Note: The following text is taken with permission from Appendix 1 of High Tension – The Life of James Hallicraft FIEE, by Gillian French. Her own account of its discovery is also reprinted here.
Author's Note: The following account is included for the interest of readers. It shines a revealing light on James Hallicraft's struggle to recover the missing first twenty-five years of his life, as described in Chapter XI of the present volume. It appears that he made several attempts to recreate his lost childhood and wrote this story as part of a projected autobiography. The manuscript was discovered along with much other material, most of it equally apocryphal, within the covers of a bound set of Plays and Players for 1955-1956 which was put aside for disposal by Hallicraft's son Fred following his death and the clearance of his house. The magazines were fortuitously discovered by a neighbour before they could be destroyed by the refuse disposal services, and preserved by him. The papers now form part of the University of Texas at Austin's extensive collection of manuscripts and first editions.
It is estimated that the remaining text represents only about half of the original whole. The first few pages, in which we presume Hallicraft's imaginary childhood is described, are missing. The extract therefore takes up the story as he begins his first job. In his desire to enhance the credibility of his tale, Hallicraft included long lists of his supposed colleagues and descriptions of their characteristics. These lists have been silently excised in the interests of readability, together with other material of an irrelevant nature. Otherwise, the text is unamended, except that an incomplete paragraph (carried over from the previous page) has also been omitted.The Chapel
So much for my schooling and University education. Now I want to explain how it was that I, who was born and brought up in another, alien, world, came to find myself living in our own, everyday, one.
Following the award of our first degree at St Johns we were keen to get down to what we considered to be our real work as soon as possible. Our tutor had made a few discreet enquiries on our behalf and had received several favourable responses. To be brief, we visited a number of establishments where high-energy anbaron research was being conducted, but as soon as we saw the Imperial Chapel in London we realised that this was the place where we wanted to begin our career. Their laboratory facilities were the best in the country – better even than the much-vaunted Chapel at Jordan College in Oxford – and Sappho and I must have been very obvious in our enthusiasm for the post. Nor were we to be disappointed; for less than a week later we received a letter offering us the lowly position of Research Assistant (probationary) at the, to us, enormous stipend of five hundred sovereigns per annum. We were soon to learn that the high cost of living in London would swallow up the greater proportion of this sum.
So on Monday the second of October 1939, a real red-letter day in our calendar, Sappho and I began our work in the Imperial Chapel. My anxious parents had accompanied me on the train up to London on the previous Saturday, on the pretext of helping me with my luggage though, to tell the truth, there was really very little of it – just two suitcases that I could easily manage by myself. But I appreciated that they wanted to see me properly started in my future career and I think that my mother needed reassurance that my landlady would look after me properly. We had a small bed-sitting room in Baron's Court, not too far from the Chapel. It contained the basics – a bed for me and a perch for Sappho, a washbasin, a table, a chair, a rug, a gas-ring and a clothes-press. Not much, you may think, but it was our first independent home and we loved it dearly. Our neighbours were the usual mixture that you would expect to find in a London rooming-house – some good, some bad, some friendly, some not. We all rubbed along well enough.At Work
As it turned out, we spent very little time in our room. Starting work at Imperial was the reason we were in London and we threw ourselves into our new job with gusto. A typical day began at 6:30 with prayers. It was a proud day for us when we were asked to lead the whole Chapel in morning worship. But I'm running ahead of myself. After prayers came breakfast, which was hot and plentiful. We were active young men, and hungry too. Then we gathered together our notebooks and followed Father Grange, the Praeceptor, into the Laboratory to begin the day's work. As a young graduate my part was a humble one, of course. Just like all the other new starters I did my share of floor-sweeping, transformer-winding, chai-making, errand-running and document-sorting. I was the butt of exactly the same practical jokes as my peers and joined in just the same silly pranks such as wiring a fully-charged Leyden jar to the door-handle and other like juvenile escapades.
We worked hard, for all our high spirits, and it was not uncommon for the day to finish well after nine o'clock. Indeed, we often worked right through the night if we had to monitor a particularly important experiment. Someone would send out for chops and mash and we'd eat them at our benches. One thing is certain – we earned our pay many times over. We were all bright young men, raring to make our name in the world of, as they were formally known, "anbaric particles of elevated grace."
Week by week and month by month, as my confidence grew and my abilities became more and more apparent, Sappho and I were entrusted with increasingly important tasks until the great day came when we were assigned our own line of research to follow. I smile now when I consider how trivial it was, and must have seemed to my superiors – still it was our very own and we immersed ourselves in it. I still remember how seriously I demonstrated my improvements to the secondary Van der Graaff generator to the Panel and how earnestly I defended my calculations before their scrutiny.The Rivals
As I have perhaps already suggested, there was a general spirit of friendly camaraderie in the Laboratory. But, at the same time, we were all clever and ambitious young men and we knew that some among us would go on to fill important positions in our profession and that others would fall by the wayside or never amount to anything more than just capable researchers. Naturally we were all determined to advance ourselves – to be the ones who would succeed, rather than fail. So there was often an edge to our jokes and banter, and cliques would form of those who thought that they were the ones who would get ahead and preferred to exclude the so-called "weaker brethren". I had seen very much the same sort of behaviour in the Seminary and thought that I could either rise above it or at least stand to one side and ignore it. I was very ignorant then of the importance of politics at work. I believed that my own ability and my growing reputation for excellent work would be all that I would need to make a success of my career. And for a year this was indeed the case.Rugby Football
By itself our work was not enough to keep us fully occupied, and on Saturday afternoons we were expected to take part in sporting activities. I had been a useful half-back at the Seminary and became a regular player in Imperial's Second XV. We were a good side, winning more often than losing, and the post-match changing rooms were cheerful places – full of good-natured joshing and horseplay. Although we had all, naturally, taken many vows of celibacy, the fooling around often became more physical than I was comfortable with and I preferred to sit to one side.
The talk at such times would sometimes turn to the subject of women. The only women I had ever met had been relatives or servants, teachers or nurses, shop assistants or milkmaids, and this was doubtless also true of my colleagues. But the louder young men would boast at these times of the prostitutes they had encountered in the West End or the chambermaids they had bedded in country houses, while the quieter ones blushed red and shuffled their feet. I believed then, and still believe now, that in fact the only sin any of them had committed was that of Onan. As for myself, Father Superior had spoken to me when I left the Seminary and presented me with a means of mastering the weaknesses of the flesh. From time to time I would lock my door and apply it, the blood trickling slowly down my back, while Sappho looked on and flinched at every stroke.The New Assistant
It was in the spring after I began working at Imperial that the event occurred which was to trigger a drastic change in my life. For a number of weeks my group – the group to which we belonged, that is – had been struggling to build a new, more effective, particle collider. We were trying to probe the structure of the atom, and our approach was to fire high-speed anbarons at a lead target, using the Chapel's primary Van der Graaff generator to provide the accelerating potential. The concept seems ludicrously simple now, of course. Every television set in our world has a similar arrangement to fire electrons, as I should call them, at the phosphors on the screen to make the glowing picture with which we are all, let me say, somewhat over-familiar.
We had, as seems obvious now, made some elementary mistakes in the construction of our collider. For example, it operated in the normal atmosphere, rather than in vacuo and however hard we stoked the steam engine that powered the Van der Graaff generator all we achieved were some, admittedly impressive, six-foot long bolts of plasma and some badly scorched target plates.
After several weeks of these dangerous and farcical experiments the Elders met in conclave and decided that it would be necessary, though embarrassing, to bring in someone from outside the Chapel to help. The following week my group was introduced to Sister Francis, our new Research Assistant.The Linear Accelerator
Sister Francis was an expert in high-speed anbarics and was already well established at L'Institut Calvin in Geneva although she was in fact, as I discovered, as English as me, having been born and brought up in Odiham, in Hampshire. Although her rôle was nominally that of consultant, she rapidly took over the direction of the group, simply through her own determination and self-evident ability. I do not think, even now, that there was any resentment at this from the other staff in the Chapel – with one exception which I will come to later. We considered that ability was all – it was the ground on which we competed against one another. It was she who led the reconstruction of the collider in a sixty-foot long evacuated iron pipe and she who realised that the anbarons could be accelerated to a greater speed if they were passed though a series of anodes, each charged to a successively higher potential.
Naturally, Sister Francis and I worked closely together on the accelerator project. To me, she was no more than a very capable colleague and she clearly appreciated the youthful enthusiasm with which Sappho and I threw ourselves into our work. The idea that there might be any kind of intimate relationship between Sister Francis and myself never occurred to me. It was all so completely outside my own experience – working with a female colleague, I mean – that I simply treated her as if she were a man. So the fact that, at her suggestion, we usually ate together in the refectory, or took kaffee together in the dayroom seemed perfectly normal to me – the behaviour of a professional colleague. We spoke of nothing but work, or the weather, or the news.
How frustrating my callow naïvety must have been for her! Had I been older, or more experienced, then the signals she was sending would have been unmistakable to me and I would have been forced either to reject her as kindly as I could, or to reconsider my vows. It was whispered that, for people of exceptional ability, the holy vows of chastity and obedience could be regarded as negotiable. I did not think of myself in that light and we remained Sister Francis and Brother James to each other. I never knew her birth-name.The Cyclotron
The energy levels we achieved in the linear accelerator rose steadily over the summer of 1940. The team that was analysing the results of the target bombardment was very pleased with the anbaron velocities that we produced, but, as is always the case, they wanted more. As the summer began to fade into autumn, we realised that the linear accelerator could be pushed no further and that another approach would be needed.
Sister Francis's solution to this problem was simplicity itself. As the potential available to accelerate the anbarons could be not be increased any further, due to the limitations of the insulating materials available to us, why not bend the linear accelerator round into a circle so that the anbarons passed through it many times, gaining more and more speed, before being released to strike the target? My more technically aware readers will recognise the general principle of the cyclotron, a device that is still in regular use in high-energy laboratories in our world.
Work started on the cyclotron in September. It soon became apparent that we needed a means of switching the accelerating current on and off periodically, perhaps as often as a thousand times a second. Sister Francis was aware of the existence of devices that could reach a tenth of that speed, but nothing was known that could operate any faster. We passed the problem up to the Chapel Tribune and carried on with building the rest of the device.
In late October, with the prototype cyclotron nearing completion and ready for preliminary testing, Father Hugh and I were summoned before the Tribune.The Tribune
I have already described Father Hugh. He was a few years older than me and had taken Orders before entering the Chapel, a step which we had considered unnecessary in our hurry to get started on our life's work. Like me, he had a bird-daemon – his Cassandra was in the form of a finch – and like me he was able and ambitious. As part of the particle collider team he worked with Sister Francis and myself, and he often joined in our discussions with suggestions which seemed to me to be sensible, although Sister Francis was frequently dismissive of them, while tending to favour mine.
This was puzzling, for Father Hugh undoubtedly had more experience than me. I had often noticed that there was an air of tension between them, but I put it down to technical disagreements or professional jealousy on the part of Father Hugh, who had been the nominal leader of the team before Sister Francis's arrival. It was true that Father Hugh often seemed to be distracted and would cut me off with a curt word if I interrupted his thoughts. It never even crossed my mind that they might be conducting an illicit liaison. The truth about their relationship never dawned on me, nor did I think that her relief or his anger when I broke into their sotto voce conversations was based on anything other than irritation at my ineptitude.
Make your enemies by choice, I read recently. I must have been sleepwalking all that summer not to see the trouble I was storing up for myself.
Father Hugh and I and our daemons were very nervous when we entered the Tribune's study. He had a fearsome reputation for the ferocity with which he applied his own intellectual rigour to the proposals and arguments of others. But he had a gift for putting people at their ease, too, and when it became clear that none of us were in any kind of trouble, we all relaxed. In fact, it turned out that we had been selected for a special assignment.
The Tribune explained the exact nature of our assignment to us in steady measured tones, but I must say that if it had been anyone else but him speaking I would first have laughed in his face and then stormed out in disgust at being treated like a credulous child.Another World
The essence of the mission which Tribune proposed to us was this: that as there was no such switching device as the cyclotron project required in our world, nor any immediate prospect of creating such a device, we should pass through a window into another world, more technologically advanced than our own, where such devices could be obtained, and acquire one for the use of the Chapel and the greater glory of God. We both readily agreed. The prospects for the advancement of the project – and of our own personal advancement, too – that were held out to us were so enticing that we could scarcely refuse. Besides, we were young and this was an adventure.
We were immediately relieved of our responsibilities on the project and ordered to report to an address in the Blomesbury area of London. We were expected to devote all our attention to our mission and to be discreet about it, to the extent of moving into cells in the attic of the stone-clad building on Gouer Street and arranging for our letters to be diverted there from Imperial.
Our first briefing came as a great shock. Not the manner of it, which was courteous and considerate, but the details. Firstly, the mission was under the control of the Special Circumstances division of the Consistory Court of Discipline. None of us had ever expected to be involved with the Court. We were not heretics and our work was directly controlled by the Chapel. Secondly, we would find ourselves in our own country of Brytain; but a very different version of it. This "Britain" was engaged in a desperate war with Germany, which it was, despite its best efforts, losing. The war was being fought on a scale, and using weapons, that were completely beyond our experience; civilians as well as soldiers were in the front line of battle. It was total war. We would be spies in our own country; very likely to be discovered if we did not fit in convincingly, and liable to be summarily shot as traitors if we were caught. As we would be trying to steal a device that was probably regarded as a munition of war and guarded accordingly we would have to be careful. We would be accompanied by a Court agent who knew something of the world we were entering, but only one. The more of us that there were in the raiding party, the greater was the chance of our being detected and executed.
I raised the moral objection that, as members of a holy Chapel, we should not be engaged in theft, which is at the very least a venial sin. In answer, the officer who was briefing us delivered the greatest shock of all.An Obscenity
The people of this world would look human to the eye, but they were not human. They had no daemons. He repeated this. We were initially bemused. It was as if he had said they have no heads. It was a sentence without meaning. And then the true significance of what he had said sunk in and we felt sick to our souls. I think I may have fainted briefly, for I found myself with my head between my knees, gulping shallow breaths of air. I gabbled an apology, but I was shaking badly. I could sense the officer reconsidering my suitability for the task ahead. I pulled myself together and asked how we, with our daemons as our constant lifetime companions, could expect to escape notice in a world of un-people with no daemons. The officer nodded approvingly. It was true that we would have to be careful. However the fact that both Father Hugh and myself had daemons in the form of small birds – his finch and my sparrow – which were common in the other world, meant that we would be inconspicuous. Our daemons could be concealed in our clothing or, when we were outdoors, be seen close to us without arousing suspicion.
You may wonder why we agreed to carry on with the mission. There were several reasons. Firstly, Father Hugh and I, with our specialist theological knowledge, were uniquely suited to the task of seeking out and recognising the switching device. Secondly, there could be no sin in taking the device from un-people, animals. But the real reason was that it was clear to us that there could be no turning back. We would not be allowed to leave the briefing room if we did not consent to carry out the holy work which had been entrusted to us. I wonder if, even if the mission had been a complete success, we would ever have returned to the Imperial Chapel. I never found out the answer to that question, but I believe that we would not. I am sure that our parents and colleagues would have been told that we had been killed in a high-tension experiment and our bodies burned beyond recognition, while we ourselves would have been retained by the Court, perhaps one day to find ourselves sitting on the other side of a desk in another briefing room, facing another pair of unsuspecting secret agents.We are Prepared for the Raid
The following two weeks were unrelenting, exhausting. We had to learn how to live in a country at war. We had not appreciated to what extent a government takes charge of its citizens in wartime. There were laws to learn, customs to understand, an infinity of rules and regulations major and minor to memorise. We had to assume new identities and know them by heart, including an entire personal history full of towns, families, schools and friends. We had to understand the money, how much things cost, how much we might be expected to carry and earn. We had to know how to address people – not just the officials we might encounter but everyday people; landladies, publicans, shopkeepers, newsvendors, children. We would have to find accommodation and live in it without drawing attention to ourselves. We would have to eat the food they ate. In fact, during our training period we were allowed to eat very little. Food was rationed in the other Brytain and we were looking rather too well fed. We would have to seek out and gain entry to an anbaric research facility, and take the switching device. And, worst of all, we would have to conceal our daemons and pass without visible revulsion through a world of soulless un-people. To this end we hid our daemons from each other for the duration of the training period.The Warning
One point was repeated to us many times during our sojourn in Gouer Street. We could only live for a short time in the other world without running a grievous risk to our health. Our daemons would sicken and die if they spent very much time away from the world in which they had been born; where they belonged. It was indicated to us that this time might vary from just a few months to as much as ten years, but that enfeeblement and death would be the inevitable result if we did not return. I heeded the warning, but it did not concern me. I had no wish to spend the rest of my life in such a Godless world.
At last we were ready. The evening before we were due to pass through the window to the other world I presented myself to the Court officer who had briefed us. He heard my confession and shrieved me with a hard and practised hand.We Pass through the Window
It had been explained to us that, although we would pass through a window that was located in the London of our world we would emerge in a different part of the other Brytain, in the town of Coventry. We were equipped with all the correct papers and dressed in the infernally uncomfortable clothes that matched our assumed personas. I was Jim Hallicraft, an electrician, and Father Hugh was a carpenter, Hugh Prendergast. Our accompanying Court agent (we never knew his real name, nor that of his mouse-daemon) was our boss, a building contractor. The cover story was that we were in Coventry to help with the work of repairing the damage the city was suffering as a result of the German air raids. I may say that I had read about the aërial bombardment – from machines that were extraordinarily fast and high-flying compared with the balloons that I was familiar with in my own world – that the city was suffering as part of my preparation for the mission but my understanding of its effects was merely an intellectual one. In this, as in many other aspects of life, I was immature and lacking in imagination.
I had thought that we would simply walk through a doorway in our world and come out in the other. This was not in fact the case. The first window we passed through was located in a locked ground-floor room in the Gouer Street building, but it led to a cave in a hillside in a strange alien world where small pink bat-like creatures flapped their zigzag way across a green sky. There was a half-day hike, burdened as we were with our tool bags and cardboard suitcases, to a second window which brought us into another world which appeared to be Mediterranean in type, where the towns were full of white stucco-covered buildings with red pantiled roofs, all mysteriously empty of people. Another forced march of some three hours across rolling hills and though shady valleys led us to a grove of olive trees by the side of a vineyard. This was the jumping-off point to the other-world Coventry. A quick final briefing from our leader and we stepped, with ten second intervals between us, through into wartime Britain.A City at War
The first thing that struck me was the smell. It was an admixture of chemical fumes and burnt wood – the result, I supposed, of the bombing. I choked on it for a while, and eventually got used to it as one can, I suppose, get used to anything. We had spent most of the day travelling, and it was now six o'clock in the evening and the sun had set. Despite the presence of street lights, it was generally dark. This was called the black-out and its intention was to make the city harder to locate from the air. It also had the useful side effect of disguising our arrival. We came out by the side of a large building which I learned was the great Oratory of the city. It struck me as odd that a race of un-people without daemons should build a great house for God, but I did not question it. We had too much to do.
Our first and most important task was to find somewhere to stay. We could not wander the streets of Coventry after dark without attracting attention. We had been briefed that there were a number of lodging-houses near to the railway station so we walked a mile or so and found ourselves a room in a hostel for working men. The landlady took our forged ration-books and three days' rent in advance from our boss.
Mrs Smith was the first person in this world that I had the opportunity of seeing close up. Apart from the obvious absence of a daemon she looked like any other woman of her class in my own world. There was a hollowness around her eyes, it is true, but she had no doubt suffered many sleepless nights. The other men in the hostel also resembled those I had met before in my own world. They were artisans mostly, like we pretended to be, and after a few friendly enquiries – where were we from, what were our trades – they left us alone and returned to their games of cards or listened to the discordant secular music that came from a wooden box in the corner of the room. They called me "Tyke" – it seems that my Yorkshire accent had not completely deserted me in London, where I had considered myself very much the cosmopolitan man-about-town.
There was no bombing that night and we slept soundly in our attic room.Broken Teeth
The next morning, November 13th, was a dull and cloudy Wednesday. We ate breakfast with the other men in a crowded refectory, our daemons safely hidden in our pockets. Our leader had been told by one of the other bosses that there was plenty of work for us in a part of the town known as Spon End, about three-quarters of a mile across the city, and at eight-thirty we set out.
It was difficult not to be overwhelmed by the extent of the destruction we saw that morning. Our world had, despite the best efforts of the Church, suffered a number of wars, but never had a city in our Brytain been savaged the way that this one had. Apart from the general smell of burning, shattered buildings were everywhere; rows of houses with gaps like broken teeth, private rooms suddenly thrust into public view; naked and ashamed. There was a continual to-and-fro of tired, busy people, clearing piles of fallen bricks, lifting wreckage, searching for the living buried under the debris and often finding nothing but dead bodies. Every now and then a loud bell would ring and a self-powered vehicle would race past us down the glass-strewn road, its doors emblazoned with a blood-red cross, taking, as we had learned in our briefings, injured people to hospital to live or die, according to the severity of their wounds and the skill of the doctors.
I had never seen war, and the pity of war, before and the experience affected me deeply.
Our leader found us work in a building in Conduit Street. I was glad of the menial jobs I had been given to do in my first weeks in the Chapel. I was able to do common wiring and socket work with a reasonable degree of competence without drawing undue attention to myself. Father Hugh had a harder time with his carpentry, I think. A carpenter is expected to make his own sawhorse on site from the available materials and his first effort was so poor that he was nearly dismissed on the spot. I could not help smiling at his discomfiture and he glared back at me. All the time I was soaking up the atmosphere of this wartime England. I listened to the men talk, and tried to swear like them. I whistled an approximation of the secular tunes they sang. I talked disparagingly about "That Adolf" and his "Nazis" and praised "Our Winnie" and nobody seemed to think I sounded like a spy. We took our midday meal in a British Restaurant and "knocked off", or finished work, at half-past six.The Cross
After work I decided to attend worship at the great Oratory where we had entered this world. I left the others, promising to go straight on to the hostel after the service, walked up through the city to Priory Row and took a place in a pew half-way up the nave, my tool bag by my feet. The service – Evensong, it was called – was both familiar and strange. The Bible readings were of texts I recognised, with some changes, but the hymns were completely different. I knew the Psalms, but the wording of the Collect was altered. And so on.
After the service had ended I looked around the Oratory, or Cathedral as it was called. I had already noticed the unexpectedly large crosses in the Oratory, and thought that I would take a closer look at one. When I saw it close up, I was transfixed – just as the Christ on the cross was Himself transfixed. I should have been able to work out for myself what form the Crucifixion would take in a world without daemons, I suppose, but the cruelty of the image, the nails, the spear, the letters at its head, stunned me. Of course it would be Christ Himself who would be stripped and pierced in this world, not His daemon. That was the point at which Sappho and I realised that these people, for all that their daemons could not be seen, were just as human as we were and that we had been lied to by the Church.
A kindly verger disturbed our reverie, asking if I was feeling quite well, and led me to a small side-chapel. I knelt and prayed for a new understanding of the truth about men, daemons and God.November the Fourteenth
I did not return to the hostel until eight in the evening, far too late to eat. Father Hugh had, grudgingly I thought, saved me a few slices of grey bread and margarine, and I wolfed them down.
The next day we, or rather Sappho and I, made the breakthrough we were seeking. I had run out of switch pattresses and approached the foreman for more. There were none left in the stores, so he sent me down the road to an electrical (I was learning to use the correct words) factor to buy some more. On the way through Spon Street we, Sappho hiding in my coat pocket, passed a large manufactory building with a sign on the roof which read GEC. By the main entrance was a brass plate which explained the meaning of this acronym – it was the General Electric Company Ltd. I bought the pattresses from the factor and asked, as casually as I could, about the manufactory. I received a funny look, but was told that this was a place where high-speed switchgear was made. I hope I concealed my delight sufficiently well. I leafed through some parts catalogues, ostensibly in search of a particular kind of switch that my foreman wanted and, after apparently not finding it, returned to Conduit Street with the pattresses. At the mid-day break I told the others of my discovery and we decided to waste no time but to investigate the GEC building that evening.
Upon our return to the hostel we ate, announced to the company that we were going to see Gone with the Wind at the cinema, and left our lodgings. The night was clear and the moon full and bright, something we had not considered. It was going to be difficult to hide our movements. We did not appreciate what other hazards the full moon would bring.The Raid
We sat through the first house of Gone with the Wind. It was the first cinema film I had ever seen and I found the brilliant colours, the loud music, the thrilling story, the vivid depiction of the Old South of the country they called the United States in this world and the tempestuous character of Scarlett O'Hara tremendously exciting. I laughed and cried with the rest of the audience and left the cinema reluctantly, with the vision of a burning Atlanta still flickering before my eyes.
We separated ourselves from the crowd leaving the picture palace and headed by quiet back alleys for Spon Street and the GEC manufactory. I knew a name for the thing we were seeking. It had been listed in one of the catalogues at the electrical factor's and was not a particularly unusual device in this world. It was called a thyratron and it was a kind of gas-filled glass tube. I had committed some part numbers to memory so that we could identify the device when we found it.
It was nearly ten o'clock when we reached the manufactory. The Court agent did something quick and skilful to the lock of a side door and we slipped silently into the deserted works. The whole building was lit electrically but we did not dare to switch on any of the lights, using instead a small portable lamp. We guessed that there would be a caretaker on the premises who would notice if any major disturbance took place.
Father Hugh and I crept past the rows of silent machines looking for a storeroom, where we might find the device we sought. A few pilot lights were all the illumination there was and we blundered into benches and stools, Father Hugh cursing under his breath. The ground floor was empty so, with the Court agent standing guard we ascended the concrete stairs to the first floor.The Storeroom
Here there were more machines and benches, but at one end of the floor was a glassed-in office area, with a caged room to the side of it. Father Hugh returned to the stairs and signed to the agent to join us, while I went ahead to investigate. The caged room contained a counter, and behind it were rows of shelves. Clearly this was the storeroom we wanted. The agent performed the same magic as before on the padlock which secured the door and returned to the head of the stairs while we began our search.
I wished we could have spent all night in there. Treasures beyond belief were arrayed on the wooden shelves. Electrical components of a precision and quality that we had never imagined – some familiar and some totally strange. There were relays and selectors, condensers and switchframes, reels of cable with as many as a hundred separate copper cores, compact transformers, beautifully made chassis; the list was endless. Right at the back of the store was a rack full of small cardboard boxes labelled Mullard and GEC and Osram and carrying part numbers very similar to the ones I had memorised that afternoon at the factor's.
I found three thyratrons in the rack. It was one of the proudest moments of my young life. I turned in triumph to Father Hugh. And he hit me right across the forehead with an iron bar.The Variac
When I recovered my senses I was lying on the concrete floor next to a workbench and my body was quivering uncontrollably. Each of my wrists had a copper wire clamped to it and each wire led to a terminal on a metal box, about a foot square, with a control wheel mounted on the top. I recognised the apparatus as a Variac, or variable potential transformer. By turning the wheel the operator could alter the degree of electric tension, or voltage as it is known here, at the terminals. Father Hugh was the operator of this device. I could not see the Court official.
Perhaps you have read one of those thrillers where the villain, having captured the hero and having him at his mercy, explains in great detail his devilish plan to rob the bank, or murder the President, or rule the world. The hero memorises all this, after which the villain leaves him to die in some unpleasant and improbable way while he goes off to rob the bank, murder the President, etc. Of course, there's always some flaw in the villain's plan and the hero escapes certain death to foil the villain's plot in the final pages of the book.
Father Hugh merely wanted revenge. I had taken Sister Francis from him, the only love he had ever known. I had played with her affections. I had used her helpless love for me to gain advancement in the Chapel. I was worthless, incompetent, a fraud. Why should I, a newcomer still wet behind the ears, be put in a position of trust?Gott Strafe England
He called me vile names – arselicker, whoreson bastard, daemonfucker. With each accusation and obscenity he twisted the wheel of the Variac still further over to the right. My body was shaking itself apart with violent energy. I whimpered and screamed for him to stop. I soiled myself repeatedly. When I cried out that I had not known of Sister Francis's feelings for me his rage redoubled and he began kicking me where I lay on the floor. Sappho, trapped in my coat pocket, chirruped her distress, but I could not control my hands and could do nothing to help her. Between fainting fits I could still see and hear. Through the window behind Father Hugh's head came the whistle and crash of falling bombs, the eerie wail of the air raid sirens and the rising scarlet glow of the burning buildings. It was November 14th 1940, and the city of Coventry lay helplessly exposed before the German bombers beneath a smiling treacherous full moon.
Earlier that evening I had seen the projected image of a burning Atlanta at the cinema. Now Coventry was ablaze in reality, here and now.Sappho
Eventually Father Hugh's rage was spent. I lay before him, twitching and jerking in a foul pool of my own urine and vomit. Sappho had escaped from my pocket and lay in my lap, gasping feebly. In his frenzy, Father Hugh had been unaware of the terrible crashing sound of the exploding bombs and the increasing ferocity of the holocaust of fire that surrounded us, but now he realised his peril.
With a final storm of accusations and imprecations, Father Hugh twisted the control wheel all the way and ran off, leaving us to die. Like the uncontrolled movements of a broken marionette my limbs flailed against the legs of the bench. I heard myself howling for death to take me, to come and sweetly take away the pain. There was another great explosion, louder and nearer than before, which blew in all the windows in a shower of deadly shards of glass, and my involuntary movements suddenly ceased. I thought that this was our death.
From my chest, where she had crept to comfort me, Sappho lifted up her eyes to mine, whispered that she loved me, and vanished from the world. I remember little more.The Hospital
There was white light and warm air. Quiet voices and a distant wireless. A curtain surrounded the bed in which I lay. I called faintly, and a nurse – starched apron and weary eyes – pulled aside the curtain. She gave me something to drink, and I fell asleep again.
I slipped between sleep and wakefulness for many days, although day and night were much the same to me. I woke from nightmares, crying out for Sappho, but received no answer. I did not know why I still lived. Without my daemon, my precious, my dear, how could I live, how could I be a human being?
I became aware, as the slow weeks passed and I grew stronger, that although I as yet knew nobody in this world, I was not alone. A voice, that was mine and yet not mine, spoke in my mind, comforting me, telling me stories, telling me that she loved me, urging me to hold on, to endure. A voice that I had known all my life. I did not understand how this could be, but it appeared that my Sappho was not dead – she lived on within me, as the daemons of the people of this world live within them.The Cathedral
I had been taken to a hospital in Leicester, a city not far from Coventry, but less devastated by war. It seemed that I had been found not far from the air raid shelter in Spon Street so I must somehow have escaped from the manufactory after that last bomb had severed the power lines and ended my torture. I pretended that I had lost my memory. Father Hugh must have stripped me of my papers for I had no identification and there were some difficult interviews with the police. But loss of memory was not such an uncommon thing in wartime and I was not bothered by them for long.
A month after my first waking in hospital I was discharged – my bed was needed – and I took a bus to Coventry, intending to find the window between the worlds and make my way home. It was a mile's walk from the bus station to the Cathedral and I was still weak, but the nearer I got to Priory Row, the more I realised that there was something dreadfully, fatally wrong. As I made the last turning out of St Michael's Avenue the awful nature of my predicament became clear to me.
The Cathedral was a shattered, burnt-out ruin, the window between the worlds buried under a pile of rubble. I was marooned forever in this alien universe. I would never see my family or my friends or my home ever again.Love Me Do
I made no other attempts to return to my own world. I realised that, even if I succeeded in finding another way back, I would be rejected by my own people as an unholy thing, to be feared, despised and presently killed.
I remembered the warning I had been given in Gouer Street; that unless I returned to my own world I could not expect to live for long in this one. I was determined to use whatever limited time remained to me in the best way I could so I kept up the story of my amnesia, carried on working as an electrician and after the war ended I took up my studies again. I worked hard, I gained the qualifications I needed to continue my researches in this world, and in 1950 I joined the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford where I have worked ever since. There's one thing I have learned – the thyratron would not have worked in the way Sister Francis needed and in that sense our mission was a total failure.
But as the years passed, and I did not die and Sappho's voice continued to speak in my mind I began to wonder about the warning I had been given in Gouer Street. Was it really true that a daemon which was isolated from its home world would inevitably sicken and die, or had I been lied to by the Church in this, as in other things? If this was so, perhaps I would encounter others who, like me, had passed through a window to this world, preferred it to their own, as I do, and decided to stay. I have never met any such person and I do not know how I would recognise one if I did.
I should say that it has been a great relief for me to be able, at last, to write down this account of my early life. How many others must wish that they could do so too, and finally come to terms with their wartime experiences!
The Beatles are on the radio, Kennedy and Kruschev are arguing over Cuba and we may all be dead next week. It's over twenty years now since Father Hugh abandoned us in Spon Street; I am still alive, and Sappho still lives within me, our soul fused together by the electrical torment with which Father Hugh tried to kill us.
I don't know whether Father Hugh had persuaded the Court agent to look the other way while he took his misguided revenge upon me; or whether either of them escaped safely back to their own world. Did they reach the window before the Cathedral was destroyed? Perhaps, like me, they got there too late. Or maybe they were blown to pieces in a bomb blast or immolated by an incendiary somewhere between Spon Street and the Cathedral. There must be other windows between the worlds: they may have known of one and made their escape that way.
When I think back and remember the young man I used to be, I cannot help but smile. I was so intense, so dedicated, and so naïve. And, let's face it, a blinkered little prig as well. I believed all that I was told by my masters at School, University and Church, and yet so much of it turned out to be either wrong-headed or deliberate falsehood. I have no doubt that had I continued to be able to live in the other world I would have risen in my profession there as I have risen here. I have, I hope, grown up considerably since those days – I have a wife, two sons, a good career and a comfortable home. From time to time I can be found musing in my study, reflecting on times past. People have remarked on my habit of talking to myself. If they only knew – but of course I can't say.
Every so often, Gone with the Wind appears at the local cinema or is shown on the television, and I always watch it if I can. You can call it a load of old tosh if you like, but frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.