7:31 pm - Saturday May 26, 2018

Under The Knife-by H.G.Wells-Novel and Ebooks

Novel Name: Under The Knife

Written by: H.G.Wells

Category: Fiction, Short Stories, Short Novel

Page 1:

“What if I die under it?” The thought recurred again and again, as I
walked home from Haddon’s. It was a purely personal question. I was spared
the deep anxieties of a married man, and I knew there were few of my
intimate friends but would find my death troublesome chiefly on account of
their duty of regret. I was surprised indeed, and perhaps a little
humiliated, as I turned the matter over, to think how few could possibly
exceed the conventional requirement. Things came before me stripped of
glamour, in a clear dry light, during that walk from Haddon’s house over
Primrose Hill. There were the friends of my youth: I perceived now that
our affection was a tradition, which we foregathered rather laboriously to
maintain. There were the rivals and helpers of my later career: I suppose
I had been cold-blooded or undemonstrative–one perhaps implies the other.
It may be that even the capacity for friendship is a question of physique.
There had been a time in my own life when I had grieved bitterly enough at
the loss of a friend; but as I walked home that afternoon the emotional
side of my imagination was dormant. I could not pity myself, nor feel
sorry for my friends, nor conceive of them as grieving for me.

I was interested in this deadness of my emotional nature–no doubt a
concomitant of my stagnating physiology; and my thoughts wandered off
along the line it suggested. Once before, in my hot youth, I had suffered
a sudden loss of blood, and had been within an ace of death. I remembered
now that my affections as well as my passions had drained out of me,
leaving scarce anything but a tranquil resignation, a dreg of self-pity.
It had been weeks before the old ambitions and tendernesses and all the
complex moral interplay of a man had reasserted themselves. It occurred to
me that the real meaning of this numbness might be a gradual slipping away
from the pleasure-pain guidance of the animal man. It has been proven, I
take it, as thoroughly as anything can be proven in this world, that the
higher emotions, the moral feelings, even the subtle unselfishness of
love, are evolved from the elemental desires and fears of the simple
animal: they are the harness in which man’s mental freedom goes. And it
may be that as death overshadows us, as our possibility of acting
diminishes, this complex growth of balanced impulse, propensity and
aversion, whose interplay inspires our acts, goes with it. Leaving what?

I was suddenly brought back to reality by an imminent collision with the
butcher-boy’s tray. I found that I was crossing the bridge over the
Regent’s Park Canal, which runs parallel with that in the Zoological
Gardens. The boy in blue had been looking over his shoulder at a black
barge advancing slowly, towed by a gaunt white horse. In the Gardens a
nurse was leading three happy little children over the bridge. The trees
were bright green; the spring hopefulness was still unstained by the dusts
of summer; the sky in the water was bright and clear, but broken by long
waves, by quivering bands of black, as the barge drove through. The breeze
was stirring; but it did not stir me as the spring breeze used to do.

Was this dulness of feeling in itself an anticipation? It was curious that
I could reason and follow out a network of suggestion as clearly as ever:
so, at least, it seemed to me. It was calmness rather than dulness that
was coming upon me. Was there any ground for the relief in the
presentiment of death? Did a man near to death begin instinctively to
withdraw himself from the meshes of matter and sense, even before the
cold hand was laid upon his? I felt strangely isolated–isolated without
regret–from the life and existence about me. The children playing in the
sun and gathering strength and experience for the business of life,
the park-keeper gossiping with a nursemaid, the nursing mother, the young
couple intent upon each other as they passed me, the trees by the wayside
spreading new pleading leaves to the sunlight, the stir in their
branches–I had been part of it all, but I had nearly done with it now.

Some way down the Broad Walk I perceived that I was tired, and that my
feet were heavy. It was hot that afternoon, and I turned aside and sat
down on one of the green chairs that line the way. In a minute I had dozed
into a dream, and the tide of my thoughts washed up a vision of the
resurrection. I was still sitting in the chair, but I thought myself
actually dead, withered, tattered, dried, one eye (I saw) pecked out by
birds. “Awake!” cried a voice; and incontinently the dust of the path and
the mould under the grass became insurgent. I had never before thought of
Regent’s Park as a cemetery, but now, through the trees, stretching as far
as eye could see, I beheld a flat plain of writhing graves and heeling
tombstones. There seemed to be some trouble: the rising dead appeared to
stifle as they struggled upward, they bled in their struggles, the red
flesh was torn away from the white bones. “Awake!” cried a voice; but I
determined I would not rise to such horrors. “Awake!” They would not let
me alone. “Wake up!” said an angry voice. A cockney angel! The man who
sells the tickets was shaking me, demanding my penny.

I paid my penny, pocketed my ticket, yawned, stretched my legs, and,
feeling now rather less torpid, got up and walked on towards Langham
Place. I speedily lost myself again in a shifting maze of thoughts about
death. Going across Marylebone Road into that crescent at the end of
Langham Place, I had the narrowest escape from the shaft of a cab, and
went on my way with a palpitating heart and a bruised shoulder. It struck
me that it would have been curious if my meditations on my death on the
morrow had led to my death that day.

But I will not weary you with more of my experiences that day and the
next. I knew more and more certainly that I should die under the
operation; at times I think I was inclined to pose to myself. The doctors
were coming at eleven, and I did not get up. It seemed scarce worth while
to trouble about washing and dressing, and though I read my newspapers and
the letters that came by the first post, I did not find them very
interesting. There was a friendly note from Addison, my old school-friend,
calling my attention to two discrepancies and a printer’s error in my new
book, with one from Langridge venting some vexation over Minton. The rest
were business communications. I breakfasted in bed. The glow of pain at my
side seemed more massive. I knew it was pain, and yet, if you can
understand, I did not find it very painful. I had been awake and hot and
thirsty in the night, but in the morning bed felt comfortable. In the
night-time I had lain thinking of things that were past; in the morning I
dozed over the question of immortality. Haddon came, punctual to the
minute, with a neat black bag; and Mowbray soon followed. Their arrival
stirred me up a little. I began to take a more personal interest in the
proceedings. Haddon moved the little octagonal table close to the bedside,
and, with his broad back to me, began taking things out of his bag. I
heard the light click of steel upon steel. My imagination, I found, was
not altogether stagnant. “Will you hurt me much?” I said in an off-hand
tone.

“Not a bit,” Haddon answered over his shoulder. “We shall chloroform you.
Your heart’s as sound as a bell.” And as he spoke, I had a whiff of the
pungent sweetness of the anaesthetic.

They stretched me out, with a convenient exposure of my side, and, almost
before I realised what was happening, the chloroform was being
administered. It stings the nostrils, and there is a suffocating sensation
at first. I knew I should die–that this was the end of consciousness for
me. And suddenly I felt that I was not prepared for death: I had a vague
sense of a duty overlooked–I knew not what. What was it I had not done? I
could think of nothing more to do, nothing desirable left in life; and yet
I had the strangest disinclination to death. And the physical sensation
was painfully oppressive. Of course the doctors did not know they were
going to kill me. Possibly I struggled. Then I fell motionless, and
a great silence, a monstrous silence, and an impenetrable blackness came
upon me.

There must have been an interval of absolute unconsciousness, seconds or
minutes. Then with a chilly, unemotional clearness, I perceived that I was
not yet dead. I was still in my body; but all the multitudinous sensations
that come sweeping from it to make up the background of consciousness had
gone, leaving me free of it all. No, not free of it all; for as yet
something still held me to the poor stark flesh upon the bed–held me, yet
not so closely that I did not feel myself external to it, independent of
it, straining away from it. I do not think I saw, I do not think I heard;
but I perceived all that was going on, and it was as if I both heard and
saw. Haddon was bending over me, Mowbray behind me; the scalpel–it was a
large scalpel–was cutting my flesh at the side under the flying ribs. It
was interesting to see myself cut like cheese, without a pang, without
even a qualm. The interest was much of a quality with that one might feel
in a game of chess between strangers. Haddon’s face was firm and his hand
steady; but I was surprised to perceive (_how_ I know not) that he
was feeling the gravest doubt as to his own wisdom in the conduct of the
operation.

Mowbray’s thoughts, too, I could see. He was thinking that Haddon’s manner
showed too much of the specialist. New suggestions came up like bubbles
through a stream of frothing meditation, and burst one after another in
the little bright spot of his consciousness. He could not help noticing
and admiring Haddon’s swift dexterity, in spite of his envious quality and
his disposition to detract. I saw my liver exposed. I was puzzled at my
own condition. I did not feel that I was dead, but I was different in some
way from my living self. The grey depression, that had weighed on me for a
year or more and coloured all my thoughts, was gone. I perceived and
thought without any emotional tint at all. I wondered if everyone
perceived things in this way under chloroform, and forgot it again when he
came out of it. It would be inconvenient to look into some heads, and not
forget.

Although I did not think that I was dead, I still perceived quite clearly
that I was soon to die. This brought me back to the consideration of
Haddon’s proceedings. I looked into his mind, and saw that he was afraid
of cutting a branch of the portal vein. My attention was distracted from
details by the curious changes going on in his mind. His consciousness was
like the quivering little spot of light which is thrown by the mirror of a
galvanometer. His thoughts ran under it like a stream, some through the
focus bright and distinct, some shadowy in the half-light of the edge.
Just now the little glow was steady; but the least movement on Mowbray’s
part, the slightest sound from outside, even a faint difference in the
slow movement of the living flesh he was cutting, set the light-spot
shivering and spinning. A new sense-impression came rushing up through the
flow of thoughts; and lo! the light-spot jerked away towards it, swifter
than a frightened fish. It was wonderful to think that upon that unstable,
fitful thing depended all the complex motions of the man; that for the
next five minutes, therefore, my life hung upon its movements. And he was
growing more and more nervous in his work. It was as if a little picture
of a cut vein grew brighter, and struggled to oust from his brain another
picture of a cut falling short of the mark. He was afraid: his dread of
cutting too little was battling with his dread of cutting too far.

Then, suddenly, like an escape of water from under a lock-gate, a great
uprush of horrible realisation set all his thoughts swirling, and
simultaneously I perceived that the vein was cut. He started back with a
hoarse exclamation, and I saw the brown-purple blood gather in a swift
bead, and run trickling. He was horrified. He pitched the red-stained
scalpel on to the octagonal table; and instantly both doctors flung
themselves upon me, making hasty and ill-conceived efforts to remedy the
disaster. “Ice!” said Mowbray, gasping. But I knew that I was killed,
though my body still clung to me.

I will not describe their belated endeavours to save me, though I
perceived every detail. My perceptions were sharper and swifter than they
had ever been in life; my thoughts rushed through my mind with incredible
swiftness, but with perfect definition. I can only compare their crowded
clarity to the effects of a reasonable dose of opium. In a moment it would
all be over, and I should be free. I knew I was immortal, but what would
happen I did not know. Should I drift off presently, like a puff of smoke
from a gun, in some kind of half-material body, an attenuated version of
my material self? Should I find myself suddenly among the innumerable
hosts of the dead, and know the world about me for the phantasmagoria it
had always seemed? Should I drift to some spiritualistic _séance_,
and there make foolish, incomprehensible attempts to affect a purblind
medium? It was a state of unemotional curiosity, of colourless
expectation. And then I realised a growing stress upon me, a feeling as
though some huge human magnet was drawing me upward out of my body. The
stress grew and grew. I seemed an atom for which monstrous forces were
fighting. For one brief, terrible moment sensation came back to me. That
feeling of falling headlong which comes in nightmares, that feeling a
thousand times intensified, that and a black horror swept across my
thoughts in a torrent. Then the two doctors, the naked body with its cut
side, the little room, swept away from under me and vanished, as a speck
of foam vanishes down an eddy.

Filed in: Classics, Fantasy, Fiction

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