A young man, full of life, vigor, and on the threshold of a promising future in medicine, steps out of his shabby apartment to come face to face with an old man who offers him an inheritance upon the old man’s demise. But, is it what it appears to be, and at what cost will it be to the young man? And at what cost to the old man?
The following story is my favourite from the great H. G. Wells.
“You will not perhaps mind taking my name, taking my position, but would you indeed—willingly—take my years?”, asked the old man of the young student, as he sought to convince the young man to be put into the old man’s will.
In the end the old man gives much more to the young man.
THE STORY OF THE LATE MR. ELVESHAM
possible, to prepare a way of escape for the next victim. He, perhaps, may
profit by my misfortune. My own case, I know, is hopeless, and I am now in
some measure prepared to meet my fate.
My name is Edward George Eden. I was born at Trentham, in Staffordshire,
my father being employed in the gardens there. I lost my mother when I was
three years old, and my father when I was five, my uncle, George Eden,
then adopting me as his own son. He was a single man, self-educated, and
well-known in Birmingham as an enterprising journalist; he educated me
generously, fired my ambition to succeed in the world, and at his death,
which happened four years ago, left me his entire fortune, a matter of
about five hundred pounds after all outgoing charges were paid. I was then
eighteen. He advised me in his will to expend the money in completing my
education. I had already chosen the profession of medicine, and through
his posthumous generosity and my good fortune in a scholarship
competition, I became a medical student at University College, London. At
the time of the beginning of my story I lodged at 11A University Street in
a little upper room, very shabbily furnished and draughty, overlooking the
back of Shoolbred’s premises. I used this little room both to live in and
sleep in, because I was anxious to eke out my means to the very last
I was taking a pair of shoes to be mended at a shop in the Tottenham Court
Road when I first encountered the little old man with the yellow face,
with whom my life has now become so inextricably entangled. He was
standing on the kerb, and staring at the number on the door in a doubtful
way, as I opened it. His eyes–they were dull grey eyes, and reddish under
the rims–fell to my face, and his countenance immediately assumed an
expression of corrugated amiability.
“You come,” he said, “apt to the moment. I had forgotten the number of
your house. How do you do, Mr. Eden?”
I was a little astonished at his familiar address, for I had never set
eyes on the man before. I was a little annoyed, too, at his catching me
with my boots under my arm. He noticed my lack of cordiality.
“Wonder who the deuce I am, eh? A friend, let me assure you. I have seen
you before, though you haven’t seen me. Is there anywhere where I can talk
I hesitated. The shabbiness of my room upstairs was not a matter for every
stranger. “Perhaps,” said I, “we might walk down the street. I’m
unfortunately prevented–” My gesture explained the sentence before I had
“The very thing,” he said, and faced this way, and then that. “The street?
Which way shall we go?” I slipped my boots down in the passage. “Look
here!” he said abruptly; “this business of mine is a rigmarole. Come and
lunch with me, Mr. Eden. I’m an old man, a very old man, and not good at
explanations, and what with my piping voice and the clatter of the
He laid a persuasive skinny hand that trembled a little upon my arm.
I was not so old that an old man might not treat me to a lunch. Yet at the
same time I was not altogether pleased by this abrupt invitation. “I had
rather—-” I began. “But I had rather,” he said, catching me up, “and a
certain civility is surely due to my grey hairs.”
And so I consented, and went with him.
He took me to Blavitiski’s; I had to walk slowly to accommodate myself to
his paces; and over such a lunch as I had never tasted before, he fended
off my leading question, and I took a better note of his appearance. His
clean-shaven face was lean and wrinkled, his shrivelled, lips fell over a
set of false teeth, and his white hair was thin and rather long; he seemed
small to me,–though indeed, most people seemed small to me,–and his
shoulders were rounded and bent. And watching him, I could not help but
observe that he too was taking note of me, running his eyes, with a
curious touch of greed in them, over me, from my broad shoulders to my
suntanned hands, and up to my freckled face again. “And now,” said he, as
we lit our cigarettes, “I must tell you of the business in hand.
“I must tell you, then, that I am an old man, a very old man.” He paused
momentarily. “And it happens that I have money that I must presently be
leaving, and never a child have I to leave it to.” I thought of the
confidence trick, and resolved I would be on the alert for the vestiges of
my five hundred pounds. He proceeded to enlarge on his loneliness, and the
trouble he had to find a proper disposition of his money. “I have weighed
this plan and that plan, charities, institutions, and scholarships, and
libraries, and I have come to this conclusion at last,”–he fixed his eyes
on my face,–“that I will find some young fellow, ambitious, pure-minded,
and poor, healthy in body and healthy in mind, and, in short, make him my
heir, give him all that I have.” He repeated, “Give him all that I have.
So that he will suddenly be lifted out of all the trouble and struggle in
which his sympathies have been educated, to freedom and influence.”
I tried to seem disinterested. With a transparent hypocrisy I said, “And
you want my help, my professional services maybe, to find that person.”
He smiled, and looked at me over his cigarette, and I laughed at his quiet
exposure of my modest pretence.
“What a career such a man might have!” he said. “It fills me with envy to
think how I have accumulated that another man may spend—-
“But there are conditions, of course, burdens to be imposed. He must, for
instance, take my name. You cannot expect everything without some return.
And I must go into all the circumstances of his life before I can accept
him. He _must_ be sound. I must know his heredity, how his parents
and grandparents died, have the strictest inquiries made into his private
This modified my secret congratulations a little.
“And do I understand,” said I, “that I—-”
“Yes,” he said, almost fiercely. “You. _You_.”
I answered never a word. My imagination was dancing wildly, my innate
scepticism was useless to modify its transports. There was not a particle
of gratitude in my mind–I did not know what to say nor how to say it.
“But why me in particular?” I said at last.
He had chanced to hear of me from Professor Haslar; he said, as a
typically sound and sane young man, and he wished, as far as possible, to
leave his money where health and integrity were assured.
That was my first meeting with the little old man. He was mysterious about
himself; he would not give his name yet, he said, and after I had answered
some questions of his, he left me at the Blavitiski portal. I noticed that
he drew a handful of gold coins from his pocket when it came to paying for
the lunch. His insistence upon bodily health was curious. In accordance
with an arrangement we had made I applied that day for a life policy in
the Loyal Insurance Company for a large sum, and I was exhaustively
overhauled by the medical advisers of that company in the subsequent week.
Even that did not satisfy him, and he insisted I must be re-examined by
the great Doctor Henderson.
It was Friday in Whitsun week before he came to a decision. He called me
down, quite late in the evening,–nearly nine it was,–from cramming
chemical equations for my Preliminary Scientific examination. He was
standing in the passage under the feeble gas-lamp, and his face was a
grotesque interplay of shadows. He seemed more bowed than when I had first
seen him, and his cheeks had sunk in a little.
His voice shook with emotion. “Everything is satisfactory, Mr. Eden,” he
said. “Everything is quite, quite satisfactory. And this night of all
nights, you must dine with me and celebrate your–accession.” He was
interrupted by a cough. “You won’t have long to wait, either,” he said,
wiping his handkerchief across his lips, and gripping my hand with his
long bony claw that was disengaged. “Certainly not very long to wait.”
We went into the street and called a cab. I remember every incident of
that drive vividly, the swift, easy motion, the vivid contrast of gas and
oil and electric light, the crowds of people in the streets, the place in
Regent Street to which we went, and the sumptuous dinner we were served
with there. I was disconcerted at first by the well-dressed waiter’s
glances at my rough clothes, bothered by the stones of the olives, but as
the champagne warmed my blood, my confidence revived. At first the old man
talked of himself. He had already told me his name in the cab; he was
Egbert Elvesham, the great philosopher, whose name I had known since I was
a lad at school. It seemed incredible to me that this man, whose
intelligence had so early dominated mine, this great abstraction, should
suddenly realise itself as this decrepit, familiar figure. I daresay every
young fellow who has suddenly fallen among celebrities has felt something
of my disappointment. He told me now of the future that the feeble streams
of his life would presently leave dry for me, houses, copyrights,
investments; I had never suspected that philosophers were so rich. He
watched me drink and eat with a touch of envy. “What a capacity for living
you have!” he said; and then with a sigh, a sigh of relief I could have
thought it, “it will not be long.”
“Ay,” said I, my head swimming now with champagne; “I have a future
perhaps–of a passing agreeable sort, thanks to you. I shall now have the
honour of your name. But you have a past. Such a past as is worth all my
He shook his head and smiled, as I thought, with half sad appreciation of
my flattering admiration. “That future,” he said, “would you in truth
change it?” The waiter came with liqueurs. “You will not perhaps mind
taking my name, taking my position, but would you indeed–willingly–take
“With your achievements,” said I gallantly.
He smiled again. “Kummel–both,” he said to the waiter, and turned his
attention to a little paper packet he had taken from his pocket. “This
hour,” said he, “this after-dinner hour is the hour of small things. Here
is a scrap of my unpublished wisdom.” He opened the packet with his
shaking yellow fingers, and showed a little pinkish powder on the paper.
“This,” said he–“well, you must guess what it is. But Kummel–put but a
dash of this powder in it–is Himmel.”
His large greyish eyes watched mine with an inscrutable expression.
It was a bit of a shock to me to find this great teacher gave his mind to
the flavour of liqueurs. However, I feigned an interest in his weakness,
for I was drunk enough for such small sycophancy.
He parted the powder between the little glasses, and, rising suddenly,
with a strange unexpected dignity, held out his hand towards me. I
imitated his action, and the glasses rang. “To a quick succession,” said
he, and raised his glass towards his lips.
“Not that,” I said hastily. “Not that.”
He paused with the liqueur at the level of his chin, and his eyes blazing
“To a long life,” said I.
He hesitated. “To a long life,” said he, with a sudden bark of laughter,
and with eyes fixed on one another we tilted the little glasses. His eyes
looked straight into mine, and as I drained the stuff off, I felt a
curiously intense sensation. The first touch of it set my brain in a
furious tumult; I seemed to feel an actual physical stirring in my skull,
and a seething humming filled my ears. I did not notice the flavour in my
mouth, the aroma that filled my throat; I saw only the grey intensity of
his gaze that burnt into mine. The draught, the mental confusion, the
noise and stirring in my head, seemed to last an interminable time.
Curious vague impressions of half-forgotten things danced and vanished on
the edge of my consciousness. At last he broke the spell. With a sudden
explosive sigh he put down his glass.
“Well?” he said.
“It’s glorious,” said I, though I had not tasted the stuff.
My head was spinning. I sat down. My brain was chaos. Then my perception
grew clear and minute as though I saw things in a concave mirror. His
manner seemed to have changed into something nervous and hasty. He pulled
out his watch and grimaced at it. “Eleven-seven! And to-night I must–
Seven-twenty-five. Waterloo! I must go at once.” He called for the bill,
and struggled with his coat. Officious waiters came to our assistance. In
another moment I was wishing him good-bye, over the apron of a cab, and
still with an absurd feeling of minute distinctness, as though–how can I
express it?–I not only saw but _felt_ through an inverted
“That stuff,” he said. He put his hand to his forehead. “I ought not to
have given it to you. It will make your head split to-morrow. Wait a
minute. Here.” He handed me out a little flat thing like a seidlitz-powder.
“Take that in water as you are going to bed. The other thing was a
drug. Not till you’re ready to go to bed, mind. It will clear your head.
That’s all. One more shake–Futurus!”
I gripped his shrivelled claw. “Good-bye,” he said, and by the droop of
his eyelids I judged he too was a little under the influence of that
He recollected something else with a start, felt in his breast-pocket, and
produced another packet, this time a cylinder the size and shape of a
shaving-stick. “Here,” said he. “I’d almost forgotten. Don’t open this
until I come to-morrow–but take it now.”
It was so heavy that I wellnigh dropped it. “All ri’!” said I, and he
grinned at me through the cab window as the cabman flicked his horse into
wakefulness. It was a white packet he had given me, with red seals at
either end and along its edge. “If this isn’t money,” said I, “it’s
platinum or lead.”
I stuck it with elaborate care into my pocket, and with a whirling brain
walked home through the Regent Street loiterers and the dark back streets
beyond Portland Road. I remember the sensations of that walk very vividly,
strange as they were. I was still so far myself that I could notice my
strange mental state, and wonder whether this stuff I had had was opium–a
drug beyond my experience. It is hard now to describe the peculiarity of
my mental strangeness–mental doubling vaguely expresses it. As I was
walking up Regent Street I found in my mind a queer persuasion that it
was Waterloo Station, and had an odd impulse to get into the Polytechnic
as a man might get into a train. I put a knuckle in my eye, and it was
Regent Street. How can I express it? You see a skilful actor looking
quietly at you, he pulls a grimace, and lo!–another person. Is it too
extravagant if I tell you that it seemed to me as if Regent Street had,
for the moment, done that? Then, being persuaded it was Regent Street
again, I was oddly muddled about some fantastic reminiscences that cropped
up. “Thirty years ago,” thought I, “it was here that I quarrelled with my
brother.” Then I burst out laughing, to the astonishment and encouragement
of a group of night prowlers. Thirty years ago I did not exist, and never
in my life had I boasted a brother. The stuff was surely liquid folly, for
the poignant regret for that lost brother still clung to me. Along
Portland Road the madness took another turn. I began to recall vanished
shops, and to compare the street with what it used to be. Confused,
troubled thinking is comprehensible enough after the drink I had taken,
but what puzzled me were these curiously vivid phantasm memories that had
crept into my mind, and not only the memories that had crept in, but also
the memories that had slipped out. I stopped opposite Stevens’, the
natural history dealer’s, and cudgelled my brains to think what he had to
do with me. A ‘bus went by, and sounded exactly like the rumbling of a
train. I seemed to be dipping into some dark, remote pit for the
recollection. “Of course,” said I, at last, “he has promised me three
frogs to-morrow. Odd I should have forgotten.”
Do they still show children dissolving views? In those I remember one view
would begin like a faint ghost, and grow and oust another. In just that
way it seemed to me that a ghostly set of new sensations was struggling
with those of my ordinary self.
I went on through Euston Road to Tottenham Court Road, puzzled, and a
little frightened, and scarcely noticed the unusual way I was taking, for
commonly I used to cut through the intervening network of back streets. I
turned into University Street, to discover that I had forgotten my number.
Only by a strong effort did I recall 11A, and even then it seemed to me
that it was a thing some forgotten person had told me. I tried to steady
my mind by recalling the incidents of the dinner, and for the life of me I
could conjure up no picture of my host’s face; I saw him only as a shadowy
outline, as one might see oneself reflected in a window through which one
was looking. In his place, however, I had a curious exterior vision of
myself, sitting at a table, flushed, bright-eyed, and talkative.
“I must take this other powder,” said I. “This is getting impossible.”
I tried the wrong side of the hall for my candle and the matches, and had
a doubt of which landing my room might be on. “I’m drunk,” I said, “that’s
certain,” and blundered needlessly on the staircase to sustain the
At the first glance my room seemed unfamiliar. “What rot!” I said, and
stared about me. I seemed to bring myself back by the effort, and the odd
phantasmal quality passed into the concrete familiar. There was the old
glass still, with my notes on the albumens stuck in the corner of the
frame, my old everyday suit of clothes pitched about the floor. And yet it
was not so real after all. I felt an idiotic persuasion trying to creep
into my mind, as it were, that I was in a railway carriage in a train just
stopping, that I was peering out of the window at some unknown station. I
gripped the bed-rail firmly to reassure myself. “It’s clairvoyance,
perhaps,” I said. “I must write to the Psychical Research Society.”
I put the rouleau on my dressing-table, sat on my bed, and began to take
off my boots. It was as if the picture of my present sensations was
painted over some other picture that was trying to show through. “Curse
it!” said I; “my wits are going, or am I in two places at once?”
Half-undressed, I tossed the powder into a glass and drank it off. It
effervesced, and became a fluorescent amber colour. Before I was in bed
my mind was already tranquillised. I felt the pillow at my cheek, and
thereupon I must have fallen asleep.
* * * * *
I awoke abruptly out of a dream of strange beasts, and found myself lying
on my back. Probably every one knows that dismal, emotional dream from
which one escapes, awake indeed, but strangely cowed. There was a curious
taste in my mouth, a tired feeling in my limbs, a sense of cutaneous
discomfort. I lay with my head motionless on my pillow, expecting that my
feeling of strangeness and terror would pass away, and that I should then
doze off again to sleep. But instead of that, my uncanny sensations
increased. At first I could perceive nothing wrong about me. There was a
faint light in the room, so faint that it was the very next thing to
darkness, and the furniture stood out in it as vague blots of absolute
darkness. I stared with my eyes just over the bedclothes.
It came into my mind that some one had entered the room to rob me of my
rouleau of money, but after lying for some moments, breathing regularly to
simulate sleep, I realised this was mere fancy. Nevertheless, the uneasy
assurance of something wrong kept fast hold of me. With an effort I raised
my head from the pillow, and peered about me at the dark. What it was I
could not conceive. I looked at the dim shapes around me, the greater and
lesser darknesses that indicated curtains, table, fireplace, bookshelves,
and so forth. Then I began to perceive something unfamiliar in the forms
of the darkness. Had the bed turned round? Yonder should be the
bookshelves, and something shrouded and pallid rose there, something that
would not answer to the bookshelves, however I looked at it. It was far
too big to be my shirt thrown on a chair.
Overcoming a childish terror, I threw back the bedclothes and thrust my
leg out of bed. Instead of coming out of my truckle-bed upon the floor, I
found my foot scarcely reached the edge of the mattress. I made another
step, as it were, and sat up on the edge of the bed. By the side of my bed
should be the candle, and the matches upon the broken chair. I put out my
hand and touched–nothing. I waved my hand in the darkness, and it came
against some heavy hanging, soft and thick in texture, which gave a
rustling noise at my touch. I grasped this and pulled it; it appeared to
be a curtain suspended over the head of my bed.
I was now thoroughly awake, and beginning to realise that I was in a
strange room. I was puzzled. I tried to recall the overnight
circumstances, and I found them now, curiously enough, vivid in my memory:
the supper, my reception of the little packages, my wonder whether I was
intoxicated, my slow undressing, the coolness to my flushed face of my
pillow. I felt a sudden distrust. Was that last night, or the night
before? At any rate, this room was strange to me, and I could not imagine
how I had got into it. The dim, pallid outline was growing paler, and I
perceived it was a window, with the dark shape of an oval toilet-glass
against the weak intimation of the dawn that filtered through the blind. I
stood up, and was surprised by a curious feeling of weakness and
unsteadiness. With trembling hands outstretched, I walked slowly towards
the window, getting, nevertheless, a bruise on the knee from a chair by
the way. I fumbled round the glass, which was large, with handsome brass
sconces, to find the blind cord. I could not find any. By chance I took
hold of the tassel, and with the click of a spring the blind ran up.
I found myself looking out upon a scene that was altogether strange to me.
The night was overcast, and through the flocculent grey of the heaped
clouds there filtered a faint half-light of dawn. Just at the edge of the
sky the cloud-canopy had a blood-red rim. Below, everything was dark and
indistinct, dim hills in the distance, a vague mass of buildings running
up into pinnacles, trees like spilt ink, and below the window a tracery of
black bushes and pale grey paths. It was so unfamiliar that for the moment
I thought myself still dreaming. I felt the toilet-table; it appeared to
be made of some polished wood, and was rather elaborately furnished–there
were little cut-glass bottles and a brush upon it. There was also a queer
little object, horse-shoe shape it felt, with smooth, hard projections,
lying in a saucer. I could find no matches nor candlestick.
I turned my eyes to the room again. Now the blind was up, faint spectres
of its furnishing came out of the darkness. There was a huge curtained
bed, and the fireplace at its foot had a large white mantel with something
of the shimmer of marble.
I leant against the toilet-table, shut my eyes and opened them again, and
tried to think. The whole thing was far too real for dreaming. I was
inclined to imagine there was still some hiatus in my memory, as a
consequence of my draught of that strange liqueur; that I had come into my
inheritance perhaps, and suddenly lost my recollection of everything since
my good fortune had been announced. Perhaps if I waited a little, things
would be clearer to me again. Yet my dinner with old Elvesham was now
singularly vivid and recent. The champagne, the observant waiters, the
powder, and the liqueurs–I could have staked my soul it all happened a
few hours ago.
And then occurred a thing so trivial and yet so terrible to me that I
shiver now to think of that moment. I spoke aloud. I said, “How the devil
did I get here?” … _And the voice was not my own_.
It was not my own, it was thin, the articulation was slurred, the
resonance of my facial bones was different. Then, to reassure myself I ran
one hand over the other, and felt loose folds of skin, the bony laxity of
age. “Surely,” I said, in that horrible voice that had somehow established
itself in my throat, “surely this thing is a dream!” Almost as quickly as
if I did it involuntarily, I thrust my fingers into my mouth. My teeth
had gone. My finger-tips ran on the flaccid surface of an even row of
shrivelled gums. I was sick with dismay and disgust.
I felt then a passionate desire to see myself, to realise at once in its
full horror the ghastly change that had come upon me. I tottered to the
mantel, and felt along it for matches. As I did so, a barking cough sprang
up in my throat, and I clutched the thick flannel nightdress I found about
me. There were no matches there, and I suddenly realised that my
extremities were cold. Sniffing and coughing, whimpering a little,
perhaps, I fumbled back to bed. “It is surely a dream,” I whispered to
myself as I clambered back, “surely a dream.” It was a senile repetition.
I pulled the bedclothes over my shoulders, over my ears, I thrust my
withered hand under the pillow, and determined to compose myself to sleep.
Of course it was a dream. In the morning the dream would be over, and I
should wake up strong and vigorous again to my youth and studies. I shut
my eyes, breathed regularly, and, finding myself wakeful, began to count
slowly through the powers of three.
But the thing I desired would not come. I could not get to sleep. And the
persuasion of the inexorable reality of the change that had happened to me
grew steadily. Presently I found myself with my eyes wide open, the powers
of three forgotten, and my skinny fingers upon my shrivelled gums, I was,
indeed, suddenly and abruptly, an old man. I had in some unaccountable
manner fallen through my life and come to old age, in some way I had been
cheated of all the best of my life, of love, of struggle, of strength, and
hope. I grovelled into the pillow and tried to persuade myself that such
hallucination was possible. Imperceptibly, steadily, the dawn grew
At last, despairing of further sleep, I sat up in bed and looked about me.
A chill twilight rendered the whole chamber visible. It was spacious and
well-furnished, better furnished than any room I had ever slept in before.
A candle and matches became dimly visible upon a little pedestal in a
recess. I threw back the bedclothes, and, shivering with the rawness of
the early morning, albeit it was summer-time, I got out and lit the
candle. Then, trembling horribly, so that the extinguisher rattled on its
spike, I tottered to the glass and saw–_Elvesham’s face_! It was
none the less horrible because I had already dimly feared as much. He had
already seemed physically weak and pitiful to me, but seen now, dressed
only in a coarse flannel nightdress, that fell apart and showed the
stringy neck, seen now as my own body, I cannot describe its desolate
decrepitude. The hollow cheeks, the straggling tail of dirty grey hair,
the rheumy bleared eyes, the quivering, shrivelled lips, the lower
displaying a gleam of the pink interior lining, and those horrible dark
gums showing. You who are mind and body together, at your natural years,
cannot imagine what this fiendish imprisonment meant to me. To be young
and full of the desire and energy of youth, and to be caught, and
presently to be crushed in this tottering ruin of a body…
But I wander from the course of my story. For some time I must have been
stunned at this change that had come upon me. It was daylight when I did
so far gather myself together as to think. In some inexplicable way I had
been changed, though how, short of magic, the thing had been done, I could
not say. And as I thought, the diabolical ingenuity of Elvesham came home
to me. It seemed plain to me that as I found myself in his, so he must be
in possession of _my_ body, of my strength, that is, and my future.
But how to prove it? Then, as I thought, the thing became so incredible,
even to me, that my mind reeled, and I had to pinch myself, to feel my
toothless gums, to see myself in the glass, and touch the things about me,
before I could steady myself to face the facts again. Was all life
hallucination? Was I indeed Elvesham, and he me? Had I been dreaming of
Eden overnight? Was there any Eden? But if I was Elvesham, I should
remember where I was on the previous morning, the name of the town in
which I lived, what happened before the dream began. I struggled with my
thoughts. I recalled the queer doubleness of my memories overnight. But
now my mind was clear. Not the ghost of any memories but those proper to
Eden could I raise.
“This way lies insanity!” I cried in my piping voice. I staggered to my
feet, dragged my feeble, heavy limbs to the washhand-stand, and plunged my
grey head into a basin of cold water. Then, towelling myself, I tried
again. It was no good. I felt beyond all question that I was indeed Eden,
not Elvesham. But Eden in Elvesham’s body!
Had I been a man of any other age, I might have given myself up to my fate
as one enchanted. But in these sceptical days miracles do not pass
current. Here was some trick of psychology. What a drug and a steady stare
could do, a drug and a steady stare, or some similar treatment, could
surely undo. Men have lost their memories before. But to exchange memories
as one does umbrellas! I laughed. Alas! not a healthy laugh, but a
wheezing, senile titter. I could have fancied old Elvesham laughing at my
plight, and a gust of petulant anger, unusual to me, swept across my
feelings. I began dressing eagerly in the clothes I found lying about on
the floor, and only realised when I was dressed that it was an evening
suit I had assumed. I opened the wardrobe and found some more ordinary
clothes, a pair of plaid trousers, and an old-fashioned dressing-gown. I
put a venerable smoking-cap on my venerable head, and, coughing a little
from my exertions, tottered out upon the landing.
It was then, perhaps, a quarter to six, and the blinds were closely drawn
and the house quite silent. The landing was a spacious one, a broad,
richly-carpeted staircase went down into the darkness of the hall below,
and before me a door ajar showed me a writing-desk, a revolving bookcase,
the back of a study chair, and a fine array of bound books, shelf upon
“My study,” I mumbled, and walked across the landing. Then at the sound of
my voice a thought struck me, and I went back to the bedroom and put in
the set of false teeth. They slipped in with the ease of old, habit.
“That’s better,” said I, gnashing them, and so returned to the study.
The drawers of the writing-desk were locked. Its revolving top was also
locked. I could see no indications of the keys, and there were none in the
pockets of my trousers. I shuffled back at once to the bedroom, and went
through the dress suit, and afterwards the pockets of all the garments I
could find. I was very eager, and one might have imagined that burglars
had been at work, to see my room when I had done. Not only were there no
keys to be found, but not a coin, nor a scrap of paper–save only the
receipted bill of the overnight dinner.
A curious weariness asserted itself. I sat down and stared at the garments
flung here and there, their pockets turned inside out. My first frenzy had
already flickered out. Every moment I was beginning to realise the immense
intelligence of the plans of my enemy, to see more and more clearly the
hopelessness of my position. With an effort I rose and hurried hobbling
into the study again. On the staircase was a housemaid pulling up the
blinds. She stared, I think, at the expression of my face. I shut the door
of the study behind me, and, seizing a poker, began an attack upon the
desk. That is how they found me. The cover of the desk was split, the lock
smashed, the letters torn out of the pigeon-holes, and tossed about the
room. In my senile rage I had flung about the pens and other such light
stationery, and overturned the ink. Moreover, a large vase upon the mantel
had got broken–I do not know how. I could find no cheque-book, no money,
no indications of the slightest use for the recovery of my body. I was
battering madly at the drawers, when the butler, backed by two
women-servants, intruded upon me.
* * * * *
That simply is the story of my change. No one will believe my frantic
assertions. I am treated as one demented, and even at this moment I am
under restraint. But I am sane, absolutely sane, and to prove it I have
sat down to write this story minutely as the things happened to me. I
appeal to the reader, whether there is any trace of insanity in the style
or method, of the story he has been reading. I am a young man locked away
in an old man’s body. But the clear fact is incredible to everyone.
Naturally I appear demented to those who will not believe this, naturally
I do not know the names of my secretaries, of the doctors who come to see
me, of my servants and neighbours, of this town (wherever it is) where I
find myself. Naturally I lose myself in my own house, and suffer
inconveniences of every sort. Naturally I ask the oddest questions.
Naturally I weep and cry out, and have paroxysms of despair. I have no
money and no cheque-book. The bank will not recognise my signature, for I
suppose that, allowing for the feeble muscles I now have, my handwriting
is still Eden’s. These people about me will not let me go to the bank
personally. It seems, indeed, that there is no bank in this town, and that
I have an account in some part of London. It seems that Elvesham kept the
name of his solicitor secret from all his household. I can ascertain
nothing. Elvesham was, of course, a profound student of mental science,
and all my declarations of the facts of the case merely confirm the theory
that my insanity is the outcome of overmuch brooding upon psychology.
Dreams of the personal identity indeed! Two days ago I was a healthy
youngster, with all life before me; now I am a furious old man, unkempt,
and desperate, and miserable, prowling about a great, luxurious, strange
house, watched, feared, and avoided as a lunatic by everyone about me. And
in London is Elvesham beginning life again in a vigorous body, and with
all the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of threescore and ten. He has
stolen my life.
What has happened I do not clearly know. In the study are volumes of
manuscript notes referring chiefly to the psychology of memory, and parts
of what may be either calculations or ciphers in symbols absolutely
strange to me. In some passages there are indications that he was also
occupied with the philosophy of mathematics. I take it he has transferred
the whole of his memories, the accumulation that makes up his personality,
from this old withered brain of his to mine, and, similarly, that he has
transferred mine to his discarded tenement. Practically, that is, he has
changed bodies. But how such a change may be possible is without the range
of my philosophy. I have been a materialist for all my thinking life, but
here, suddenly, is a clear case of man’s detachability from matter.
One desperate experiment I am about to try. I sit writing here before
putting the matter to issue. This morning, with the help of a table-knife
that I had secreted at breakfast, I succeeded in breaking open a fairly
obvious secret drawer in this wrecked writing-desk. I discovered nothing
save a little green glass phial containing a white powder. Round the neck
of the phial was a label, and thereon was written this one word,
“_Release_.” This may be–is most probably–poison. I can understand
Elvesham placing poison in my way, and I should be sure that it was his
intention so to get rid of the only living witness against him, were it
not for this careful concealment. The man has practically solved the
problem of immortality. Save for the spite of chance, he will live in my
body until it has aged, and then, again, throwing that aside, he will
assume some other victim’s youth and strength. When one remembers his
heartlessness, it is terrible to think of the ever-growing experience
that… How long has he been leaping from body to body?… But I tire of
writing. The powder appears to be soluble in water. The taste is not
* * * * *
There the narrative found upon Mr. Elvesham’s desk ends. His dead body lay
between the desk and the chair. The latter had been pushed back, probably
by his last convulsions. The story was written in pencil and in a crazy
hand, quite unlike his usual minute characters. There remain only two
curious facts to record. Indisputably there was some connection between
Eden and Elvesham, since the whole of Elvesham’s property was bequeathed
to the young man. But he never inherited. When Elvesham committed suicide,
Eden was, strangely enough, already dead. Twenty-four hours before, he had
been knocked down by a cab and killed instantly, at the crowded crossing
at the intersection of Gower Street and Euston Road. So that the only
human being who could have thrown light upon this fantastic narrative is
beyond the reach of questions. Without further comment I leave this
extraordinary matter to the reader’s individual judgment.