BOOK TWO: THE EARTH UNDER THE MARTIANS
CHAPTER 4: THE DEATH OF THE CURATE
It was on the sixth day of our imprisonment that I
peeped for the last time, and presently found myself alone.
Instead of keeping close to me and trying to oust me from
the slit, the curate had gone back into the scullery. I was
struck by a sudden thought. I went back quickly and quietly
into the scullery. In the darkness I heard the curate drinking. I snatched in the darkness, and my fingers caught a
bottle of burgundy.
For a few minutes there was a tussle. The bottle struck
the floor and broke, and I desisted and rose. We stood
panting and threatening each other. In the end I planted
myself between him and the food, and told him of my
determination to begin a discipline. I divided the food in
the pantry, into rations to last us ten days. I would not
let him eat any more that day. In the afternoon he made
a feeble effort to get at the food. I had been dozing, but
in an instant I was awake. All day and all night we sat
face to face, I weary but resolute, and he weeping and complaining of his immediate hunger. It was, I know, a night
and a day, but to me it seemed--it seems now--an interminable length of time.
And so our widened incompatibility ended at last in open
conflict. For two vast days we struggled in undertones and
wrestling contests. There were times when I beat and kicked
him madly, times when I cajoled and persuaded him, and
once I tried to bribe him with the last bottle of burgundy,
for there was a rain-water pump from which I could get
water. But neither force nor kindness availed; he was indeed
beyond reason. He would neither desist from his attacks on
the food nor from his noisy babbling to himself. The rudimentary precautions to keep our imprisonment endurable
he would not observe. Slowly I began to realise the complete
overthrow of his intelligence, to perceive that my sole companion in this close and sickly darkness was a man insane.
From certain vague memories I am inclined to think my
own mind wandered at times. I had strange and hideous
dreams whenever I slept. It sounds paradoxical, but I am
inclined to think that the weakness and insanity of the
curate warned me, braced me, and kept me a sane man.