You must picture Mr. Thomas Marvel as a person of copious, flexible visage, a nose of cylindrical protrusion, a liquorish, ample, fluctuating mouth, and a beard of bristling eccentricity. His figure inclined to embonpoint; his short limbs accentuated this inclination. He wore a furry silk hat, and the frequent substitution of twine and shoe-laces for buttons, apparent at critical points of his costume, marked a man essentially bachelor.
Mr. Thomas Marvel was sitting with his feet in a ditch by the roadside over the down towards Adderdean, about a mile and a half out of Iping. His feet, save for socks of irregular open-work, were bare, his big toes were broad, and pricked like the ears of a watchful dog. In a leisurely manner—he did everything in a leisurely manner—he was contemplating trying on a pair of boots. They were the soundest boots he had come across for a long time, but too large for him; whereas the ones he had were, in dry weather, a very comfortable fit, but too thin-soled for damp. Mr. Thomas Marvel hated roomy shoes, but then he hated damp. He had never properly thought out which he hated most, and it was a pleasant day, and there was nothing better to do. So he put the four shoes in a graceful group on the turf and looked at them. And seeing them there among the grass and springing agrimony, it suddenly occurred to him that both pairs were exceedingly ugly to see. He was not at all startled by a voice behind him.
“They’re boots, anyhow,” said the Voice.
“They are—charity boots,” said Mr. Thomas Marvel, with his head on one side regarding them distastefully; “and which is the ugliest pair in the whole blessed universe, I’m darned if I know!”
“H’m,” said the Voice.
“I’ve worn worse—in fact, I’ve worn none. But none so owdacious ugly—if you’ll allow the expression. I’ve been cadging boots—in particular—for days. Because I was sick of them. They’re sound enough, of course. But a gentleman on tramp sees such a thundering lot of his boots. And if you’ll believe me, I’ve raised nothing in the whole blessed country, try as I would, but them. Look at ’em! And a good country for boots, too, in a general way. But it’s just my promiscuous luck. I’ve got my boots in this country ten years or more. And then they treat you like this.”
“It’s a beast of a country,” said the Voice. “And pigs for people.”
“Ain’t it?” said Mr. Thomas Marvel. “Lord! But them boots! It beats it.”
He turned his head over his shoulder to the right, to look at the boots of his interlocutor with a view to comparisons, and lo! where the boots of his interlocutor should have been were neither legs nor boots. He was irradiated by the dawn of a great amazement. “Where are yer?” said Mr. Thomas Marvel over his shoulder and coming on all fours. He saw a stretch of empty downs with the wind swaying the remote green-pointed furze bushes.
“Am I drunk?” said Mr. Marvel. “Have I had visions? Was I talking to myself? What the—”
“Don’t be alarmed,” said a Voice.
“None of your ventriloquising me,” said Mr. Thomas Marvel, rising sharply to his feet. “Where are yer? Alarmed, indeed!”
“Don’t be alarmed,” repeated the Voice.
“You’ll be alarmed in a minute, you silly fool,” said Mr. Thomas Marvel. “Where are yer? Lemme get my mark on yer…
“Are yer buried?” said Mr. Thomas Marvel, after an interval.
There was no answer. Mr. Thomas Marvel stood bootless and amazed, his jacket nearly thrown off.
“Peewit,” said a peewit, very remote.
“Peewit, indeed!” said Mr. Thomas Marvel. “This ain’t no time for foolery.” The down was desolate, east and west, north and south; the road with its shallow ditches and white bordering stakes, ran smooth and empty north and south, and, save for that peewit, the blue sky was empty too. “So help me,” said Mr. Thomas Marvel, shuffling his coat on to his shoulders again. “It’s the drink! I might ha’ known.”
“It’s not the drink,” said the Voice. “You keep your nerves steady.”
“Ow!” said Mr. Marvel, and his face grew white amidst its patches. “It’s the drink!” his lips repeated noiselessly. He remained staring about him, rotating slowly backwards. “I could have swore I heard a voice,” he whispered.
“Of course you did.”
“It’s there again,” said Mr. Marvel, closing his eyes and clasping his hand on his brow with a tragic gesture. He was suddenly taken by the collar and shaken violently, and left more dazed than ever. “Don’t be a fool,” said the Voice.
“I’m—off—my—blooming—chump,” said Mr. Marvel. “It’s no good. It’s fretting about them blarsted boots. I’m off my blessed blooming chump. Or it’s spirits.”
“Neither one thing nor the other,” said the Voice. “Listen!”
“Chump,” said Mr. Marvel.
“One minute,” said the Voice, penetratingly, tremulous with self-control.
“Well?” said Mr. Thomas Marvel, with a strange feeling of having been dug in the chest by a finger.
“You think I’m just imagination? Just imagination?”
“What else can you be?” said Mr. Thomas Marvel, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Very well,” said the Voice, in a tone of relief. “Then I’m going to throw flints at you till you think differently.”
“But where are yer?”
The Voice made no answer. Whizz came a flint, apparently out of the air, and missed Mr. Marvel’s shoulder by a hair’s-breadth. Mr. Marvel, turning, saw a flint jerk up into the air, trace a complicated path, hang for a moment, and then fling at his feet with almost invisible rapidity. He was too amazed to dodge. Whizz it came, and ricochetted from a bare toe into the ditch. Mr. Thomas Marvel jumped a foot and howled aloud. Then he started to run, tripped over an unseen obstacle, and came head over heels into a sitting position.
“Now,” said the Voice, as a third stone curved upward and hung in the air above the tramp. “Am I imagination?”
Mr. Marvel by way of reply struggled to his feet, and was immediately rolled over again. He lay quiet for a moment. “If you struggle any more,” said the Voice, “I shall throw the flint at your head.”
“It’s a fair do,” said Mr. Thomas Marvel, sitting up, taking his wounded toe in hand and fixing his eye on the third missile. “I don’t understand it. Stones flinging themselves. Stones talking. Put yourself down. Rot away. I’m done.”
The third flint fell.
“It’s very simple,” said the Voice. “I’m an invisible man.”
“Tell us something I don’t know,” said Mr. Marvel, gasping with pain. “Where you’ve hid—how you do it—I don’t know. I’m beat.”
“That’s all,” said the Voice. “I’m invisible. That’s what I want you to understand.”
“Anyone could see that. There is no need for you to be so confounded impatient, mister. Now then. Give us a notion. How are you hid?”
“I’m invisible. That’s the great point. And what I want you to understand is this—”
“But whereabouts?” interrupted Mr. Marvel.
“Here! Six yards in front of you.”
“Oh, come! I ain’t blind. You’ll be telling me next you’re just thin air. I’m not one of your ignorant tramps—”
“Yes, I am—thin air. You’re looking through me.”
“What! Ain’t there any stuff to you. Vox et—what is it?—jabber. Is it that?”
“I am just a human being—solid, needing food and drink, needing covering too—But I’m invisible. You see? Invisible. Simple idea. Invisible.”
“What, real like?”
“Let’s have a hand of you,” said Marvel, “if you are real. It won’t be so darn out-of-the-way like, then—Lord!” he said, “how you made me jump!—gripping me like that!”
He felt the hand that had closed round his wrist with his disengaged fingers, and his fingers went timorously up the arm, patted a muscular chest, and explored a bearded face. Marvel’s face was astonishment.
“I’m dashed!” he said. “If this don’t beat cock-fighting! Most remarkable!—And there I can see a rabbit clean through you, ‘arf a mile away! Not a bit of you visible—except—”
He scrutinised the apparently empty space keenly. “You ‘aven’t been eatin’ bread and cheese?” he asked, holding the invisible arm.
“You’re quite right, and it’s not quite assimilated into the system.”
“Ah!” said Mr. Marvel. “Sort of ghostly, though.”
“Of course, all this isn’t half so wonderful as you think.”
“It’s quite wonderful enough for my modest wants,” said Mr. Thomas Marvel. “Howjer manage it! How the dooce is it done?”
“It’s too long a story. And besides—”
“I tell you, the whole business fairly beats me,” said Mr. Marvel.
“What I want to say at present is this: I need help. I have come to that—I came upon you suddenly. I was wandering, mad with rage, naked, impotent. I could have murdered. And I saw you—”
“Lord!” said Mr. Marvel.
“I came up behind you—hesitated—went on—”
Mr. Marvel’s expression was eloquent.
“—then stopped. ‘Here,’ I said, ‘is an outcast like myself. This is the man for me.’ So I turned back and came to you—you. And—”
“Lord!” said Mr. Marvel. “But I’m all in a tizzy. May I ask—How is it? And what you may be requiring in the way of help?—Invisible!”
“I want you to help me get clothes—and shelter—and then, with other things. I’ve left them long enough. If you won’t—well! But you will—must.”
“Look here,” said Mr. Marvel. “I’m too flabbergasted. Don’t knock me about any more. And leave me go. I must get steady a bit. And you’ve pretty near broken my toe. It’s all so unreasonable. Empty downs, empty sky. Nothing visible for miles except the bosom of Nature. And then comes a voice. A voice out of heaven! And stones! And a fist—Lord!”
“Pull yourself together,” said the Voice, “for you have to do the job I’ve chosen for you.”
Mr. Marvel blew out his cheeks, and his eyes were round.
“I’ve chosen you,” said the Voice. “You are the only man except some of those fools down there, who knows there is such a thing as an invisible man. You have to be my helper. Help me—and I will do great things for you. An invisible man is a man of power.” He stopped for a moment to sneeze violently.
“But if you betray me,” he said, “if you fail to do as I direct you—” He paused and tapped Mr. Marvel’s shoulder smartly. Mr. Marvel gave a yelp of terror at the touch. “I don’t want to betray you,” said Mr. Marvel, edging away from the direction of the fingers. “Don’t you go a-thinking that, whatever you do. All I want to do is to help you—just tell me what I got to do. (Lord!) Whatever you want done, that I’m most willing to do.”