The Defossilized Plum-PuddingEdit
H. G. W*lls
"Have some more of that stuff?" asked Simpson, hoisting his club-foot onto a vacant chair, and passing his long, bony fingers down the scar that runs vertically from his forehead to his chin.
"I don't mind if I do." I answered, and he gave me another help.
I do not exactly know why I always dine with Simpson on Christmas Day. Neither of us likes the other. He thinks me a dreamer, and for some reason I never trust him, though he is undoubtedly the most brilliant Pantaeschrologist of his day, and we had been contemporaries at the F.R.Z.S. It is possible that he dislikes me, and I him, less than does anybody else. And to this may be due our annual festivity in his luxurious rooms in Gower street.
"Have some of this sherry," muttered Simpson, pushing towards me a decanter which his deformed butler had placed before him. "You find it middling."
I helped myself to a glass and smoothing out my shirt-front, (Simpson is one of those men who "dress,") settled myself in my chair.
"Notice anything odd about that pudding?" he asked, with a searching glance through his double-convex glasses.
"No," I said simply, "I thought it very good."
A gleam of grim pleasure came out of his face. I knew from this that the annual yarn was coming. Simpson is the most enthralling talker I ever met, but somehow I always go to sleep before he is half-way through. I did so, the year before, when he told me about "The Carnivorous Mistletoe," and the year before that, when he told me "The Secret of the Sinister Crackers," and another time, when his theme was "The Microbes in the Yule Log." It vexed him very much every time, and he pooh-poohed my excuses. I was determined it should not occur again.
"I am glad you liked the pudding," he said. "Pardon my inhospitality in not keeping you company, while you ate. Tobacco is a good preventive against indigestion. You can light up."
I did so.
"You have heard of fossilized substances?" Simpson began, in that rasping voice so familiar to his pupils at the S.V.P.
I nodded across my briar.
"Well," he continued, "it has always been a pet theory of mine that, just as a substance can, by the action of certain alkaloids operating in the course of time, become, to all purposes, metallic, so—you follow me—it can, in like manner, be restored to its previous condition. You have heard of plum-puddings being kept for twenty-one years?"
I nodded; less, I am afraid, in assent than owing to a physical cause.
"Well," I heard him saying, "the stuff that you have eaten to-night is about two hundred and fifty years old and may be much more than that, at a very moderate computation."
I started. Simpson had raised his voice rather suddenly. He took my start for surprise and continued wagging his crippled forefinger at me, "That pudding was originally a cannon-ball. It was picked up on the field of Naseby. Never mind how I came by it. It has been under treatment in my laboratory for the last ten years."
"Ten years," I muttered. "Ten … seems almost impossible."
"For ten years," he resumed, "I have been testing, acidizing … thing began to decompose under my very … at length … brown, pulpy substance, such as you might … sultanas … Now comes in the curious part of the…"
How long after I don't know, I was awoken by a vicious kick from Simpson's club-foot.
"You brute!" I cried, "you drugged that sherry!"
"Faugh!" he sneered, "you say that every year!"