The Man Who Could Work Miracles, H. G. Wells
The Man Who Could Work Miracles
H. G. Wells
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"The Man Who Could Work Miracles" is a British fantasy-comedy short story by H. G. Wells first published in 1898 in The Illustrated London News. The story is an early example of contemporary fantasy (not yet recognized, at the time, as a specific subgenre). In an English public house, George McWhirter Fotheringay vigorously asserts the impossibility of miracles during an argument. By way of demonstration, Fotheringay commands an oil lamp to flame upside down and it does so, to his own astonishment. His acquaintances think it a trick and quickly dismiss it. Fotheringay explores his new power. After magically accomplishing his daily chores as an office clerk, Fotheringay quits early to a park to practice further.

The Man Who Could Work Miracles

A Pantoum in Prose

by
H. G. Wells


The Man Who Could Work Miracles

It is doubtful whether the gift was innate. For my own part, I think it came to him suddenly. Indeed, until he was thirty he was a sceptic, and did not believe in miraculous powers. And here, since it is the most convenient place, I must mention that he was a little man, and had eyes of a hot brown, very erect red hair, a moustache with ends that he twisted up, and freckles. His name was George McWhirter Fotheringay — not the sort of name by any means to lead to any expectation of miracles — and he was clerk at Gomshott’s.

He was greatly addicted to assertive argument. It was while he was asserting the impossibility of miracles that he had his first intimation of his extraordinary powers. This particular argument was being held in the bar of the Long Dragon, and Toddy Beamish was conducting the opposition by a monotonous but effective “So you say,” that drove Mr. Fotheringay to the very limit of his patience.

There were present, besides these two, a very dusty cyclist, landlord Cox, and Miss Maybridge, the perfectly respectable and rather portly barmaid of the Dragon. Miss Maybridge was standing with her back to Mr. Fotheringay, washing glasses; the others were watching him, more or less amused by the present ineffectiveness of the assertive method.

Goaded by the Torres Vedras tactics of Mr. Beamish, Mr. Fotheringay determined to make an unusual rhetorical effort. “Looky here, Mr. Beamish,” said Mr. Fotheringay. “Let us clearly understand what a miracle is. It’s something contrariwise to the course of nature done by power of Will, something what couldn’t happen without being specially willed.”

“So you say,” said Mr. Beamish, repulsing him.

Mr. Fotheringay appealed to the cyclist, who had hitherto been a silent auditor, and received his assent — given with a hesitating cough and a glance at Mr. Beamish. The landlord would express no opinion, and Mr. Fotheringay, returning to Mr. Beamish, received the unexpected concession of a qualified assent to his definition of a miracle.

“For instance,” said Mr. Fotheringay, greatly encouraged. “Here would be a miracle. That lamp, in the natural course of nature, couldn’t burn like that upsy-down, could it, Beamish?”

You say it couldn’t,” said Beamish.

“And you?” said Fotheringay. “You don’t mean to say — eh?”

“No,” said Beamish reluctantly. “No, it couldn’t.”

“Very well,” said Mr. Fotheringay. “Then here comes someone, as it might be me, along here, and stands as it might be here, and says to that lamp, as I might do, collecting all my will — Turn upsy-down without breaking, and go on burning steady, and — Hullo!”

It was enough to make anyone say “Hullo!” The impossible, the incredible, was visible to them all. The lamp hung inverted in the air, burning quietly with its flame pointing down. It was as solid, as indisputable as ever a lamp was, the prosaic common lamp of the Long Dragon bar.

Mr. Fotheringay stood with an extended forefinger and the knitted brows of one anticipating a catastrophic smash. The cyclist, who was sitting next the lamp, ducked and jumped across the bar. Everybody jumped, more or less. Miss Maybridge turned and screamed.

For nearly three seconds the lamp remained still. A faint cry of mental distress came from Mr. Fotheringay. “I can’t keep it up,” he said, “any longer.” He staggered back, and the inverted lamp suddenly flared, fell against the corner of the bar, bounced aside, smashed upon the floor, and went out.

It was lucky it had a metal receiver, or the whole place would have been in a blaze. Mr. Cox was the first to speak, and his remark, shorn of needless excrescences, was to the effect that Fotheringay was a fool. Fotheringay was beyond disputing even so fundamental a proposition as that! He was astonished beyond measure at the thing that had occurred.

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