasped. He had been trying not to understand the technical explanations and anticipations in which the medical man had indulged.
"I say!" he said. "But do you mean to say ... Your science ..."
"Nothing", said the medical man. "A few opiates. The thing is your own doing, you know, to a certain extent."
"I was sorely tempted in my youth."
"It's not that so much. But you come of a bad stock. Even if you'd have taken precautions you'd have had bad times to wind up with. The mistake was getting born. The indiscretions of the parents. And you've shirked exercise, and so forth."
"I had no one to advise me."
"Medical men are always willing."
"I was a spirited young fellow."
"We won't argue; the mischief's done now. You've lived. We can't start you again. You ought never to have started at all. Frankly - the Euthanasia!"
Bindon hated him in silence for a space. Every word of this brutal expert jarred upon his refinements. He was so gross, so impermeable to all the subtler issues of being. But it is no good picking a quarrel with a doctor. "My religious beliefs", he said, "I don't approve of suicide."
"You've been doing it all your life."
"Well, anyhow, I've come to take a serious view of life now."
"You're bound to, if you go on living. You'll hurt. But for practical purposes it's late. However, if you mean to do that - perhaps I'd better mix you a little something. You'll hurt a great deal. These little twinges ..."
"Mere preliminary notices."
"How long can I go on? I mean, before I hurt - really."
"You'll get it hot soon. Perhaps three days."
Bindon tried to argue for an extension of time, and in the midst of his pleading gasped, put his hand to his side. Suddenly the extraordinary pathos of his life came to him clear and vivid. "It's hard", he said. "It's infernally hard! I've been no man's enemy but my own. I've always treated everybody quite fairly."
The medical man stared at him without any sympathy for some seconds. He was reflecting how excellent it was that there were no more Bindons to carry on that line of pathos. He felt quite optimistic. Then he turned to his telephone and ordered up a prescription from the Central Pharmacy.
He was interrupted by a voice behind him. "By God!" cried Bindon; "I'll have her yet."
The physician stared over his shoulder at Bindon's expression, and then altered the prescription.
So soon as this painful interview was over, Bindon gave way to rage. He settled that the medical man was not only an unsympathetic brute and wanting in the first beginnings of a gentleman, but also highly incompetent; and he went off to four other practitioners in succession, with a view to the establishment of this intuition. But to guard against surprises he kept that little prescription in his pocket. With each he began by expressing his grave doubts of the first doctor's intelligence, honesty and professional knowledge, and then stated his symptoms, suppressing only a few more material facts in each case. These were always subsequently elicited by the doctor. In spite of the welcome depreciation of another practitioner, none of these eminent specialists would give Bindon any hope of eluding the anguish and helplessness that loomed now close upon him. To the last of them he unburthened his mind of an accumulated disgust with medical science. "After centuries and centuries", he exclaimed hotly; "and you can do nothing - except admit your helplessness. I say, 'save me' - and what do you do?"
"No doubt it's hard on you", said the doctor. "But you should have taken precautions."
"How was I to know?"
"It wasn't our place to run after you", said the medical man, picking a thread of cotton from his purple sleeve. "Why should we save you in particular? You see - from one point of view - people with imaginations and passions like yours have to go - they have to go."
"Die out. It's an eddy."
He was a young man with a serene face. He smiled at Bindon. "We get on with research, you know; we give advice when people have the sense to ask for it. And we bide our time."
"Bide your time?"
"We hardly know enough yet to take over the management, you know."
"You needn't be anxious. Science is young yet. It's got to keep on growing for a few generations. We know enough now to know we don't know enough yet.... But the time is coming, all the same. You won't see the time. But, between ourselves, you rich men and party bosses, with your natural play of the passions and patriotism and religion and so forth, have made rather a mess of things; haven't you? These Underways! And all that sort of thing. Some of us have a sort of fancy that in time we may know enough to take over a little more than the ventilation and drains. Knowledge keeps on piling up, you know. It keeps on growing. And there's not the slightest hurry for a generation or so. Some day - some day, men will live in a different way." He looked at Bindon and meditated. "There'll be a lot of dying out before that day can come."
Bindon attempted to point out to this young man how silly and irrelevant such talk was to a sick man like himself, how impertinent and uncivil it was to him, an older man occupying a position in the official world of extraordinary power and influence. He insisted that a doctor was paid to cure people - he laid great stress on "paid" - and had no business to glance even for a moment at "those other questions". "But we do", said the young man, insisting upon facts, and Bindon lost his temper.
His indignation carried him home. That these incompetent impostors, who were unable to save the life of a really influential man like himself, should dream of some day robbing the legitimate property owners of social control, of inflicting one knew not what tyranny upon the world. Curse science! He fumed over the intolerable prospect for some time, and then the pain returned, and he recalled the made-up prescription of the first doctor, still happily in his pocket. He took a dose forthwith.
It calmed and soothed him greatly, and he could sit down in his most comfortable chair beside his library (of phonographic records), and think over the altered aspect of affairs. His indignation passed, his anger and his passion crumbled under the subtle attack of that prescription, pathos became his sole ruler. He stared about him, at his magnificent and voluptuously appointed apartment, at his statuary and discreetly veiled pictures, and all the evidences of a cultivated and elegant wickedness; he touched a stud and the sad pipings of Tristan's shepherd filled the air. His eye wandered from one object to another. They were costly and gross and florid - but they were his. They presented in concrete form his ideals, his conceptions of beauty and desire, his idea of all that is precious in life. And now - he must leave it all like a common man. He was, he felt, a slender and delicate flame, burning out. So must all life flame up and pass, he thought. His eyes filled with tears.
Then it came into his head that he was alone. Nobody cared for him, nobody needed him! At any moment he might begin to hurt vividly. He might even howl. Nobody would mind. According to all the doctors he would have excellent reason for howling in a day or so. It recalled what his spiritual adviser had said of the decline of faith and fidelity, the degeneration of the age. He beheld himself as a pathetic proof of this; he, the subtle, able, important, voluptuous, cynical, complex Bindon, possibly howling, and not one faithful simple creature in all the world to howl in sympathy. Not one faithful simple soul was there - no shepherd to pipe to him! Had all such faithful simple creatures vanished from this harsh and urgent earth? He wondered whether the horrid vulgar crowd that perpetually went about the city could possibly know what he thought of them. If they did he felt sure some would try to earn a better opinion. Surely the world went from bad to worse. It was becoming impossible for Bindons. Perhaps some day ... He was quite sure that the one thing he had needed in life was sympathy. For a time he regretted that he left no sonnets - no enigmatical pictures or something of that sort behind him to carry on his being until at last the sympathetic mind should come....
It seemed incredible to him that this that came was extinction. Yet his sympathetic spiritual guide was in this matter annoyingly figurative and vague. Curse science! It had undermined all faith - all hope. To go out, to vanish from theatre and street, from office and dining-place, from the dear eyes of womankind. And not to be missed! On the whole to leave the world happier!
He reflected that he had never worn his heart upon his sleeve. Had he after all been too unsympathetic? Few people could suspect how subtly profound he really was beneath the mask of that cynical gaiety of his. They would not understand the loss they had suffered. Elizabeth, for example, had not suspected....
He had reserved that. His thoughts having come to Elizabeth gravitated about her for some time. How little Elizabeth understood him!
That thought became intolerable. Before all other things he must set that right. He realised that there was still something for him to do in life, his struggle against Elizabeth was even yet not over. He could never overcome her now, as he had hoped and prayed. But he might still impress her!
From that idea he expanded. He might impress her profoundly - he might impress her so that she should for evermore regret her treatment of him. The thing that she must realise before everything else was his magnanimity. His magnanimity! Yes! he had loved her with amazing greatness of heart. He had not seen it so clearly before - but of course he was going to leave her all his property. He saw it instantly, as a thing determined and inevitable. She would think how good he was, how spaciously generous; surrounded by all that makes life tolerable from his hand, she would recall with infinite regret her scorn and coldness. And when she sought expression for that regret, she would find that occasion gone forever, she should be met by a locked door, by a disdainful stillness, by a white dead face. He closed his eyes and remained for a space imagining himself that white dead face.
From that he passed to other aspects of the matter, but his determination was assured. He meditated elaborately before he took action, for the drug he had taken inclined him to a lethargic and dignified melancholy. In certain respects he modified details. If he left all his property to Elizabeth it would include the voluptuously appointed room he occupied, and for many reasons he did not care to leave that to her. On the other hand, it had to be left to some one. In his clogged condition this worried him extremely.
In the end he decided to leave it to the sympathetic exponent of the fashionable religious cult, whose conversation had been so pleasing in the past. "He will understand", said Bindon with a sentimental sigh. "He knows what Evil means - he understands something of the Stupendous Fascination of the Sphinx of Sin. Yes - he will understand." By that phrase it was that Bindon was pleased to dignify certain unhealthy and undignified departures from sane conduct to which a misguided vanity and an ill-controlled curiosity had led him. He sat for a space thinking how very Hellenic and Italian and Neronic, and all those things, he had been. Even now - might one not try a sonnet? A penetrating voice to echo down the ages, sensuous, sinister, and sad. For a space he forgot Elizabeth. In the course of half an hour he spoilt three phonographic coils, got a headache, took a second dose to calm himself, and reverted to magnanimity and his former design.
At last he faced the unpalatable problem of Denton. It needed all his newborn magnanimity before he could swallow the thought of Denton; but at last this greatly misunderstood man, assisted by his sedative and the near approach of death, effected even that. If he was at all exclusive about Denton, if he should display the slightest distrust, if he attempted any specific exclusion of that young man, she might - misunderstand. Yes - she should have her Denton still. His magnanimity must go even to that. He tried to think only of Elizabeth in the matter.
He rose with a sigh, and limped across to the telephonic apparatus that communicated with his solicitor. In ten minutes a will duly attested and with its proper thumb-mark signature lay in the solicitor's office three miles away. And then for a space Bindon sat very still.
Suddenly he started out of a vague reverie and pressed an investigatory hand to his side.
Then he jumped eagerly to his feet and rushed to the telephone. The Euthanasia Company had rarely been called by a client in a greater hurry.
[start of notes]
This passage is an excerpt from the story A Story Of The Days To Come, in the book Tales of Space and Time, by H G Wells.
I downloaded a copy from
Several details from the text:
- Produced by Chris Curnow, Lindy Walsh, Stephen Blundell and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net.
- Harper & Brothers Publishers, London and New York, 1900
- Copyright, 1899, by Harper & Brothers
- Transcriber's Note: Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Dialect and variant spellings have been retained.
Changes from the original text:
- I have not preserved the original line breaks. I treat each paragraph as a single line.
- I have substituted a hyphen with a space either side of it ( - ) for the double hyphen (--) used in the original text.
- I have italicised text that was surrounded by a pair of underscores. E.g. "_you_" is now "you".
- Various touchups e.g. capitalising the first word of a sentence, removing an extra newline.
- I have moved punctuation out from between quotation marks if it is not relevant to the text within those quotation marks.
[end of notes]