The Crystal Egg

: Space And Time

There was, until a year ago, a little and very grimy-looking shop near

Seven Dials, over which, in weather-worn yellow lettering, the name of

"C. Cave, Naturalist and Dealer in Antiquities," was inscribed. The

contents of its window were curiously variegated. They comprised some

elephant tusks and an imperfect set of chessmen, beads and weapons, a

box of eyes, two skulls of tigers and one human, several moth-eaten

stuffed monkeys (one holding a lamp), an old-fashioned cabinet, a

flyblown ostrich egg or so, some fishing-tackle, and an extraordinarily

dirty, empty glass fish-tank. There was also, at the moment the story

begins, a mass of crystal, worked into the shape of an egg and

brilliantly polished. And at that two people, who stood outside the

window, were looking, one of them a tall, thin clergyman, the other a

black-bearded young man of dusky complexion and unobtrusive costume. The

dusky young man spoke with eager gesticulation, and seemed anxious for

his companion to purchase the article.

While they were there, Mr. Cave came into his shop, his beard still

wagging with the bread and butter of his tea. When he saw these men and

the object of their regard, his countenance fell. He glanced guiltily

over his shoulder, and softly shut the door. He was a little old man,

with pale face and peculiar watery blue eyes; his hair was a dirty grey,

and he wore a shabby blue frock coat, an ancient silk hat, and carpet

slippers very much down at heel. He remained watching the two men as

they talked. The clergyman went deep into his trouser pocket, examined a

handful of money, and showed his teeth in an agreeable smile. Mr. Cave

seemed still more depressed when they came into the shop.

The clergyman, without any ceremony, asked the price of the crystal egg.

Mr. Cave glanced nervously towards the door leading into the parlour,

and said five pounds. The clergyman protested that the price was high,

to his companion as well as to Mr. Cave--it was, indeed, very much more

than Mr. Cave had intended to ask, when he had stocked the article--and

an attempt at bargaining ensued. Mr. Cave stepped to the shop-door, and

held it open. "Five pounds is my price," he said, as though he wished

to save himself the trouble of unprofitable discussion. As he did so,

the upper portion of a woman's face appeared above the blind in the

glass upper panel of the door leading into the parlour, and stared

curiously at the two customers. "Five pounds is my price," said Mr.

Cave, with a quiver in his voice.

The swarthy young man had so far remained a spectator, watching Cave

keenly. Now he spoke. "Give him five pounds," he said. The clergyman

glanced at him to see if he were in earnest, and, when he looked at Mr.

Cave again, he saw that the latter's face was white. "It's a lot of

money," said the clergyman, and, diving into his pocket, began counting

his resources. He had little more than thirty shillings, and he appealed

to his companion, with whom he seemed to be on terms of considerable

intimacy. This gave Mr. Cave an opportunity of collecting his thoughts,

and he began to explain in an agitated manner that the crystal was not,

as a matter of fact, entirely free for sale. His two customers were

naturally surprised at this, and inquired why he had not thought of that

before he began to bargain. Mr. Cave became confused, but he stuck to

his story, that the crystal was not in the market that afternoon, that

a probable purchaser of it had already appeared. The two, treating this

as an attempt to raise the price still further, made as if they would

leave the shop. But at this point the parlour door opened, and the owner

of the dark fringe and the little eyes appeared.

She was a coarse-featured, corpulent woman, younger and very much larger

than Mr. Cave; she walked heavily, and her face was flushed. "That

crystal is for sale," she said. "And five pounds is a good enough

price for it. I can't think what you're about, Cave, not to take the

gentleman's offer!"

Mr. Cave, greatly perturbed by the irruption, looked angrily at her over

the rims of his spectacles, and, without excessive assurance, asserted

his right to manage his business in his own way. An altercation began.

The two customers watched the scene with interest and some amusement,

occasionally assisting Mrs. Cave with suggestions. Mr. Cave, hard

driven, persisted in a confused and impossible story of an enquiry for

the crystal that morning, and his agitation became painful. But he stuck

to his point with extraordinary persistence. It was the young Oriental

who ended this curious controversy. He proposed that they should call

again in the course of two days--so as to give the alleged enquirer a

fair chance. "And then we must insist," said the clergyman, "Five

pounds." Mrs. Cave took it on herself to apologise for her husband,

explaining that he was sometimes "a little odd," and as the two

customers left, the couple prepared for a free discussion of the

incident in all its bearings.

Mrs. Cave talked to her husband with singular directness. The poor

little man, quivering with emotion, muddled himself between his stories,

maintaining on the one hand that he had another customer in view, and on

the other asserting that the crystal was honestly worth ten guineas.

"Why did you ask five pounds?" said his wife. "Do let me manage my

business my own way!" said Mr. Cave.

Mr. Cave had living with him a step-daughter and a step-son, and at

supper that night the transaction was re-discussed. None of them had a

high opinion of Mr. Cave's business methods, and this action seemed a

culminating folly.

"It's my opinion he's refused that crystal before," said the step-son, a

loose-limbed lout of eighteen.

"But Five Pounds!" said the step-daughter, an argumentative young

woman of six-and-twenty.

Mr. Cave's answers were wretched; he could only mumble weak assertions

that he knew his own business best. They drove him from his half-eaten

supper into the shop, to close it for the night, his ears aflame and

tears of vexation behind his spectacles. "Why had he left the crystal in

the window so long? The folly of it!" That was the trouble closest in

his mind. For a time he could see no way of evading sale.

After supper his step-daughter and step-son smartened themselves up and

went out and his wife retired upstairs to reflect upon the business

aspects of the crystal, over a little sugar and lemon and so forth in

hot water. Mr. Cave went into the shop, and stayed there until late,

ostensibly to make ornamental rockeries for goldfish cases but really

for a private purpose that will be better explained later. The next day

Mrs. Cave found that the crystal had been removed from the window, and

was lying behind some second-hand books on angling. She replaced it in a

conspicuous position. But she did not argue further about it, as a

nervous headache disinclined her from debate. Mr. Cave was always

disinclined. The day passed disagreeably. Mr. Cave was, if anything,

more absent-minded than usual, and uncommonly irritable withal. In the

afternoon, when his wife was taking her customary sleep, he removed the

crystal from the window again.

The next day Mr. Cave had to deliver a consignment of dog-fish at one of

the hospital schools, where they were needed for dissection. In his

absence Mrs. Cave's mind reverted to the topic of the crystal, and the

methods of expenditure suitable to a windfall of five pounds. She had

already devised some very agreeable expedients, among others a dress of

green silk for herself and a trip to Richmond, when a jangling of the

front door bell summoned her into the shop. The customer was an

examination coach who came to complain of the non-delivery of certain

frogs asked for the previous day. Mrs. Cave did not approve of this

particular branch of Mr. Cave's business, and the gentleman, who had

called in a somewhat aggressive mood, retired after a brief exchange of

words--entirely civil so far as he was concerned. Mrs. Cave's eye then

naturally turned to the window; for the sight of the crystal was an

assurance of the five pounds and of her dreams. What was her surprise to

find it gone!

She went to the place behind the locker on the counter, where she had

discovered it the day before. It was not there; and she immediately

began an eager search about the shop.

When Mr. Cave returned from his business with the dog-fish, about a

quarter to two in the afternoon, he found the shop in some confusion,

and his wife, extremely exasperated and on her knees behind the counter,

routing among his taxidermic material. Her face came up hot and angry

over the counter, as the jangling bell announced his return, and she

forthwith accused him of "hiding it."

"Hid what?" asked Mr. Cave.

"The crystal!"

At that Mr. Cave, apparently much surprised, rushed to the window.

"Isn't it here?" he said. "Great Heavens! what has become of it?"

Just then, Mr. Cave's step-son re-entered the shop from the inner

room--he had come home a minute or so before Mr. Cave--and he was

blaspheming freely. He was apprenticed to a second-hand furniture dealer

down the road, but he had his meals at home, and he was naturally

annoyed to find no dinner ready.

But, when he heard of the loss of the crystal, he forgot his meal, and

his anger was diverted from his mother to his step-father. Their first

idea, of course, was that he had hidden it. But Mr. Cave stoutly denied

all knowledge of its fate--freely offering his bedabbled affidavit in

the matter--and at last was worked up to the point of accusing, first,

his wife and then his step-son of having taken it with a view to a

private sale. So began an exceedingly acrimonious and emotional

discussion, which ended for Mrs. Cave in a peculiar nervous condition

midway between hysterics and amuck, and caused the step-son to be

half-an-hour late at the furniture establishment in the afternoon. Mr.

Cave took refuge from his wife's emotions in the shop.

In the evening the matter was resumed, with less passion and in a

judicial spirit, under the presidency of the step-daughter. The supper

passed unhappily and culminated in a painful scene. Mr. Cave gave way at

last to extreme exasperation, and went out banging the front door

violently. The rest of the family, having discussed him with the freedom

his absence warranted, hunted the house from garret to cellar, hoping to

light upon the crystal.

The next day the two customers called again. They were received by Mrs.

Cave almost in tears. It transpired that no one could imagine all

that she had stood from Cave at various times in her married

pilgrimage.... She also gave a garbled account of the disappearance. The

clergyman and the Oriental laughed silently at one another, and said it

was very extraordinary. As Mrs. Cave seemed disposed to give them the

complete history of her life they made to leave the shop. Thereupon Mrs.

Cave, still clinging to hope, asked for the clergyman's address, so

that, if she could get anything out of Cave, she might communicate it.

The address was duly given, but apparently was afterwards mislaid. Mrs.

Cave can remember nothing about it.

In the evening of that day, the Caves seem to have exhausted their

emotions, and Mr. Cave, who had been out in the afternoon, supped in a

gloomy isolation that contrasted pleasantly with the impassioned

controversy of the previous days. For some time matters were very badly

strained in the Cave household, but neither crystal nor customer


Now, without mincing the matter, we must admit that Mr. Cave was a liar.

He knew perfectly well where the crystal was. It was in the rooms of Mr.

Jacoby Wace, Assistant Demonstrator at St. Catherine's Hospital,

Westbourne Street. It stood on the sideboard partially covered by a

black velvet cloth, and beside a decanter of American whisky. It is from

Mr. Wace, indeed, that the particulars upon which this narrative is

based were derived. Cave had taken off the thing to the hospital hidden

in the dog-fish sack, and there had pressed the young investigator to

keep it for him. Mr. Wace was a little dubious at first. His

relationship to Cave was peculiar. He had a taste for singular

characters, and he had more than once invited the old man to smoke and

drink in his rooms, and to unfold his rather amusing views of life in

general and of his wife in particular. Mr. Wace had encountered Mrs.

Cave, too, on occasions when Mr. Cave was not at home to attend to him.

He knew the constant interference to which Cave was subjected, and

having weighed the story judicially, he decided to give the crystal a

refuge. Mr. Cave promised to explain the reasons for his remarkable

affection for the crystal more fully on a later occasion, but he spoke

distinctly of seeing visions therein. He called on Mr. Wace the same


He told a complicated story. The crystal he said had come into his

possession with other oddments at the forced sale of another curiosity

dealer's effects, and not knowing what its value might be, he had

ticketed it at ten shillings. It had hung upon his hands at that price

for some months, and he was thinking of "reducing the figure," when he

made a singular discovery.

At that time his health was very bad--and it must be borne in mind that,

throughout all this experience, his physical condition was one of

ebb--and he was in considerable distress by reason of the negligence,

the positive ill-treatment even, he received from his wife and

step-children. His wife was vain, extravagant, unfeeling, and had a

growing taste for private drinking; his step-daughter was mean and

over-reaching; and his step-son had conceived a violent dislike for him,

and lost no chance of showing it. The requirements of his business

pressed heavily upon him, and Mr. Wace does not think that he was

altogether free from occasional intemperance. He had begun life in a

comfortable position, he was a man of fair education, and he suffered,

for weeks at a stretch, from melancholia and insomnia. Afraid to disturb

his family, he would slip quietly from his wife's side, when his

thoughts became intolerable, and wander about the house. And about

three o'clock one morning, late in August, chance directed him into the


The dirty little place was impenetrably black except in one spot, where

he perceived an unusual glow of light. Approaching this, he discovered

it to be the crystal egg, which was standing on the corner of the

counter towards the window. A thin ray smote through a crack in the

shutters, impinged upon the object, and seemed as it were to fill its

entire interior.

It occurred to Mr. Cave that this was not in accordance with the laws of

optics as he had known them in his younger days. He could understand the

rays being refracted by the crystal and coming to a focus in its

interior, but this diffusion jarred with his physical conceptions. He

approached the crystal nearly, peering into it and round it, with a

transient revival of the scientific curiosity that in his youth had

determined his choice of a calling. He was surprised to find the light

not steady, but writhing within the substance of the egg, as though that

object was a hollow sphere of some luminous vapour. In moving about to

get different points of view, he suddenly found that he had come between

it and the ray, and that the crystal none the less remained luminous.

Greatly astonished, he lifted it out of the light ray and carried it to

the darkest part of the shop. It remained bright for some four or five

minutes, when it slowly faded and went out. He placed it in the thin

streak of daylight, and its luminousness was almost immediately


So far, at least, Mr. Wace was able to verify the remarkable story of

Mr. Cave. He has himself repeatedly held this crystal in a ray of light

(which had to be of a less diameter than one millimetre). And in a

perfect darkness, such as could be produced by velvet wrapping, the

crystal did undoubtedly appear very faintly phosphorescent. It would

seem, however, that the luminousness was of some exceptional sort, and

not equally visible to all eyes; for Mr. Harbinger--whose name will be

familiar to the scientific reader in connection with the Pasteur

Institute--was quite unable to see any light whatever. And Mr. Wace's

own capacity for its appreciation was out of comparison inferior to that

of Mr. Cave's. Even with Mr. Cave the power varied very considerably:

his vision was most vivid during states of extreme weakness and fatigue.

Now, from the outset this light in the crystal exercised a curious

fascination upon Mr. Cave. And it says more for his loneliness of soul

than a volume of pathetic writing could do, that he told no human being

of his curious observations. He seems to have been living in such an

atmosphere of petty spite that to admit the existence of a pleasure

would have been to risk the loss of it. He found that as the dawn

advanced, and the amount of diffused light increased, the crystal became

to all appearance non-luminous. And for some time he was unable to see

anything in it, except at night-time, in dark corners of the shop.

But the use of an old velvet cloth, which he used as a background for a

collection of minerals, occurred to him, and by doubling this, and

putting it over his head and hands, he was able to get a sight of the

luminous movement within the crystal even in the daytime. He was very

cautious lest he should be thus discovered by his wife, and he practised

this occupation only in the afternoons, while she was asleep upstairs,

and then circumspectly in a hollow under the counter. And one day,

turning the crystal about in his hands, he saw something. It came and

went like a flash, but it gave him the impression that the object had

for a moment opened to him the view of a wide and spacious and strange

country; and, turning it about, he did, just as the light faded, see

the same vision again.

Now, it would be tedious and unnecessary to state all the phases of Mr.

Cave's discovery from this point. Suffice that the effect was this: the

crystal, being peered into at an angle of about 137 degrees from the

direction of the illuminating ray, gave a clear and consistent picture

of a wide and peculiar countryside. It was not dream-like at all: it

produced a definite impression of reality, and the better the light the

more real and solid it seemed. It was a moving picture: that is to say,

certain objects moved in it, but slowly in an orderly manner like real

things, and, according as the direction of the lighting and vision

changed, the picture changed also. It must, indeed, have been like

looking through an oval glass at a view, and turning the glass about to

get at different aspects.

Mr. Cave's statements, Mr. Wace assures me, were extremely

circumstantial, and entirely free from any of that emotional quality

that taints hallucinatory impressions. But it must be remembered that

all the efforts of Mr. Wace to see any similar clarity in the faint

opalescence of the crystal were wholly unsuccessful, try as he would.

The difference in intensity of the impressions received by the two men

was very great, and it is quite conceivable that what was a view to Mr.

Cave was a mere blurred nebulosity to Mr. Wace.

The view, as Mr. Cave described it, was invariably of an extensive

plain, and he seemed always to be looking at it from a considerable

height, as if from a tower or a mast. To the east and to the west the

plain was bounded at a remote distance by vast reddish cliffs, which

reminded him of those he had seen in some picture; but what the picture

was Mr. Wace was unable to ascertain. These cliffs passed north and

south--he could tell the points of the compass by the stars that were

visible of a night--receding in an almost illimitable perspective and

fading into the mists of the distance before they met. He was nearer the

eastern set of cliffs, on the occasion of his first vision the sun was

rising over them, and black against the sunlight and pale against their

shadow appeared a multitude of soaring forms that Mr. Cave regarded as

birds. A vast range of buildings spread below him; he seemed to be

looking down upon them; and, as they approached the blurred and

refracted edge of the picture, they became indistinct. There were also

trees curious in shape, and in colouring, a deep mossy green and an

exquisite grey, beside a wide and shining canal. And something great and

brilliantly coloured flew across the picture. But the first time Mr.

Cave saw these pictures he saw only in flashes, his hands shook, his

head moved, the vision came and went, and grew foggy and indistinct. And

at first he had the greatest difficulty in finding the picture again

once the direction of it was lost.

His next clear vision, which came about a week after the first, the

interval having yielded nothing but tantalising glimpses and some useful

experience, showed him the view down the length of the valley. The view

was different, but he had a curious persuasion, which his subsequent

observations abundantly confirmed, that he was regarding this strange

world from exactly the same spot, although he was looking in a different

direction. The long facade of the great building, whose roof he had

looked down upon before, was now receding in perspective. He recognised

the roof. In the front of the facade was a terrace of massive

proportions and extraordinary length, and down the middle of the

terrace, at certain intervals, stood huge but very graceful masts,

bearing small shiny objects which reflected the setting sun. The import

of these small objects did not occur to Mr. Cave until some time after,

as he was describing the scene to Mr. Wace. The terrace overhung a

thicket of the most luxuriant and graceful vegetation, and beyond this

was a wide grassy lawn on which certain broad creatures, in form like

beetles but enormously larger, reposed. Beyond this again was a richly

decorated causeway of pinkish stone; and beyond that, and lined with

dense red weeds, and passing up the valley exactly parallel with the

distant cliffs, was a broad and mirror-like expanse of water. The air

seemed full of squadrons of great birds, man{oe}uvring in stately

curves; and across the river was a multitude of splendid buildings,

richly coloured and glittering with metallic tracery and facets, among a

forest of moss-like and lichenous trees. And suddenly something flapped

repeatedly across the vision, like the fluttering of a jewelled fan or

the beating of a wing, and a face, or rather the upper part of a face

with very large eyes, came as it were close to his own and as if on the

other side of the crystal. Mr. Cave was so startled and so impressed by

the absolute reality of these eyes, that he drew his head back from the

crystal to look behind it. He had become so absorbed in watching that he

was quite surprised to find himself in the cool darkness of his little

shop, with its familiar odour of methyl, mustiness, and decay. And, as

he blinked about him, the glowing crystal faded, and went out.

Such were the first general impressions of Mr. Cave. The story is

curiously direct and circumstantial. From the outset, when the valley

first flashed momentarily on his senses, his imagination was strangely

affected, and, as he began to appreciate the details of the scene he

saw, his wonder rose to the point of a passion. He went about his

business listless and distraught, thinking only of the time when he

should be able to return to his watching. And then a few weeks after his

first sight of the valley came the two customers, the stress and

excitement of their offer, and the narrow escape of the crystal from

sale, as I have already told.

Now, while the thing was Mr. Cave's secret, it remained a mere wonder, a

thing to creep to covertly and peep at, as a child might peep upon a

forbidden garden. But Mr. Wace has, for a young scientific investigator,

a particularly lucid and consecutive habit of mind. Directly the crystal

and its story came to him, and he had satisfied himself, by seeing the

phosphorescence with his own eyes, that there really was a certain

evidence for Mr. Cave's statements, he proceeded to develop the matter

systematically. Mr. Cave was only too eager to come and feast his eyes

on this wonderland he saw, and he came every night from half-past eight

until half-past ten, and sometimes, in Mr. Wace's absence, during the

day. On Sunday afternoons, also, he came. From the outset Mr. Wace made

copious notes, and it was due to his scientific method that the relation

between the direction from which the initiating ray entered the crystal

and the orientation of the picture were proved. And, by covering the

crystal in a box perforated only with a small aperture to admit the

exciting ray, and by substituting black holland for his buff blinds, he

greatly improved the conditions of the observations; so that in a little

while they were able to survey the valley in any direction they desired.

So having cleared the way, we may give a brief account of this visionary

world within the crystal. The things were in all cases seen by Mr. Cave,

and the method of working was invariably for him to watch the crystal

and report what he saw, while Mr. Wace (who as a science student had

learnt the trick of writing in the dark) wrote a brief note of his

report. When the crystal faded, it was put into its box in the proper

position and the electric light turned on. Mr. Wace asked questions, and

suggested observations to clear up difficult points. Nothing, indeed,

could have been less visionary and more matter-of-fact.

The attention of Mr. Cave had been speedily directed to the bird-like

creatures he had seen so abundantly present in each of his earlier

visions. His first impression was soon corrected, and he considered for

a time that they might represent a diurnal species of bat. Then he

thought, grotesquely enough, that they might be cherubs. Their heads

were round, and curiously human, and it was the eyes of one of them that

had so startled him on his second observation. They had broad, silvery

wings, not feathered, but glistening almost as brilliantly as new-killed

fish and with the same subtle play of colour, and these wings were not

built on the plan of bird-wing or bat, Mr. Wace learned, but supported

by curved ribs radiating from the body. (A sort of butterfly wing with

curved ribs seems best to express their appearance.) The body was small,

but fitted with two bunches of prehensile organs, like long tentacles,

immediately under the mouth. Incredible as it appeared to Mr. Wace, the

persuasion at last became irresistible, that it was these creatures

which owned the great quasi-human buildings and the magnificent garden

that made the broad valley so splendid. And Mr. Cave perceived that the

buildings, with other peculiarities, had no doors, but that the great

circular windows, which opened freely, gave the creatures egress and

entrance. They would alight upon their tentacles, fold their wings to a

smallness almost rod-like, and hop into the interior. But among them was

a multitude of smaller-winged creatures, like great dragon-flies and

moths and flying beetles, and across the greensward brilliantly-coloured

gigantic ground-beetles crawled lazily to and fro. Moreover, on the

causeways and terraces, large-headed creatures similar to the greater

winged flies, but wingless, were visible, hopping busily upon their

hand-like tangle of tentacles.

Allusion has already been made to the glittering objects upon masts that

stood upon the terrace of the nearer building. It dawned upon Mr. Cave,

after regarding one of these masts very fixedly on one particularly

vivid day, that the glittering object there was a crystal exactly like

that into which he peered. And a still more careful scrutiny convinced

him that each one in a vista of nearly twenty carried a similar object.

Occasionally one of the large flying creatures would flutter up to one,

and, folding its wings and coiling a number of its tentacles about the

mast, would regard the crystal fixedly for a space,--sometimes for as

long as fifteen minutes. And a series of observations, made at the

suggestion of Mr. Wace, convinced both watchers that, so far as this

visionary world was concerned, the crystal into which they peered

actually stood at the summit of the endmost mast on the terrace, and

that on one occasion at least one of these inhabitants of this other

world had looked into Mr. Cave's face while he was making these


So much for the essential facts of this very singular story. Unless we

dismiss it all as the ingenious fabrication of Mr. Wace, we have to

believe one of two things: either that Mr. Cave's crystal was in two

worlds at once, and that, while it was carried about in one, it remained

stationary in the other, which seems altogether absurd; or else that it

had some peculiar relation of sympathy with another and exactly similar

crystal in this other world, so that what was seen in the interior of

the one in this world was, under suitable conditions, visible to an

observer in the corresponding crystal in the other world; and vice

versa. At present, indeed, we do not know of any way in which two

crystals could so come en rapport, but nowadays we know enough to

understand that the thing is not altogether impossible. This view of the

crystals as en rapport was the supposition that occurred to Mr. Wace,

and to me at least it seems extremely plausible....

And where was this other world? On this, also, the alert intelligence of

Mr. Wace speedily threw light. After sunset, the sky darkened

rapidly--there was a very brief twilight interval indeed--and the stars

shone out. They were recognisably the same as those we see, arranged in

the same constellations. Mr. Cave recognised the Bear, the Pleiades,

Aldebaran, and Sirius: so that the other world must be somewhere in the

solar system, and, at the utmost, only a few hundreds of millions of

miles from our own. Following up this clue, Mr. Wace learned that the

midnight sky was a darker blue even than our midwinter sky, and that the

sun seemed a little smaller. And there were two small moons! "like our

moon but smaller, and quite differently marked" one of which moved so

rapidly that its motion was clearly visible as one regarded it. These

moons were never high in the sky, but vanished as they rose: that is,

every time they revolved they were eclipsed because they were so near

their primary planet. And all this answers quite completely, although

Mr. Cave did not know it, to what must be the condition of things on


Indeed, it seems an exceedingly plausible conclusion that peering into

this crystal Mr. Cave did actually see the planet Mars and its

inhabitants. And, if that be the case, then the evening star that shone

so brilliantly in the sky of that distant vision, was neither more nor

less than our own familiar earth.

For a time the Martians--if they were Martians--do not seem to have

known of Mr. Cave's inspection. Once or twice one would come to peer,

and go away very shortly to some other mast, as though the vision was

unsatisfactory. During this time Mr. Cave was able to watch the

proceedings of these winged people without being disturbed by their

attentions, and, although his report is necessarily vague and

fragmentary, it is nevertheless very suggestive. Imagine the impression

of humanity a Martian observer would get who, after a difficult process

of preparation and with considerable fatigue to the eyes, was able to

peer at London from the steeple of St. Martin's Church for stretches, at

longest, of four minutes at a time. Mr. Cave was unable to ascertain if

the winged Martians were the same as the Martians who hopped about the

causeways and terraces, and if the latter could put on wings at will. He

several times saw certain clumsy bipeds, dimly suggestive of apes, white

and partially translucent, feeding among certain of the lichenous trees,

and once some of these fled before one of the hopping, round-headed

Martians. The latter caught one in its tentacles, and then the picture

faded suddenly and left Mr. Cave most tantalisingly in the dark. On

another occasion a vast thing, that Mr. Cave thought at first was some

gigantic insect, appeared advancing along the causeway beside the canal

with extraordinary rapidity. As this drew nearer Mr. Cave perceived that

it was a mechanism of shining metals and of extraordinary complexity.

And then, when he looked again, it had passed out of sight.

After a time Mr. Wace aspired to attract the attention of the Martians,

and the next time that the strange eyes of one of them appeared close to

the crystal Mr. Cave cried out and sprang away, and they immediately

turned on the light and began to gesticulate in a manner suggestive of

signalling. But when at last Mr. Cave examined the crystal again the

Martian had departed.

Thus far these observations had progressed in early November, and then

Mr. Cave, feeling that the suspicions of his family about the crystal

were allayed, began to take it to and fro with him in order that, as

occasion arose in the daytime or night, he might comfort himself with

what was fast becoming the most real thing in his existence.

In December Mr. Wace's work in connection with a forthcoming examination

became heavy, the sittings were reluctantly suspended for a week, and

for ten or eleven days--he is not quite sure which--he saw nothing of

Cave. He then grew anxious to resume these investigations, and, the

stress of his seasonal labours being abated, he went down to Seven

Dials. At the corner he noticed a shutter before a bird fancier's

window, and then another at a cobbler's. Mr. Cave's shop was closed.

He rapped and the door was opened by the step-son in black. He at once

called Mrs. Cave, who was, Mr. Wace could not but observe, in cheap but

ample widow's weeds of the most imposing pattern. Without any very

great surprise Mr. Wace learnt that Cave was dead and already buried.

She was in tears, and her voice was a little thick. She had just

returned from Highgate. Her mind seemed occupied with her own prospects

and the honourable details of the obsequies, but Mr. Wace was at last

able to learn the particulars of Cave's death. He had been found dead in

his shop in the early morning, the day after his last visit to Mr. Wace,

and the crystal had been clasped in his stone-cold hands. His face was

smiling, said Mrs. Cave, and the velvet cloth from the minerals lay on

the floor at his feet. He must have been dead five or six hours when he

was found.

This came as a great shock to Wace, and he began to reproach himself

bitterly for having neglected the plain symptoms of the old man's

ill-health. But his chief thought was of the crystal. He approached that

topic in a gingerly manner, because he knew Mrs. Cave's peculiarities.

He was dumbfoundered to learn that it was sold.

Mrs. Cave's first impulse, directly Cave's body had been taken upstairs,

had been to write to the mad clergyman who had offered five pounds for

the crystal, informing him of its recovery; but after a violent hunt in

which her daughter joined her, they were convinced of the loss of his

address. As they were without the means required to mourn and bury Cave

in the elaborate style the dignity of an old Seven Dials inhabitant

demands, they had appealed to a friendly fellow-tradesman in Great

Portland Street. He had very kindly taken over a portion of the stock at

a valuation. The valuation was his own and the crystal egg was included

in one of the lots. Mr. Wace, after a few suitable consolatory

observations, a little off-handedly proffered perhaps, hurried at once

to Great Portland Street. But there he learned that the crystal egg had

already been sold to a tall, dark man in grey. And there the material

facts in this curious, and to me at least very suggestive, story come

abruptly to an end. The Great Portland Street dealer did not know who

the tall dark man in grey was, nor had he observed him with sufficient

attention to describe him minutely. He did not even know which way this

person had gone after leaving the shop. For a time Mr. Wace remained in

the shop, trying the dealer's patience with hopeless questions, venting

his own exasperation. And at last, realising abruptly that the whole

thing had passed out of his hands, had vanished like a vision of the

night, he returned to his own rooms, a little astonished to find the

notes he had made still tangible and visible upon his untidy table.

His annoyance and disappointment were naturally very great. He made a

second call (equally ineffectual) upon the Great Portland Street dealer,

and he resorted to advertisements in such periodicals as were likely to

come into the hands of a bric-a-brac collector. He also wrote letters

to The Daily Chronicle and Nature, but both those periodicals,

suspecting a hoax, asked him to reconsider his action before they

printed, and he was advised that such a strange story, unfortunately so

bare of supporting evidence, might imperil his reputation as an

investigator. Moreover, the calls of his proper work were urgent. So

that after a month or so, save for an occasional reminder to certain

dealers, he had reluctantly to abandon the quest for the crystal egg,

and from that day to this it remains undiscovered. Occasionally,

however, he tells me, and I can quite believe him, he has bursts of

zeal, in which he abandons his more urgent occupation and resumes the


Whether or not it will remain lost for ever, with the material and

origin of it, are things equally speculative at the present time. If

the present purchaser is a collector, one would have expected the

enquiries of Mr. Wace to have reached him through the dealers. He has

been able to discover Mr. Cave's clergyman and "Oriental"--no other than

the Rev. James Parker and the young Prince of Bosso-Kuni in Java. I am

obliged to them for certain particulars. The object of the Prince was

simply curiosity--and extravagance. He was so eager to buy, because Cave

was so oddly reluctant to sell. It is just as possible that the buyer in

the second instance was simply a casual purchaser and not a collector at

all, and the crystal egg, for all I know, may at the present moment be

within a mile of me, decorating a drawing-room or serving as a

paper-weight--its remarkable functions all unknown. Indeed, it is partly

with the idea of such a possibility that I have thrown this narrative

into a form that will give it a chance of being read by the ordinary

consumer of fiction.

My own ideas in the matter are practically identical with those of Mr.

Wace. I believe the crystal on the mast in Mars and the crystal egg of

Mr. Cave's to be in some physical, but at present quite inexplicable,

way en rapport, and we both believe further that the terrestrial

crystal must have been--possibly at some remote date--sent hither from

that planet, in order to give the Martians a near view of our affairs.

Possibly the fellows to the crystals in the other masts are also on our

globe. No theory of hallucination suffices for the facts.