THE HAMPDENSHIRE WONDER (12)

By: J.D. Beresford
May 6, 2022

1913 photo — LOC

HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize J.D. Beresford’s 1911 proto-sf novel The Hampdenshire Wonder for HILOBROW’s readers. The first sf novel of real importance about intelligence, it’s the ancestor of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and A.E. Van Vogt’s Slan.

ALL INSTALLMENTS: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18.

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CHAPTER XII
FUGITIVE

Meanwhile a child of five — all unconscious that he was being represented to various members of the Local Education Authority as a protégé under the especial care and tutelage of the greatest of local magnates — ran through a well-kept index of the books in the library of Challis Court — an index written clearly on cards that occupied a great nest of accessible drawers; two cards with a full description to each book, alphabetically arranged, one card under the title of the work and one under the author’s name.

The child made no notes as he studied — he never wrote a single line in all his life; but when a drawer of that delightful index had been searched, he would walk here and there among the three rooms at his disposal, and by the aid of the flight of framed steps that ran smoothly on rubber-tyred wheels, he would take down now and again some book or another until, returning to the table at last to read, he sat in an enceinte of piled volumes that had been collected round him.

Sometimes he read a book from beginning to end, more often he glanced through it, turning a dozen pages at a time, and then pushed it on one side with a gesture displaying the contempt that was not shown by any change of expression.

On many afternoons the sombrely clad figure of a tall, gaunt woman would stand at the open casement of a window in the larger room, and keep a mystic vigil that sometimes lasted for hours. She kept her gaze fixed on that strange little figure whenever it roved up and down the suite of rooms or clambered the pyramid of brown steps that might have made such a glorious plaything for any other child. And even when her son was hidden behind the wall of volumes he had built, the woman would still stare in his direction, but then her eyes seemed to look inwards; at such times she appeared to be wrapped in an introspective devotion.

Very rarely, the heavy-shouldered figure of a man would come to the doorway of the larger room, and also keep a silent vigil — a man who would stand for some minutes with thoughtful eyes and bent brows and then sigh, shake his head and move away, gently closing the door behind him.

There were few other interruptions to the silence of that chapel-like library. Half a dozen times in the first few months a fair-haired, rather supercilious young man came and fetched away a few volumes; but even he evidenced an inclination to walk on tip-toe, a tendency that mastered him whenever he forgot for a moment his self-imposed rôle of scorn….

Outside, over the swelling undulations of rich grass the sheep came back with close-cropped, ungainly bodies to a land that was yellow with buttercups. But when one looked again, their wool hung about them, and they were snatching at short turf that was covered at the wood-side by a sprinkle of brown leaves. Then the sheep have gone, and the wood is black with February rain, and again the unfolding of the year is about us; a thickening of high twigs in the wood, a glint of green on the blackthorn….

Nearly three cycles of death and birth have run their course, and then the strange little figure comes no more to the library at Challis Court.

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RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.

SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable | Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire” | Francis Stevens’s “Friend Island” | George C. Wallis’s “The Last Days of Earth” | Frank L. Pollock’s “Finis” | A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool | E. Nesbit’s “The Third Drug” | George Allan England’s “The Thing from — ‘Outside'” | Booth Tarkington’s “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” | H.G. Wells’s “The Land Ironclads” | J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder | Valery Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross”