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The Remarkable Case of Davidson's Eyes


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 Scott!" he said. The thing happened three or four years ago,
when every one 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 Bellow's 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 as 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!"


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. Horse-hair 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

"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

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!"


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
struck 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.

I remember one odd thing, and that was when he wanted very badly to smoke.
We put a pipe in his hands--he almost poked his eye out with it--and lit
it. But he couldn't taste anything. I've since found it's the same with
me--I don't know if it's the usual case--that I cannot enjoy tobacco at
all unless I can see the smoke.

But the queerest part of his vision came when Wade sent him out in a
Bath-chair to get fresh air. The Davidsons hired a chair, and got that
deaf and obstinate dependant of theirs, Widgery, to attend to it.
Widgery's ideas of healthy expeditions were peculiar. My sister, who had
been to the Dogs' Home, met them in Camden Town, towards King's Cross,
Widgery trotting along complacently, and Davidson, evidently most
distressed, trying in his feeble, blind way to attract Widgery's

He positively wept when my sister spoke to him. "Oh, get me out of this
horrible darkness!" he said, feeling for her hand. "I must get out of it,
or I shall die." He was quite incapable of explaining what was the matter,
but my sister decided he must go home, and presently, as they went uphill
towards Hampstead, the horror seemed to drop from him. He said it was good
to see the stars again, though it was then about noon and a blazing day.

"It seemed," he told me afterwards, "as if I was being carried
irresistibly towards the water. I was not very much alarmed at first. Of
course it was night there--a lovely night."

"Of course?" I asked, for that struck me as odd.

"Of course," said he. "It's always night there when it is day here...
Well, we went right into the water, which was calm and shining under the
moonlight--just a broad swell that seemed to grow broader and flatter as I
came down into it. The surface glistened just like a skin--it might have
been empty space underneath for all I could tell to the contrary. Very
slowly, for I rode slanting into it, the water crept up to my eyes. Then I
went under and the skin seemed to break and heal again about my eyes. The
moon gave a jump up in the sky and grew green and dim, and fish, faintly
glowing, came darting round me--and things that seemed made of luminous
glass; and I passed through a tangle of seaweeds that shone with an oily
lustre. And so I drove down into the sea, and the stars went out one by
one, and the moon grew greener and darker, and the seaweed became a
luminous purple-red. It was all very faint and mysterious, and everything
seemed to quiver. And all the while I could hear the wheels of the
Bath-chair creaking, and the footsteps of people going by, and a man in
the distance selling the special _Pall Mall_.

"I kept sinking down deeper and deeper into the water. It became inky
black about me, not a ray from above came down into that darkness, and the
phosphorescent things grew brighter and brighter. The snaky branches of
the deeper weeds flickered like the flames of spirit-lamps; but, after a
time, there were no more weeds. The fishes came staring and gaping towards
me, and into me and through me. I never imagined such fishes before. They
had lines of fire along the sides of them as though they had been outlined
with a luminous pencil. And there was a ghastly thing swimming backwards
with a lot of twining arms. And then I saw, coming very slowly towards me
through the gloom, a hazy mass of light that resolved itself as it drew
nearer into multitudes of fishes, struggling and darting round something
that drifted. I drove on straight towards it, and presently I saw in the
midst of the tumult, and by the light of the fish, a bit of splintered
spar looming over me, and a dark hull tilting over, and some glowing
phosphorescent forms that were shaken and writhed as the fish bit at them.
Then it was I began to try to attract Widgery's attention. A horror came
upon me. Ugh! I should have driven right into those half-eaten--things. If
your sister had not come! They had great holes in them, Bellows, and ...
Never mind. But it was ghastly!"


For three weeks Davidson remained in this singular state, seeing what at
the time we imagined was an altogether phantasmal world, and stone blind
to the world around him. Then, one Tuesday, when I called I met old
Davidson in the passage. "He can see his thumb!" the old gentleman said,
in a perfect transport. He was struggling into his overcoat. "He can see
his thumb, Bellows!" he said, with the tears in his eyes. "The lad will be
all right yet."

I rushed in to Davidson. He was holding up a little book before his face,
and looking at it and laughing in a weak kind of way.

"It's amazing," said he. "There's a kind of patch come there." He pointed
with his finger. "I'm on the rocks as usual, and the penguins are
staggering and flapping about as usual, and there's been a whale showing
every now and then, but it's got too dark now to make him out. But put
something _there_, and I see it--I do see it. It's very dim and
broken in places, but I see it all the same, like a faint spectre of
itself. I found it out this morning while they were dressing me. It's like
a hole in this infernal phantom world. Just put your hand by mine. No--not
there. Ah! Yes! I see it. The base of your thumb and a bit of cuff! It
looks like the ghost of a bit of your hand sticking out of the darkling
sky. Just by it there's a group of stars like a cross coming out."

From that time Davidson began to mend. His account of the change, like his
account of the vision, was oddly convincing. Over patches of his field of
vision, the phantom world grew fainter, grew transparent, as it were, and
through these translucent gaps he began to see dimly the real world about
him. The patches grew in size and number, ran together and spread until
only here and there were blind spots left upon his eyes. He was able to
get up and steer himself about, feed himself once more, read, smoke, and
behave like an ordinary citizen again. At first it was very confusing to
him to have these two pictures overlapping each other like the changing
views of a lantern, but in a little while he began to distinguish the real
from the illusory.

At first he was unfeignedly glad, and seemed only too anxious to complete
his cure by taking exercise and tonics. But as that odd island of his
began to fade away from him, he became queerly interested in it. He wanted
particularly to go down into the deep sea again, and would spend half his
time wandering about the low-lying parts of London, trying to find the
water-logged wreck he had seen drifting. The glare of real daylight very
soon impressed him so vividly as to blot out everything of his shadowy
world, but of a night-time, in a darkened room, he could still see the
white-splashed rocks of the island, and the clumsy penguins staggering to
and fro. But even these grew fainter and fainter, and, at last, soon after
he married my sister, he saw them for the last time.


And now to tell of the queerest thing of all. About two years after his
cure I dined with the Davidsons, and after dinner a man named Atkins
called in. He is a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and a pleasant, talkative
man. He was on friendly terms with my brother-in-law, and was soon on
friendly terms with me. It came out that he was engaged to Davidson's
cousin, and incidentally he took out a kind of pocket photograph case to
show us a new rendering of his _fianc�e_. "And, by-the-by," said he,
"here's the old _Fulmar_."

Davidson looked at it casually. Then suddenly his face lit up. "Good
heavens!" said he. "I could almost swear----"

"What?" said Atkins.

"That I had seen that ship before."

"Don't see how you can have. She hasn't been out of the South Seas for six
years, and before then----"

"But," began Davidson, and then, "Yes--that's the ship I dreamt of; I'm
sure that's the ship I dreamt of. She was standing off an island that
swarmed with penguins, and she fired a gun."

"Good Lord!" said Atkins, who had now heard the particulars of the
seizure. "How the deuce could you dream that?"

And then, bit by bit, it came out that on the very day Davidson was
seized, H.M.S. _Fulmar_ had actually been off a little rock to the
south of Antipodes Island. A boat had landed overnight to get penguins'
eggs, had been delayed, and a thunderstorm drifting up, the boat's crew
had waited until the morning before rejoining the ship. Atkins had been
one of them, and he corroborated, word for word, the descriptions Davidson
had given of the island and the boat. There is not the slightest doubt in
any of our minds that Davidson has really seen the place. In some
unaccountable way, while he moved hither and thither in London, his sight
moved hither and thither in a manner that corresponded, about this distant
island. _How_ is absolutely a mystery.

That completes the remarkable story of Davidson's eyes. It's perhaps the
best authenticated case in existence of real vision at a distance.
Explanation there is none forthcoming, except what Professor Wade has
thrown out. But his explanation invokes the Fourth Dimension, and a
dissertation on theoretical kinds of space. To talk of there being "a kink
in space" seems mere nonsense to me; it may be because I am no
mathematician. When I said that nothing would alter the fact that the
place is eight thousand miles away, he answered that two points might be a
yard away on a sheet of paper, and yet be brought together by bending the
paper round. The reader may grasp his argument, but I certainly do not.
His idea seems to be that Davidson, stooping between the poles of the big
electro-magnet, had some extraordinary twist given to his retinal elements
through the sudden change in the field of force due to the lightning.

He thinks, as a consequence of this, that it may be possible to live
visually in one part of the world, while one lives bodily in another. He
has even made some experiments in support of his views; but, so far, he
has simply succeeded in blinding a few dogs. I believe that is the net
result of his work, though I have not seen him for some weeks. Latterly I
have been so busy with my work in connection with the Saint Pancras
installation that I have had little opportunity of calling to see him. But
the whole of his theory seems fantastic to me. The facts concerning
Davidson stand on an altogether different footing, and I can testify
personally to the accuracy of every detail I have given.

H.G. Wells