When the Sleeper Wakes
by Wells

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This Etext prepared by John Bean




One afternoon, at low water, Mr. Isbister, a young
artist lodging at Boscastle, walked from that place to
the picturesque cove of Pentargen, desiring to examine
the caves there. Halfway down the precipitous path
to the Pentargen beach he came suddenly upon a man
sitting in an attitude of profound distress beneath
a projecting mass of rock. The hands of this man
hung limply over his knees, his eyes were red and
staring before him, and his face was wet with tears.

He glanced round at Isbister's footfall. Both men
were disconcerted, Isbister the more so, and, to
override the awkwardness of his involuntary pause, he
remarked, with an air of mature conviction, that the
weather was hot for the time of year.

"Very," answered the stranger shortly, hesitated a
second, and added in a colourless tone, "I can't sleep."

Isbister stopped abruptly. "No?" was all he said,
but his bearing conveyed his helpful impulse.

"It may sound incredible," said the stranger, turning
weary eyes to Isbister's face and emphasizing his
words with a languid hand, "but I have had no sleep
--- no sleep at all for six nights."

"Had advice?"

"Yes. Bad advice for the most part. Drugs. My
nervous system... . They are all very well for
the run of people. It's hard to explain. I dare not
take . . . sufficiently powerful drugs."

"That makes it difficult," said Isbister.

He stood helplessly in the narrow path, perplexed
what to do. Clearly the man wanted to talk. An idea
natural enough under the circumstances, prompted
him to keep the conversation going. "I've never suffered
from sleeplessness myself," he said in a tone of
commonplace gossip, "but in those cases I have
known, people have usually found something--"

"I dare make no experiments."

He spoke wearily. He gave a gesture of rejection,
and for a space both men were silent.

"Exercise?" suggested Isbister diffidently, with a
glance from his interlocutor's face of wretchedness to
the touring costume he wore.

"That is what I have tried. Unwisely perhaps. I
have followed the coast, day after day--from New
Quay. It has only added muscular fatigue to the mental.
The cause of this unrest was overwork-- trouble.
There was something--"

He stopped as if from sheer fatigue. He rubbed his
forehead with a lean hand. He resumed speech like
one who talks to himself.