The Thrill Book/Volume 1/Issue 1/The Man Who Met Himself

The Thrill Book - Volume 1, Issue 1 (March 1, 1919) (1919)
The Man Who Met Himself by Donovan Bayley
4011062The Thrill Book - Volume 1, Issue 1 (March 1, 1919) — The Man Who Met Himself1919Donovan Bayley

The Man Who Met Himself

By Donovan Bayley

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MR. RICHARD PANTON, missing his wife more and more, poured out another, and, this time, really final glass of whisky, dispatched it to join its fellows, lit his candle, extinguished the sitting-room gas, saw that all the doors and windows were bolted, barred, and fastened, and went halfway upstairs toward bed.

His intention, of course, was to go the whole way; but this was not carried out, for one of his feet caught in the stair carpeting, or possibly in a loose stair rod, so that, holding tightly to the candlestick, he returned, mostly through the air, to the foot of the stairs, and, being arrived there, further downward motion was arrested by the impact of the back of his cranium upon the tiled hall.

As a result of that violent resolution of forces, he sustained a certain degree of concussion of the brain, and lay insensible, with the candle still upright, and, rather strangely, still burning. Mr. Panton thinks that it did not go out, and it is quite possible that it did not.

Panton came to at last with a jerk, and sat up, while the stairs and the hall door produced the time-worn illusion of going round when they really were not. He refused to believe them; they presently quieted down, and then he saw something else that he would have refused to believe had he been able, but he could not do anything but believe, in spite of the locked doors and the fastened windows.

Standing halfway up the stairs, looking meditatively at him, very gravely, was a perfectly naked man, who, though he had never seen him before, seemed inexplicably familiar to him. He sat staring at him, his hands palm down on the tiles, the candle on his lap, unable to say anything, so much did he wonder.

The other man, however, had evidently no such disability, for he spoke serenely, his eye on Mr. Panton.

“What an odd creature!” he said. “I wonder why he was chosen for me?”

“You!” said Panton. “You! Who are you?”

“Oh, don’t you know? To a very great extent I’m —you; in fact, I’m all that’s really essential of you.”

“When did you escape?” Panton asked caustically.

“Tt was less an escape than an ejectment. It happened when you drank rather too much and fell downstairs.”

“What on earth do you mean?”

“I don’t; it’s hardly an earthly matter. It involves a thing that the part of me you are doesn’t understand, the inner psychology.”

“Say it again, slowly.”

“No; it wouldn’t be any use. I never have done things that are of no use; that isn’t what I’m for.”

“You seem very mad.”

“Reduced to the basic fact, that means you don’t understand me. Of course, now I’m outside you, you don’t possess the means of understanding me, because no one can understand his subliminal self.”

“His what?”

“I'll try to put it simply. Do you remember that you've often been puzzled about something, puzzled to distraction, and then given it up and said, ‘I'll sleep on it?”

“Yes, I've done that.”

“And the puzzle’s been answered in the morning?”

“Quite true.”

“Well, I’m that.”

“That? What?”

“The intelligence which settled your problem for you while you slept. I never sleep, you know, but I'm often very glad when you do, for then you don’t distract me with your futilities.”

“Here, I say!”

“What do you say?”

“Oh, hang it!”

“Hang what?”

“I don’t know.”

“That is like you,” said Mr. Panton’s subliminal self. “You say things that mean nothing, just because you like the sound of them. Do you know how you've always seemed to me?”


“I'll tell you, now I’ve the chance. You're a spuffling absurdity. You've made me feel I was locked up inside a bumble bee. You buzz, and you get emotional ; you're in and out of paddies, and there is nothing to you at all but arrant curiosity about unessentials.”

“It’s a bit thick, coming into my house, with no clothes on, to tell me off like this!”

“I've always been in your house. You think I’m absurd because I’ve no clothes on. Stand up. You can now. Then see which of us two is the most absurd.”

Mr. Panton got to his feet shakily, and looked down at himself. His lounge coat came to his knees, his hands were somewhere inside the sleeves; he felt his collar round his ears, and his trousers, which had been a shade short, were in folds round his legs.

“Don't you think you look a little absurd?”

“My clothes have grown!”

“You argue wrongly; you have shrunk.”

“I’ve shrunk? Then where's the rest of me gone?”

“I’ve taken half of us. Half of us is mine, you know. When I was ejected from your body, I had to materialize myself, and, since you were my partner in it, I’ve borrowed, possibly forever, though 1 don’t know, half of your frame. That was quite fair, for I’ve always had as much right to it as you.”

“Do you mean that?”

“When you are better acquainted with me you'll know I never say anything I do not mean. Evasion is not one of my functions, and I function perfectly normally. I’m afraid you'll miss me, but I shall always be here, so if you want advice—and you'll find you will—I’ll give it to you. That’s one of the things I’m for.”

“Do you mean to say you're part of me, that I’ve suddenly become twins?”

“You always were twins; every man has two entities, the objective self and the subliminal self. You, the objective self, are the portion which concerns itself with futilities, like getting on in the world, out-shining your neighbors, and all that sort of thing. I, the subliminal self, am that part of you whose business it is to concern itself with the things that matter. For instance, when you’ve wanted to do something rotten, I’ve shown you very clearly what a beast you were. If you remember, you called me conscience then, and snorted at me; but I can say this much good for you—you've nearly always done what I advised, and when you haven't I’ve made you very uncomfortable, haven’t I?”

“You have.”

“That’s another of the things I’m for. By the way, I find I’m getting very cold.”

“Oh, are you?”

“Yes. I’m going up to bed.”

“Oh, are you?”

“I’ve said so. You'd better come, too?”

“And what bed do you think you're going to?”

“Our bed.”

“Our bed!” Mr. Panton mocked.

“Yes. You're very slow to realize things.”

“What things?”

“Well, this, for instance—that it’s just as much my bed as yours.”

“Oh, is it? We'll see about that!”

“Naturally. Why do you say needless things? I’ve often wondered. Of course, we shall see about it.”

The naked figure turned away, and started to upstairs, Mr. Panton threw the candlestick at it, and hit it on the thigh. The flame went out, but almost before it had done so the angry little man—for he was a little man now, a very little man—jumped agitatedly, feeling on his own thigh the sensation of a burn.

“That was very stupid of you. I’ve already explained to you—now, haven’t I?—that you and I are one. If you'd used your reason you would have known that anything that hurt me must hurt you,”

“Oh!” said Mr. Panton.

“That ought to have been obvious to you. You needn't tell me where the bedroom is. I know.”

Apparently Mr. Panton sat at the foot of the stairs for some time, wondering what to do. This impossible person seemed to have come to stay. How could he be got rid of? Mr. Panton saw no way, For instance, what was there to prevent him from saying that he was himself? That is—it was very muddling—what was to prevent this newcomer from telling everybody that he was him? He looked so like him that nobody would know he was not him. It might end by him having him driven out of his own house, for he was obviously a very clever fellow, and much more likely to be able to persuade people that he was him than he himself was likely to be able to demonstrate that he was not himself, and if he could not persuade people that he was himself, while the other managed to make them believe that it was he who was, then what would he—Mr. Panton—do? Mr. Panton understood this. He followed it all, because he knew what he meant.


THE outsider, looking at the thing from a detached point of view, would have had another doubt, and that doubt would have been whether the man without clothes, or the man with clothes, was the original Mr. Panton, for they were so utterly alike that there was absolutely no evidence by which to choose. Mr. Panton was certain that he was Mr. Panton, but the other was just as certain that he was as much Mr. Panton as Mr. Panton was, and had gone to his—his refers to both of them—bed on that assumption.

Panton was not troubling himself with these abstruse theories. What was blistering his mind was the problem of how to get his bed back and eject the repulsive person who had gone to it, not to sleep, but to be warm. He sat there, and he wished that his wife—good, sensible woman—were only at home to tell him what to do. Then he wished that she would never come home, for which of the two would she choose? Would she choose either?

Would she not say that men do not shrink and that, therefore, neither of the two was her husband, but that both were only extremely bad imitations? Against that was the fact that he could remind her with circumstantial details of ten thousand little intimate things in their lives together. But then, so, apparently, could this other fellow.

It was about now that Panton saw red, and rushed upstairs, His war cry was:

“Conscience oughtn’t to come alive.”

He charged into the bedroom.

“What are you excited about now?” the stranger said. “You get more and more inept.” Panton flew across to the bed.

“Get out of that, he said. “I’m going to stand no more.”

He took him by the hair, and pulled it, and immediately felt as though a monkey were seated on his own head tugging at his scalp.

“Hang!” he said.

“You're apparently quite unteachable, When will you grasp that we're each other! Get into bed, and don’t be a fool!”

“How long are you going to stay here?”

“I haven't the least idea. It wouldn't have happened if you hadn't fallen downstairs. You did it.”

“Are you going to blame me for everything?”

“Well, it's always been necessary so far.”

“But what on earth will my wife say if you don’t go soon?”

“Does it much matter what our wife says?”

“But she won't know which is which! She'll take you for me!”

“Well, I am you.”

“Confound you!”

“You've been trying to do that for a long time.”

“Look here, old chap, you really must go and find your home.”

“My home is where you are. We've never been separated yet, and I’m not going to begin now.”

He got up from the bed, and went over to the looking-glass, holding the candle, which he took from Panton.

“Come and look,” he said. “Now, which of us is which?”

“Heaven only knows.”

“Then why not make the best of it?”

“It's no good. You'll have to go.” He took him by the shoulder, and then turned suddenly over his own, for it seemed to him that he, too, had been suddenly grasped.

“You'll get used to that. Supposing you were in the city, and I fell over the coal bucket while I was filling it for our wife, you’d have just the same sensations. No doubt in time it won't startle you, though I dare say at first, till you get used to being in one place and feeling you're in another as well, you'll have some bad few minutes. It’s rather a lot to pay, isn’t it, for that last glass of whisky ?”

“You don't mean all this, do you? It isn’t really true, is it?”

“It’s very difficult indeed to know what truth is. I’m just telling you my theory. You don’t seem to remember it’s just as startling for me as for you. Now, come to bed. Come along, there’s nothing to be got by sitting up all night arguing, and I find cold a most distressing sensation.”

Finally, because there really was nothing else to do, he did get into bed, but his sleep was broken, for again and again the stranger woke him up to ask him, apparently merely from philosophic curiosity, why he had done various things in their common past.

“You mustn't mind,” he said, “but I’ve never had an opportunity of cross-examining you till now, because when your part of our brain was awake it was always so occupied with funny, unessential things that I never could get it to listen to my part. Why did you think it worth while, for instance, to tell our wife—”

“She isn’t our wife; she’s my wife!”

“Do you mind leaving that to settle itself when she returns ? Talking about that, you could very easily let her have another fiver to enjoy herself. She doesn’t have such a good time with us, you know, and even now, on her holiday, she’s got the children dragging after her. We'll send her another five dollars in the morning.”

“Oh, will we?”

“Yes. I'll come to the bank with you, and see you do it.”

“Look here, is it my money or yours?”

“It’s ours. There's another thing. Before you can go back to business you'll have to order yourself some clothes, or buy some ready made, because you're half the size you used to be. Order a suit for me while you're about it. Our wife would find it most inconvenient if I had to stay in bed all day.”

“I'll be shot if I do!”

“No, you won't. You'll be followed everywhere by your double in a blanket until you give in. I shan’t mind, if you don't.”

“This is merely absurd. I'm going to sleep.”

“Yes, you need it.”

But ten minutes later he wakened him again.

“Why do you tell so many lies?” he asked.

“I don't.”

“But you do. You told our employer only three days ago that you had urgent private business to do when, as a matter of fact, you only wanted to see a professional billiard match. If you’d told him that he'd have let you go, because he’s quite a decent sort, and he'd have respected you all the more of telling the truth. That's true, isn’t it?”

“I suppose it is.”

“Then why did you lie?”

“I don’t know.”


THIS sort of thing went on all night, and in the morning Mr. Panton was feverish and weary. He felt hungry and not hungry at the same time. The not hungry was Panton (A) and the hungry was Panton (B). He went down to breakfast as soon as his ears told him that the charwoman had prepared it. Panton (B) went with him, wrapped in the eiderdown, and perfectly unembarrassed.

The charwoman looked round and saw them.

“Ere, you boys, who—”

She looked once more, screamed, rushed to the kitchen for her outdoor things, and ran down the street carrying them, firm in her resolution never to revisit that house, for she had no stomach for horrible duplications and shrinkings of respectable city men.

“Now see what you've done!”

The creature in the eiderdown looked at him patiently.

“If the woman had been philosophical enough to wait, I could have explained it to her.”

“But she wasn’t. You couldn't expect her to be, and now you've lost us a perfectly good charwoman, a real treasure, as my wife calls her.”

“I will explain to our wife.”

“You won't be here when she comes back.” “How difficult it is for the objective mind to accept a new situation without protest. Do look at it calmly. Suppose I left the house in this eiderdown, perfectly unfitted as I am, unable, indeed, to procure myself a livelihood or clothes. I should immediately be arrested. That's so, isn’t it?”

“I suppose you would.”

“And a number of unpleasant things would be done to me. Do you admit that?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Surely you haven't forgotten that you’d feel them all, too?”

“Good heavens!”

“Well, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“You would. I’m a dreamy creature; my world’s more or less a world of dreams. I should be nearly certain to get under a motor bus. Think what it would be like for you if I were lying in hospital with a broken back; and do, my good self, try to remember that it was your own action which caused this disruption. It’s done, and you'll have to put up with it. You go about your business, my good soul, and adapt yourself to the new circumstances. Then I'll do all I can to help you. At present you stop me. Now, don’t you?”

“Do you mean that this is going on forever?”

“No, not forever. It'll be all right when we die.”

“Then I hope you die first.”

“Oh, that was only figurative. As a matter of fact, you're the mortal part of us.”

“Then perhaps you can tell me when I shall die?”

“No, I mustn't tell you that.”

“You know, then?”

“Oh, yes, I know, nearly enough.”

“Will it be soon ?”

“My dear fellow, if it were another thousand years, that would only be the tiniest drop in eternity.”

“Hum! Well, one thing’s certain; I can’t go to the office to-day. What shall I tell them?”

“Why, the truth.”

“But, man alive, how can I?”

“My good fool, you'll have to. Don’t you see that? When you go back, half your original size, don’t you think they'll ask you questions? You can only tell them the truth.”

“But they won't believe it. They'll think I’m lying.”

“I know. As soon as they think that, they'll recognize you. They'll listen to what you have to say, and they'll come to the conclusion that it’s quite like you, and about the best thing you've ever done, and they'll make up their mind that you simply don’t mean to tell them whatever it is that’s happened. They'll find you know the work, and I’m afraid they'll find, too, that without me with you you'll do their cheating for them without any scruples at all.”

“You don’t know what you're talking about,” said Panton, growing less and less hungry as the other ate.

“Now go round to your tailor and order a couple of suits. Our measurements are the same.”

Panton did not know what to do. He was extremely reluctant to accept the situation, because, from first to last, he had never believed in it, though he had such good evidence that it had arisen. Finally, of course, he did accept it, and the most compelling factor was that he felt all this other creature’s sensations. That, as any one can see made it quite impossible for him to throw him out. He must have suffered a great deal during this time.

For instance, he had no privacy at all; he had pretty plain indications that even his thoughts were not secret. Looked at reasonably, this should not have worried him, for, if the stranger’s explanation of his advent was correct, they never, of course, had been.

He went out from time to time, leaving the other half of him at home, and it did not even get his meals for him. It seemed to lie about and philosophize.

Panton (A) dreaded going to work, and wrote to say that he was ill. He got what money he wanted by letter from his bank, and he shambled to a tailor whom he did not know to replace with ready-made ones the garments that no longer fitted him, He had to buy new collars, too, but he made his old shirts serve.

It must have been a singular life he led, if his account be true; and there is evidence that it was true. For example, there were his desperate visits to the doctor in the darkness of night, to see if he could do anything for him. But no doctor can restore a man’s size; there is Scripture for that.

No amount of medical thought could add cubits to the length of Mr. Panton, so the situation really resolved itself into this—that he was shut up, tête-à-tête, with his own conscience, to wait until his wife should return, to choose between them, and fearfully afraid that the choice would not be favorable to him,


THE stranger—it is preferable to call him that-became more and more irritating, more and more critical, more and more assertive in his manner, and less and less inclined to do anything for himself. He would lie and think for hours, too absorbed to notice that he was hungry, which meant that Panton (A) had to eat for both of them, and never feel satisfied.

As the date of his wife’s return grew nearer, he became more and more desperate, more and more urgent that the other should go.

“Something’s got to be done,” he said. “I don't care what it is, but something’s got to be done. My wife will be back in three days now.”

“Our wife.”

“My wife.”

“Our wife.”

“Well, anyway, she'll be back in three days, and she’s not to find you here. Haven’t you any pity?”

“You shouldn't have fallen downstairs. What pleasure do you find in that ghastly habit?”

“What ghastly habit?”


“That’s why my cigarettes seem to have gone off, is it? Is there nothing human you like?”

“No, not very much.”

“You're a curse. But come back to what we were talking about. I won't have you here when my wife comes back.”

“Our wife. I’m longing to see her.”

Panton seized his hat, and went into the hall. The other followed him.

“Put on your overcoat,” he said. “I don’t want another of those ghastly things you call a cold in the head through your stupidity, While you're gone I'll write some more letters for us. They'll be more truthful than our correspondents are accustomed to get.”

"Whom are you going to write to?”

"I’m going to write to that man who knocked you down with his motor bicycle, and admit that it was quite your—our fault. It was, you know. You're only trying to blackmail him into paying damages to keep out of court. If you hadn't run into the road suddenly——”

“You'll do no such thing! He’s good for fifty dollars. I’m going to buy my wife a fur coat with it.”

“Our wife wouldn't wear a fur coat got so dishonestly.”

“This is where this stops,” Panton said desperately, snatching up a heavy stick. “You're going out of my house before my wife comes home, if I have to beat you to a pulp to make you.”

“Our house, and our wife.”

Panton hit him on the head with the stick, savagely, though, it must be remembered, he had only half his normal strength. He expected to feel the blow himself, and he did. He reeled with the pain of it, and sank into a chair, his head splitting. He looked to see what he had done. The other was stretched on the floor, very ghastly in appearance.

“Great heavens!” said Panton, “I’ve got a corpse to explain.”

He had an odd sensation, also, as though he were choking and bursting. A moment later he tore off his collar, which was strangling him, The next thing he did was to get out of his clothes while he could. All the time he watched the body on the floor, though not very closely. When he had nothing on but his shirt he knelt down beside the corpse.

That is, he would have done if there had been one to kneel beside. There was not. There was only a heap of garments. Mr. Panton looked at himself, felt himself, and went upstairs.

He came down again, clad in one of his old suits, and it fitted him. He looked at the diminutive clothing on the floor, wondered how he would explain it to his wife, decided he would not, picked it up, found his spade, went into the garden, dug a hole with it—a deep one—carefully shaped not like a grave, and buried the two diminutive suits, with the stock of tiny collars.

Now, there is one thing to be remembered: the doctor and the doctor’s servant, as well as several of the tradesmen, saw him when he was half the size he attained on growing up, and is again now. That is all I know.