Short story by H. G. Wells. First published in
Unicorn, September 18, 1895
The night was hot and overcast, the sky red, rimmed with the
lingering sunset of mid-summer. They sat at the open window,
trying to fancy the air was fresher there. The trees and shrubs of
the garden stood stiff and dark; beyond in the roadway a gas-lamp burnt, bright orange against the hazy blue of the evening. Farther were the three lights of the railway signal against the
lowering sky. The man and woman spoke to one another in low tones.
"He does not suspect?" said the man, a little nervously.
"Not he," she said peevishly, as though that too irritated
her. "He thinks of nothing but the works and the prices of fuel.
He has no imagination, no poetry."
"None of these men of iron have," he said sententiously.
"They have no hearts."
"He has not," she said. She turned her discontented
face towards the window. The distant sound of a roaring and
rushing drew nearer and grew in volume; the house quivered; one
heard the metallic rattle of the tender. As the train passed,
there was a glare of light above the cutting and a driving tumult
of smoke; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight black
oblongs--eight trucks--passed across the dim grey of the
embankment, and were suddenly extinguished one by one in the throat
of the tunnel, which, with the last, seemed to swallow down train,
smoke, and sound in one abrupt gulp.
"This country was all fresh and beautiful once," he said; "and
now--it is Gehenna. Down that way--nothing but pot-banks and
chimneys belching fire and dust into the face of heaven . . . . .
But what does it matter? An end comes, an end to all this cruelty
. . . . . to-morrow." He spoke the last word in a whisper.
"To-morrow," she said, speaking in a whisper too, and
still staring out of the window.
"Dear!" he said, putting his hand on hers.
She turned with a start, and their eyes searched one
another's. Hers softened to his gaze. "My dear one!" she said,
and then: "It seems so strange --that you should have come into my
life like this--to open--" She paused.
"To open?" he said.
"All this wonderful world--" she hesitated, and spoke still
more softly--"this world of love to me."
Then suddenly the door clicked and closed. They turned their
heads, and he started violently back. In the shadow of the room
stood a great shadowy figure--silent. They saw the face dimly in
the half-light, with unexpressive dark patches under the penthouse brows. Every muscle in Raut's body suddenly became tense. When
could the door have opened? What had he heard? Had he heard all?
What had he seen? A tumult of questions.
The new-comer's voice came at last, after a pause that seemed
interminable. "Well?" he said.
"I was afraid I had missed you, Horrocks," said the man at the
window, gripping the window-ledge with his hand. His voice was
The clumsy figure of Horrocks came forward out of the shadow.
He made no answer to Raut's remark. For a moment he stood above
The woman's heart was cold within her. "I told Mr. Raut it
was just possible you might come back," she said, in a voice that
Horrocks, still silent, sat down abruptly in the chair by her
little work-table. His big hands were clenched; one saw now the
fire of his eyes under the shadow of his brows. He was trying to
get his breath. His eyes went from the woman he had trusted to the
friend he had trusted, and then back to the woman.
By this time and for the moment all three half understood one
another. Yet none dared say a word to ease the pent-up things that
It was the husband's voice that broke the silence at last.
"You wanted to see me?" he said to Raut.
Raut started as he spoke. "I came to see you," he said,
resolved to lie to the last.
"Yes," said Horrocks.
"You promised," said Raut, "to show me some fine effects of
moonlight and smoke."
"I promised to show you some fine effects of moonlight and
smoke," repeated Horrocks in a colourless voice.
"And I thought I might catch you to-night before you went down
to the works," proceeded Raut, "and come with you."
There was another pause. Did the man mean to take the thing
coolly? Did he after all know? How long had he been in the room?
Yet even at the moment when they heard the door, their attitudes .
. . . Horrocks glanced at the profile of the woman, shadowy pallid
in the half-light. Then he glanced at Raut, and seemed to recover
himself suddenly. "Of course," he said, "I promised to show you
the works under their proper dramatic conditions. It's odd how I
could have forgotten."
"If I am troubling you--" began Raut.
Horrocks started again. A new light had suddenly come into
the sultry gloom of his eyes. "Not in the least," he said.
"Have you been telling Mr. Raut of all these contrasts of
flame and shadow you think so splendid?" said the woman, turning
now to her husband for the first time, her confidence creeping back
again, her voice just one half-note too high. "That dreadful
theory of yours that machinery is beautiful, and everything else in
the world ugly. I thought he would not spare you, Mr. Raut. It's
his great theory, his one discovery in art."
"I am slow to make discoveries," said Horrocks grimly, damping
her suddenly. "But what I discover . . . . ." He stopped.
"Well?" she said.
"Nothing;" and suddenly he rose to his feet.
"I promised to show you the works," he said to Raut, and put
his big, clumsy hand on his friend's shoulder. "And you are ready
"Quite," said Raut, and stood up also.
There was another pause. Each of them peered through the
indistinctness of the dusk at the other two. Horrocks' hand still
rested on Raut's shoulder. Raut half fancied still that the
incident was trivial after all. But Mrs. Horrocks knew her husband
better, knew that grim quiet in his voice, and the confusion in her
mind took a vague shape of physical evil. "Very well", said
Horrocks, and, dropping his hand, turned towards the door.
"My hat?" Raut looked round in the half-light.
"That's my work-basket," said Mrs. Horrocks, with a gust of
hysterical laughter. Their hands came together on the back of the
chair. "Here it is!" he said. She had an impulse to warn him in
an undertone, but she could not frame a word. "Don't go!" and
"Beware of him!" struggled in her mind, and the swift moment
"Got it?" said Horrocks, standing with the door half open.
Raut stepped towards him. "Better say good-bye to Mrs.
Horrocks," said the ironmaster, even more grimly quiet in his tone
Raut started and turned. "Good-evening, Mrs. Horrocks," he
said, and their hands touched.
Horrocks held the door open with a ceremonial politeness
unusual in him towards men. Raut went out, and then, after a
wordless look at her, her husband followed. She stood motionless
while Raut's light footfall and her husband's heavy tread, like
bass and treble, passed down the passage together. The front door
slammed heavily. She went to the window, moving slowly, and stood
watching--leaning forward. The two men appeared for a moment at
the gateway in the road, passed under the street lamp, and were
hidden by the black masses of the shrubbery. The lamp-light fell
for a moment on their faces, showing only unmeaning pale patches,
telling nothing of what she still feared, and doubted, and craved
vainly to know. Then she sank down into a crouching attitude in
the big arm-chair, her eyes wide open and staring out at the red
lights from the furnaces that flickered in the sky. An hour after
she was still there, her attitude scarcely changed.
The oppressive stillness of the evening weighed heavily upon
Raut. They went side by side down the road in silence, and in
silence turned into the cinder-made by-way that presently opened
out the prospect of the valley.
A blue haze, half dust, half mist, touched the long valley
with mystery. Beyond were Hanley and Etruria, grey and dark
masses, outlined thinly by the rare golden dots of the street
lamps, and here and there a gaslit window, or the yellow glare of
some late-working factory or crowded public-house. Out of the
masses, clear and slender against the evening sky, rose a multitude
of tall chimneys, many of them reeking, a few smokeless during a
season of "play." Here and there a pallid patch and ghostly
stunted beehive shapes showed the position of a pot-bank, or a
wheel, black and sharp against the hot lower sky, marked some
colliery where they raise the iridescent coal of the place. Nearer
at hand was the broad stretch of railway, and half invisible trains
shunted--a steady puffing and rumbling, with every run a ringing
concussion and a rhythmic series of impacts, and a passage of
intermittent puffs of white steam across the further view. And
to the left, between the railway and the dark mass of the low hill
beyond, dominating the whole view, colossal, inky-black, and
crowned with smoke and fitful flames, stood the great cylinders of
the Jeddah Company Blast Furnaces, the central edifices of the big
ironworks of which Horrocks was the manager. They stood heavy and
threatening, full of an incessant turmoil of flames and seething
molten iron, and about the feet of them rattled the rolling-mills,
and the steam hammer beat heavily and splashed the white iron
sparks hither and thither. Even as they looked, a truckful of fuel
was shot into one of the giants, and the red flames gleamed out,
and a confusion of smoke and black dust came boiling upwards
towards the sky.
"Certainly you get some fine effects of colour with your
furnaces," said Raut, breaking a silence that had become
Horrocks grunted. He stood with his hands in his pockets,
frowning down at the dim steaming railway and the busy ironworks
beyond, frowning as if he were thinking out some knotty problem.
Raut glanced at him and away again. "At present your
moonlight effect is hardly ripe," he continued, looking upward.
"The moon is still smothered by the vestiges of daylight."
Horrocks stared at him with the expression of a man who has
suddenly awakened. "Vestiges of daylight? . . . . Of course, of
course." He too looked up at the moon, pale still in the midsummer
sky. "Come along," he said suddenly, and, gripping Raut's arm in
his hand, made a move towards the path that dropped from them to
Raut hung back. Their eyes met and saw a thousand things in
a moment that their eyes came near to say. Horrocks' hand
tightened and then relaxed. He let go, and before Raut was aware
of it, they were arm in arm, and walking, one unwillingly enough,
down the path.
"You see the fine effect of the railway signals towards Burslem," said Horrocks, suddenly breaking into loquacity, striding
fast, and tightening the grip of his elbow the while. " Little
green lights and red and white lights, all against the haze. You
have an eye for effect, Raut. It's a fine effect. And look at
those furnaces of mine, how they rise upon us as we come down the
hill. That to the right is my pet--seventy feet of him. I packed
him myself, and he's boiled away cheerfully with iron in his guts
for five long years. I've a particular fancy for him. That
line of red there--a lovely bit of warm orange you'd call it,
Raut--that's the puddlers' furnaces, and there, in the hot light,
three black figures--did you see the white splash of the
steam-hammer then?--that's the rolling mills. Come along! Clang,
clatter, how it goes rattling across the floor! Sheet tin, Raut,
--amazing stuff. Glass mirrors are not in it when that stuff comes
from the mill. And, squelch!--there goes the hammer again. Come
He had to stop talking to catch at his breath. His arm
twisted into Raut's with benumbing tightness. He had come striding
down the black path towards the railway as though he was possessed.
Raut had not spoken a word, had simply hung back against Horrocks'
pull with all his strength.
"I say," he said now, laughing nervously, but with an
undernote of snarl in his voice, "why on earth are you nipping my
arm off, Horrocks, and dragging me along like this?"
At length Horrocks released him. His manner changed again.
"Nipping your arm off?" he said. "Sorry. But it's you taught me
the trick of walking in that friendly way."
"You haven't learnt the refinements of it yet then," said
Raut, laughing artificially again. "By Jove! I'm black and blue."
Horrocks offered no apology. They stood now near the bottom of the
hill, close to the fence that bordered the railway. The ironworks
had grown larger and spread out with their approach. They looked
up to the blast furnaces now instead of down; the further view of
Etruria and Hanley had dropped out of sight with their descent.
Before them, by the stile rose a notice-board, bearing still dimly
visible, the words, "BEWARE OF THE TRAINS," half hidden by splashes
of coaly mud.
"Fine effects," said Horrocks, waving his arm. "Here comes a
train. The puffs of smoke, the orange glare, the round eye of
light in front of it, the melodious rattle. Fine effects! But
these furnaces of mine used to be finer, before we shoved cones in
their throats, and saved the gas."
"How?" said Raut. "Cones?"
"Cones, my man, cones. I'll show you one nearer. The flames
used to flare out of the open throats, great--what is it?--pillars
of cloud by day, red and black smoke, and pillars of fire by night.
Now we run it off in pipes, and burn it to heat the blast, and the
top is shut by a cone. You'll be interested in that cone."
"But every now and then," said Raut, "you get a burst of fire
and smoke up there."
"The cone's not fixed, it's hung by a chain from a lever, and
balanced by an equipoise. You shall see it nearer. Else, of
course, there'd be no way of getting fuel into the thing. Every
now and then the cone dips, and out comes the flare."
"I see," said Raut. He looked over his shoulder. "The moon
gets brighter," he said.
"Come along," said Horrocks abruptly, gripping his shoulder
again, and moving him suddenly towards the railway crossing. And
then came one of those swift incidents, vivid, but so rapid that
they leave one doubtful and reeling. Halfway across, Horrocks'
hand suddenly clenched upon him like a vice, and swung him backward
and through a half-turn, so that he looked up the line. And there
a chain of lamp-lit carriage-windows telescoped swiftly as it came
towards them, and the red and yellow lights of an engine grew
larger and larger, rushing down upon them. As he grasped what this
meant, he turned his face to Horrocks, and pushed with all
his strength against the arm that held him back between the rails.
The struggle did not last a moment. Just as certain as it was that
Horrocks held him there, so certain was it that he had been
violently lugged out of danger.
"Out of the way," said Horrocks, with a gasp, as the train
came rattling by, and they stood panting by the gate into the
"I did not see it coming," said Raut, still, even in spite of
his own apprehensions, trying to keep up an appearance of ordinary
Horrocks answered with a grunt. "The cone," he said, and
then, as one who recovers himself, "I thought you did not hear."
"I didn't," said Raut.
"I wouldn't have had you run over then for the world," said
"For a moment I lost my nerve," said Raut.
Horrocks stood for half a minute, then turned abruptly towards
the ironworks again. "See how fine these great mounds of mine,
these clinker-heaps, look in the night! That truck yonder, up
above there! Up it goes, and out-tilts the slag. See the
palpitating red stuff go sliding down the slope. As we get nearer,
the heap rises up and cuts the blast furnaces. See the quiver up
above the big one. Not that way! This way, between the heaps.
That goes to the puddling furnaces, but I want to show you the
canal first." He came and took Raut by the elbow, and so they went
along side by side. Raut answered Horrocks vaguely. What, he
asked himself, had really happened on the line? Was he deluding
himself with his own fancies, or had Horrocks actually held him
back in the way of the train? Had he just been within an ace of
Suppose this slouching, scowling monster did know
anything? For a minute or two then Raut was really afraid for his
life, but the mood passed as he reasoned with himself. After all,
Horrocks might have heard nothing. At any rate, he had pulled him
out of the way in time. His odd manner might be due to the mere
vague jealousy he had shown once before. He was talking now of the
ash-heaps and the canal. "Eigh?" said Horrocks.
"What?" said Raut. "Rather! The haze in the moonlight. Fine!"
"Our canal," said Horrocks, stopping suddenly. "Our canal by
moonlight and firelight is an immense effect. You've never seen
it? Fancy that! You've spent too many of your evenings
philandering up in Newcastle there. I tell you, for real florid
effects--But you shall see. Boiling water . . . "
As they came out of the labyrinth of clinker-heaps and mounds
of coal and ore, the noises of the rolling-mill sprang upon them
suddenly, loud, near, and distinct. Three shadowy workmen went by
and touched their caps to Horrocks. Their faces were vague in the
darkness. Raut felt a futile impulse to address them, and before
he could frame his words, they passed into the shadows. Horrocks
pointed to the canal close before them now: a weird-looking place
it seemed, in the blood-red reflections of the furnaces. The hot
water that cooled the tuyeres came into it, some fifty yards up--
a tumultuous, almost boiling affluent, and the steam rose up from
the water in silent white wisps and streaks, wrapping damply about
them, an incessant succession of ghosts coming up from the black
and red eddies, a white uprising that made the head swim. The
shining black tower of the larger blast-furnace rose overhead out
of the mist, and its tumultuous riot filled their ears. Raut kept
away from the edge of the water, and watched Horrocks.
"Here it is red," said Horrocks, "blood-red vapour as red and
hot as sin; but yonder there, where the moonlight falls on it, and
it drives across the clinker-heaps, it is as white as death."
Raut turned his head for a moment, and then came back hastily
to his watch on Horrocks. "Come along to the rolling-mills," said
Horrocks. The threatening hold was not so evident that time, and
Raut felt a little reassured. But all the same, what on earth did
Horrocks mean about "white as death" and "red as sin?"
They went and stood behind the puddlers for a little while,
and then through the rolling-mills, where amidst an incessant din
the deliberate steam-hammer beat the juice out of the succulent
iron, and black, half-naked Titans rushed the plastic bars, like
hot sealing-wax, between the wheels. "Come on," said Horrocks in
Raut's ear, and they went and peeped through the little glass hole
behind the tuyeres, and saw the tumbled fire writhing in the pit of
the blast-furnace. It left one eye blinded for a while. Then,
with green and blue patches dancing across the dark, they went to
the lift by which the trucks of ore and fuel and lime were raised
to the top of the big cylinder.
And out upon the narrow rail that overhung the furnace, Raut's
doubts came upon him again. Was it wise to be here? If Horrocks
did know--everything! Do what he would, he could not resist a
violent trembling. Right under foot was a sheer depth of seventy
feet. It was a dangerous place. They pushed by a truck of fuel to
get to the railing that crowned the place. The reek of the
furnace, a sulphurous vapor streaked with pungent bitterness,
seemed to make the distant hillside of Hanley quiver. The moon was
riding out now from among a drift of clouds, halfway up the sky
above the undulating wooded outlines of Newcastle. The steaming
canal ran away from below them under an indistinct bridge, and
vanished into the dim haze of the flat fields towards Burslem.
"That's the cone I've been telling you of," shouted Horrocks;
"and, below that, sixty feet of fire and molten metal, with the air
of the blast frothing through it like gas in soda-water."
Raut gripped the hand-rail tightly, and stared down at the
cone. The heat was intense. The boiling of the iron and the
tumult of the blast made a thunderous accompaniment to Horrocks'
voice. But the thing had to be gone through now. Perhaps, after
all . . .
"In the middle," bawled Horrocks, "temperature near a thousand
degrees. If you were dropped into it . . . . flash into
flame like a pinch of gunpowder in a candle. Put your hand out and
feel the heat of his breath. Why, even up here I've seen the
rain-water boiling off the trucks. And that cone there. It's a
damned sight too hot for roasting cakes. The top side of it's
three hundred degrees."
"Three hundred degrees!" said Raut.
"Three hundred centigrade, mind!" said Horrocks. "It will
boil the blood out of you in no time."
"Eigh?" said Raut, and turned.
"Boil the blood out of you in . . . No, you don't!"
"Let me go!" screamed Raut. "Let go my arm!"
With one hand he clutched at the hand-rail, then with both.
For a moment the two men stood swaying. Then suddenly, with a
violent jerk, Horrocks had twisted him from his hold. He clutched
at Horrocks and missed, his foot went back into empty air; in
mid-air he twisted himself, and then cheek and shoulder and knee
struck the hot cone together.
He clutched the chain by which the cone hung, and the thing
sank an infinitesimal amount as he struck it. A circle of glowing
red appeared about him, and a tongue of flame, released from the
chaos within, flickered up towards him. An intense pain assailed
him at the knees, and he could smell the singeing of his hands. He
raised himself to his feet, and tried to climb up the chain, and
then something struck his head. Black and shining with the
moonlight, the throat of the furnace rose about him.
Horrocks, he saw, stood above him by one of the trucks of fuel
on the rail. The gesticulating figure was bright and white in the
moonlight, and shouting, "Fizzle, you fool! Fizzle, you hunter of
women! You hot-blooded hound! Boil! boil! boil!"
Suddenly he caught up a handful of coal out of the truck, and
flung it deliberately, lump after lump, at Raut.
"Horrocks!" cried Raut. "Horrocks!"
He clung crying to the chain, pulling himself up from the
burning of the cone. Each missile Horrocks flung hit him. His
clothes charred and glowed, and as he struggled the cone dropped,
and a rush of hot suffocating gas whooped out and burned round him
in a swift breath of flame.
His human likeness departed from him. When the momentary red
had passed, Horrocks saw a charred, blackened figure, its head
streaked with blood, still clutching and fumbling with the chain,
and writhing in agony--a cindery animal, an inhuman, monstrous
creature that began a sobbing intermittent shriek.
Abruptly, at the sight, the ironmaster's anger passed. A
deadly sickness came upon him. The heavy odour of burning flesh
came drifting up to his nostrils. His sanity returned to him.
"God have mercy upon me!" he cried. "O God! what have I done?"
He knew the thing below him, save that it still moved and
felt, was already a dead man--that the blood of the poor wretch
must be boiling in his veins. An intense realisation of that agony
came to his mind, and overcame every other feeling. For a moment
he stood irresolute, and then, turning to the truck, he hastily
tilted its contents upon the struggling thing that had once been a
man. The mass fell with a thud, and went radiating over the cone.
With the thud the shriek ended, and a boiling confusion of smoke,
dust, and flame came rushing up towards him. As it passed, he saw
the cone clear again.
Then he staggered back, and stood trembling, clinging to the
rail with both hands. His lips moved, but no words came to them.
Down below was the sound of voices and running steps. The
clangour of rolling in the shed ceased abruptly.