The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents
The Remarkable Case Of Davidson's Eyes

Public Domain

The transitory mental aberration of Sidney Davidson, remarkable enough in itself, is still more remarkable if Wade’s explanation is to be credited. It sets one dreaming of the oddest possibilities of intercommunication in the future, of spending an intercalary five minutes on the other side of the world, or being watched in our most secret operations by unsuspected eyes. It happened that I was the immediate witness of Davidson’s seizure, and so it falls naturally to me to put the story upon paper.

When I say that I was the immediate witness of his seizure, I mean that I was the first on the scene. The thing happened at the Harlow Technical College, just beyond the Highgate Archway. He was alone in the larger laboratory when the thing happened. I was in a smaller room, where the balances are, writing up some notes. The thunderstorm had completely upset my work, of course. It was just after one of the louder peals that I thought I heard some glass smash in the other room. I stopped writing, and turned round to listen. For a moment I heard nothing; the hail was playing the devil’s tattoo on the corrugated zinc of the roof. Then came another sound, a smash--no doubt of it this time. Something heavy had been knocked off the bench. I jumped up at once and went and opened the door leading into the big laboratory.

I was surprised to hear a queer sort of laugh, and saw Davidson standing unsteadily in the middle of the room, with a dazzled look on his face. My first impression was that he was drunk. He did not notice me. He was clawing out at something invisible a yard in front of his face. He put out his hand, slowly, rather hesitatingly, and then clutched nothing. “What’s come to it?” he said. He held up his hands to his face, fingers spread out. “Great Scot!” he said. The thing happened three or four years ago, when everyone swore by that personage. Then he began raising his feet clumsily, as though he had expected to find them glued to the floor.

“Davidson!” cried I. “What’s the matter with you?” He turned round in my direction and looked about for me. He looked over me and at me and on either side of me, without the slightest sign of seeing me. “Waves,” he said; “and a remarkably neat schooner. I’d swear that was Bellows’ voice. Hullo!” He shouted suddenly at the top of his voice.

I thought he was up to some foolery. Then I saw littered about his feet the shattered remains of the best of our electrometers. “What’s up, man?” said I. “You’ve smashed the electrometer!”

“Bellows again!” said he. “Friends left, if my hands are gone. Something about electrometers. Which way are you, Bellows?” He suddenly came staggering towards me. “The damned stuff cuts like butter,” he said. He walked straight into the bench and recoiled. “None so buttery that!” he said, and stood swaying.

I felt scared. “Davidson,” said I, “what on earth’s come over you?”

He looked round him in every direction. “I could swear that was Bellows. Why don’t you show yourself like a man, Bellows?”

It occurred to me that he must be suddenly struck blind. I walked round the table and laid my hand upon his arm. I never saw a man more startled in my life. He jumped away from me, and came round into an attitude of self-defence, his face fairly distorted with terror. “Good God!” he cried. “What was that?”

“It’s I--Bellows. Confound it, Davidson!”

He jumped when I answered him and stared--how can I express it?--right through me. He began talking, not to me, but to himself. “Here in broad daylight on a clear beach. Not a place to hide in.” He looked about him wildly. “Here! I’m off.” He suddenly turned and ran headlong into the big electro-magnet--so violently that, as we found afterwards, he bruised his shoulder and jawbone cruelly. At that he stepped back a pace, and cried out with almost a whimper, “What, in heaven’s name, has come over me?” He stood, blanched with terror and trembling violently, with his right arm clutching his left, where that had collided with the magnet.

By that time I was excited and fairly scared. “Davidson,” said I, “don’t be afraid.”

He was startled at my voice, but not so excessively as before. I repeated my words in as clear and firm a tone as I could assume. “Bellows,” he said, “is that you?”

“Can’t you see it’s me?”

He laughed. “I can’t even see it’s myself. Where the devil are we?”

“Here,” said I, “in the laboratory.”

“The laboratory!” he answered, in a puzzled tone, and put his hand to his forehead. “I was in the laboratory--till that flash came, but I’m hanged if I’m there now. What ship is that?”

“There’s no ship,” said I. “Do be sensible, old chap.”

“No ship!” he repeated, and seemed to forget my denial forthwith. “I suppose,” said he, slowly, “we’re both dead. But the rummy part is I feel just as though I still had a body. Don’t get used to it all at once, I suppose. The old shop was struck by lightning, I suppose. Jolly quick thing, Bellows--eigh?”

“Don’t talk nonsense. You’re very much alive. You are in the laboratory, blundering about. You’ve just smashed a new electrometer. I don’t envy you when Boyce arrives.”

He stared away from me towards the diagrams of cryohydrates. “I must be deaf,” said he. “They’ve fired a gun, for there goes the puff of smoke, and I never heard a sound.”

I put my hand on his arm again, and this time he was less alarmed. “We seem to have a sort of invisible bodies,” said he. “By Jove! there’s a boat coming round the headland. It’s very much like the old life after all--in a different climate.”

I shook his arm. “Davidson,” I cried, “wake up!”

II.

It was just then that Boyce came in. So soon as he spoke Davidson exclaimed: “Old Boyce! Dead too! What a lark!” I hastened to explain that Davidson was in a kind of somnambulistic trance. Boyce was interested at once. We both did all we could to rouse the fellow out of his extraordinary state. He answered our questions, and asked us some of his own, but his attention seemed distracted by his hallucination about a beach and a ship. He kept interpolating observations concerning some boat and the davits and sails filling with the wind. It made one feel queer, in the dusky laboratory, to hear him saying such things.

He was blind and helpless. We had to walk him down the passage, one at each elbow, to Boyce’s private room, and while Boyce talked to him there, and humoured him about this ship idea, I went along the corridor and asked old Wade to come and look at him. The voice of our Dean sobered him a little, but not very much. He asked where his hands were, and why he had to walk about up to his waist in the ground. Wade thought over him a long time--you know how he knits his brows--and then made him feel the couch, guiding his hands to it. “That’s a couch,” said Wade. “The couch in the private room of Professor Boyce. Horsehair stuffing.”

Davidson felt about, and puzzled over it, and answered presently that he could feel it all right, but he couldn’t see it.

“What do you see?” asked Wade. Davidson said he could see nothing but a lot of sand and broken-up shells. Wade gave him some other things to feel, telling him what they were, and watching him keenly.

“The ship is almost hull down,” said Davidson, presently, apropos of nothing.

“Never mind the ship,” said Wade. “Listen to me, Davidson. Do you know what hallucination means?”

“Rather,” said Davidson.

“Well, everything you see is hallucinatory.”

“Bishop Berkeley,” said Davidson.

“Don’t mistake me,” said Wade. “You are alive and in this room of Boyce’s. But something has happened to your eyes. You cannot see; you can feel and hear, but not see. Do you follow me?”

“It seems to me that I see too much.” Davidson rubbed his knuckles into his eyes. “Well?” he said.

“That’s all. Don’t let it perplex you. Bellows, here, and I will take you home in a cab.”

“Wait a bit.” Davidson thought. “Help me to sit down,” said he, presently; “and now--I’m sorry to trouble you--but will you tell me all that over again?”

Wade repeated it very patiently. Davidson shut his eyes, and pressed his hands upon his forehead. “Yes,” said he. “It’s quite right. Now my eyes are shut I know you’re right. That’s you, Bellows, sitting by me on the couch. I’m in England again. And we’re in the dark.”

Then he opened his eyes, “And there,” said he, “is the sun just rising, and the yards of the ship, and a tumbled sea, and a couple of birds flying. I never saw anything so real. And I’m sitting up to my neck in a bank of sand.”

He bent forward and covered his face with his hands. Then he opened his eyes again. “Dark sea and sunrise! And yet I’m sitting on a sofa in old Boyce’s room! ... God help me!”

III.

That was the beginning. For three weeks this strange affection of Davidson’s eyes continued unabated. It was far worse than being blind. He was absolutely helpless, and had to be fed like a newly-hatched bird, and led about and undressed. If he attempted to move he fell over things or stuck himself against walls or doors. After a day or so he got used to hearing our voices without seeing us, and willingly admitted he was at home, and that Wade was right in what he told him. My sister, to whom he was engaged, insisted on coming to see him, and would sit for hours every day while he talked about this beach of his. Holding her hand seemed to comfort him immensely. He explained that when we left the College and drove home--he lived in Hampstead village--it appeared to him as if we drove right through a sandhill--it was perfectly black until he emerged again--and through rocks and trees and solid obstacles, and when he was taken to his own room it made him giddy and almost frantic with the fear of falling, because going upstairs seemed to lift him thirty or forty feet above the rocks of his imaginary island. He kept saying he should smash all the eggs. The end was that he had to be taken down into his father’s consulting room and laid upon a couch that stood there.

He described the island as being a bleak kind of place on the whole, with very little vegetation, except some peaty stuff, and a lot of bare rock. There were multitudes of penguins, and they made the rocks white and disagreeable to see. The sea was often rough, and once there was a thunderstorm, and he lay and shouted at the silent flashes. Once or twice seals pulled up on the beach, but only on the first two or three days. He said it was very funny the way in which the penguins used to waddle right through him, and how he seemed to lie among them without disturbing them.

 
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