paint-brush
The Prologue in Heaven by@hgwells
145 reads

The Prologue in Heaven

by H.G. WellsNovember 28th, 2022
Read on Terminal Reader
Read this story w/o Javascript
tldt arrow

Too Long; Didn't Read

The Undying Fire by H.G. G. Wells is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. Wells’s first novel, The Unseenable Fire, is published by Simon Tisdall, and is available on Amazon.com and iReporter.com. Read the first chapter in this book, The Untying Fire, by H G.G Wells, by Jonathan Tozer, out of print and online at www.hackernoon.com/Heroes/Herwell-Gwells-Wells.
featured image - The Prologue in Heaven
H.G. Wells HackerNoon profile picture

The Undying Fire by H. G. Wells, is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. THE PROLOGUE IN HEAVEN

THE PROLOGUE IN HEAVEN

Two eternal beings, magnificently enhaloed, the one in a blinding excess of white radiance and the other in a bewildering extravagance of colours, converse amidst stupendous surroundings. These surroundings are by tradition palatial, but there is now also a marked cosmic tendency about them. They have no definite locality; they are above and comprehensive of the material universe.

There is a quality in the scene as if a futurist with a considerable knowledge of modern chemical and physical speculation and some obscure theological animus had repainted the designs of a pre-Raphaelite. The vast pillars vanish into unfathomable darknesses, and the complicated curves and whorls of the decorations seem to have been traced by the flight 2of elemental particles. Suns and planets spin and glitter through the avanturine depths of a floor of crystalline ether. Great winged shapes are in attendance, wrought of iridescences and bearing globes, stars, rolls of the law, flaming swords, and similar symbols. The voices of the Cherubim and Seraphim can be heard crying continually, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

Now, as in the ancient story, it is a reception of the sons of God.

The Master of the gathering, to whom one might reasonably attribute a sublime boredom, seeing that everything that can possibly happen is necessarily known to him, displays on the contrary as lively an interest in his interlocutor as ever. This interlocutor is of course Satan, the Unexpected.

The contrast of these two eternal beings is very marked; while the Deity, veiled and almost hidden in light, with his hair like wool and his eyes like the blue of infinite space, conveys an effect of stable, remote, and mountainous grandeur, Satan has the compact alertness of habitual travel; he is as definite as a grip-sack, and he brings a flavour of initiative and even bustle upon a scene that would otherwise be one of serene perfection. His halo even has a slightly travelled look. He has been 3going to and fro in the earth and walking up and down in it; his labels are still upon him. His status in heaven remains as undefined as it was in the time of Job; it is uncertain to this day whether he is to be regarded as one of the sons of God or as an inexplicable intruder among them. (But see upon this question the Encyclopædia Biblica under his name.) Whatever his origin there can be little doubt of his increasing assurance of independence and importance in the Divine presence. His freedom may be sanctioned or innate, but he himself has no doubt remaining of the security of his personal autonomy. He believes that he is a necessary accessory to God, and that his incalculable quality is an indispensable relief to the acquiescences of the Archangels. He never misses these reunions. If God is omnipresent by a calm necessity, Satan is everywhere by an infinite activity. They engage in unending metaphysical differences into which Satan has imported a tone of friendly badinage. They play chess together.

But the chess they play is not the little ingenious game that originated in India; it is on an altogether different scale. The Ruler of the Universe creates the board, the pieces, and the rules; he makes all the moves; he may 4make as many moves as he likes whenever he likes; his antagonist, however, is permitted to introduce a slight inexplicable inaccuracy into each move, which necessitates further moves in correction. The Creator determines and conceals the aim of the game, and it is never clear whether the purpose of the adversary is to defeat or assist him in his unfathomable project. Apparently the adversary cannot win, but also he cannot lose so long as he can keep the game going. But he is concerned, it would seem, in preventing the development of any reasoned scheme in the game.

5§ 2

Celestial badinage is at once too high and broad to come readily within the compass of earthly print and understanding. The Satanic element of unexpectedness can fill the whole sphere of Being with laughter; thrills begotten of those vast reverberations startle our poor wits at the strangest moments. It is the humour of Satan to thrust upon the Master his own title of the Unique and to seek to wrest from him the authorship of life. (But such jesting distresses the angels.)

“I alone create.”

“But I—I ferment.”

“Matter I made and all things.”

“Stagnant as a sleeping top but for the wabble I give it.”

“You are just the little difference of the individual. You are the little Uniqueness in everyone and everything, the Unique that breaks the law, a marginal idiosyncracy.”

“Sire, you are the Unique, the Uniqueness of the whole.”

6Heaven smiled, and there were halcyon days in the planets. “I shall average you out in the end and you will disappear.”

“And everything will end.”

“Will be complete.”

“Without me!”

“You spoil the symmetry of my universe.”

“I give it life.”

“Life comes from me.”

“No, Sire, life comes from me.”

One of the great shapes in attendance became distinct as Michael bearing his sword. “He blasphemes, O Lord. Shall I cast him forth?”

“But you did that some time ago,” answered Satan, speaking carelessly over his shoulder and not even looking at the speaker. “You keep on doing it. And—I am here.”

“He returns,” said the Lord soothingly. “Perhaps I will him to return. What should we be without him?”

“Without me, time and space would freeze into crystalline perfection,” said Satan, and at his smile the criminal statistics of a myriad planets displayed an upward wave. “It is I who trouble the waters. I trouble all things. I am the spirit of life.”

“But the soul,” said God.

Satan, sitting with one arm thrown over the 7back of his throne towards Michael, raised his eyebrows by way of answer. This talk about the soul he regarded as a divine weakness. He knew nothing of the soul.

“I made man in my own image,” said God.

“And I made him a man of the world. If it had not been for me he would still be a needless gardener—pretending to cultivate a weedless garden that grew right because it couldn’t grow wrong—in ‘those endless summers the blessed ones see.’ Think of it, ye Powers and Dominions! Perfect flowers! Perfect fruits! Never an autumn chill! Never a yellow leaf! Golden leopards, noble lions, carnivores unfulfilled, purring for his caresses amidst the aimless friskings of lambs that would never grow old! Good Lord! How bored he would have been! How bored! Instead of which, did I not launch him on the most marvellous adventures? It was I who gave him history. Up to the very limit of his possibilities. Up to the very limit.... And did not you, O Lord, by sending your angels with their flaming swords, approve of what I had done?”

God gave no answer.

“But that reminds me,” said Satan unabashed.

8§ 3

The great winged shapes drew nearer, for Satan is the celestial raconteur. He alone makes stories.

“There was a certain man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.”

“We remember him.”

“We had a wager of sorts,” said Satan. “It was some time ago.”

“The wager was never very distinct—and now that you remind me of it, there is no record of your paying.”

“Did I lose or win? The issue was obscured by discussion. How those men did talk! You intervened. There was no decision.”

“You lost, Satan,” said a great Being of Light who bore a book. “The wager was whether Job would lose faith in God and curse him. He was afflicted in every way, and particularly by the conversation of his friends. But there remains an undying fire in man.”

Satan rested his dark face on his hand, and looked down between his knees through the 9pellucid floor to that little eddying in the ether which makes our world. “Job,” he said, “lives still.”

Then after an interval: “The whole earth is now—Job.”

Satan delights equally in statistics and in quoting scripture. He leant back in his seat with an expression of quiet satisfaction. “Job,” he said, in easy narrative tones, “lived to a great age. After his disagreeable experiences he lived one hundred and forty years. He had again seven sons and three daughters, and he saw his offspring for four generations. So much is classical. These ten children brought him seventy grandchildren, who again prospered generally and had large families. (It was a prolific strain.) And now if we allow three generations to a century, and the reality is rather more than that, and if we take the survival rate as roughly three to a family, and if we agree with your excellent Bishop Usher that Job lived about thirty-five centuries ago, that gives us——How many? Three to the hundred and fifth power?... It is at any rate a sum vastly in excess of the present population of the earth.... You have globes and rolls and swords and stars here; has anyone a slide rule?”

10But the computation was brushed aside.

“A thousand years in my sight are but as yesterday when it is past. I will grant what you seek to prove; that Job has become mankind.”

11§ 4

The dark regard of Satan smote down through the quivering universe and left the toiling light waves behind. “See there,” he said pointing. “My old friend on his little planet—Adam—Job—Man—like a roast on a spit. It is time we had another wager.”

God condescended to look with Satan at mankind, circling between day and night. “Whether he will curse or bless?”

“Whether he will even remember God.”

“I have given my promise that I will at last restore Adam.”

The downcast face smiled faintly.

“These questions change from age to age,” said Satan.

“The Whole remains the same.”

“The story grows longer in either direction,” said Satan, speaking as one who thinks aloud; “past and future unfold together.... When the first atoms jarred I was there, and so conflict was there—and progress. The days of the old story have each expanded to hundreds 12of millions of years now, and still I am in them all. The sharks and crawling monsters of the early seas, the first things that crept out of the water into the jungle of fronds and stems, the early reptiles, the leaping and flying dragons of the great age of life, the mighty beasts of hoof and horn that came later; they all feared and suffered and were perplexed. At last came this Man of yours, out of the woods, hairy, beetle-browed and blood-stained, peering not too hopefully for that Eden-bower of the ancient story. It wasn’t there. There never had been a garden. He had fallen before he arose, and the weeds and thorns are as ancient as the flowers. The Fall goes back in time now beyond man, beyond the world, beyond imagination. The very stars were born in sin....

“If we can still call it sin,” mused Satan.

“On a little planet this Thing arises, this red earth, this Adam, this Edomite, this Job. He builds cities, he tills the earth, he catches the lightning and makes a slave of it, he changes the breed of beast and grain. Clever things to do, but still petty things. You say that in some manner he is to come up at last to this.... He is too foolish and too weak. His achievements only illuminate his limitations. Look at his little brain boxed up from growth in a skull 13of bone! Look at his bag of a body full of rags and rudiments, a haggis of diseases! His life is decay.... Does he grow? I do not see it. Has he made any perceptible step forward in quality in the last ten thousand years? He quarrels endlessly and aimlessly with himself.... In a little while his planet will cool and freeze.”

“In the end he will rule over the stars,” said the voice that was above Satan. “My spirit is in him.”

Satan shaded his face with his hand from the effulgence about him. He said no more for a time, but sat watching mankind as a boy might sit on the bank of a stream and watch the fry of minnows in the clear water of a shallow.

“Nay,” he said at last, “but it is incredible. It is impossible. I have disturbed and afflicted him long enough. I have driven him as far as he can be driven. But now I am moved to pity. Let us end this dispute. It has been interesting, but now——Is it not enough? It grows cruel. He has reached his limit. Let us give him a little peace now, Lord, a little season of sunshine and plenty, and then some painless universal pestilence and so let him die.”

“He is immortal and he does but begin.”

14“He is mortal and near his end. At times no doubt he has a certain air that seems to promise understanding and mastery in his world; it is but an air; give me the power to afflict and subdue him but a little, and after a few squeaks of faith and hope he will whine and collapse like any other beast. He will behave like any kindred creature with a smaller brain and a larger jaw; he too is doomed to suffer to no purpose, to struggle by instinct merely to live, to endure for a season and then to pass.... Give me but the power and you shall see his courage snap like a rotten string.”

“You may do all that you will to him, only you must not slay him. For my spirit is in him.”

“That he will cast out of his own accord—when I have ruined his hopes, mocked his sacrifices, blackened his skies and filled his veins with torture.... But it is too easy to do. Let me just slay him now and end his story. Then let us begin another, a different one, and something more amusing. Let us, for example, put brains—and this Soul of yours—into the ants or the bees or the beavers! Or take up the octopus, already a very tactful and intelligent creature!”

“No; but do as you have said, Satan. For 15you also are my instrument. Try Man to the uttermost. See if he is indeed no more than a little stir amidst the slime, a fuss in the mud that signifies nothing....”

§ 5

The Satan, his face hidden in shadow, seemed not to hear this, but remained still and intent upon the world of men.

And as that brown figure, with its vast halo like the worn tail of some fiery peacock, brooded high over the realms of being, this that follows happened to a certain man upon the earth.

About HackerNoon Book Series: We bring you the most important technical, scientific, and insightful public domain books.

This book is part of the public domain. H. G. Wells (2020). The Undying Fire. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved October 2022, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/61547/61547-h/61547-h.htm

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org, located at https://www.gutenberg.org/policy/license.html.