The Plattner Story and Others Read online
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THE PLATTNER STORY
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
THE STOLEN BACILLUS THE WONDERFUL VISIT THE WHEELS OF CHANCE THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU THE TIME MACHINE
THE PLATTNER STORY
BY H. G. WELLS
METHUEN & CO. 36 ESSEX STREET, W.C. LONDON 1897
TO MY FATHER
PAGE THE PLATTNER STORY 2 THE ARGONAUTS OF THE AIR 29 THE STORY OF THE LATE MR. ELVESHAM 47 IN THE ABYSS 71 THE APPLE 94 UNDER THE KNIFE 106 THE SEA-RAIDERS 126 POLLOCK AND THE PORROH MAN 142 THE RED ROOM 165 THE CONE 179 THE PURPLE PILEUS 196 THE JILTING OF JANE 213 IN THE MODERN VEIN 224 A CATASTROPHE 239 THE LOST INHERITANCE 252 THE SAD STORY OF A DRAMATIC CRITIC 262 A SLIP UNDER THE MICROSCOPE 274
THE PLATTNER STORY
Whether the story of Gottfried Plattner is to be credited or not, isa pretty question in the value of evidence. On the one hand, we haveseven witnesses--to be perfectly exact, we have six and a half pairsof eyes, and one undeniable fact; and on the other we have--what isit?--prejudice, common sense, the inertia of opinion. Never were thereseven more honest-seeming witnesses; never was there a more undeniablefact than the inversion of Gottfried Plattner's anatomical structure,and--never was there a more preposterous story than the one theyhave to tell! The most preposterous part of the story is the worthyGottfried's contribution (for I count him as one of the seven). Heavenforbid that I should be led into giving countenance to superstition bya passion for impartiality, and so come to share the fate of Eusapia'spatrons! Frankly, I believe there is something crooked about thisbusiness of Gottfried Plattner; but what that crooked factor is, Iwill admit as frankly, I do not know. I have been surprised at thecredit accorded to the story in the most unexpected and authoritativequarters. The fairest way to the reader, however, will be for me totell it without further comment.
Gottfried Plattner is, in spite of his name, a free-born Englishman.His father was an Alsatian who came to England in the Sixties, marrieda respectable English girl of unexceptionable antecedents, and died,after a wholesome and uneventful life (devoted, I understand, chieflyto the laying of parquet flooring), in 1887. Gottfried's age isseven-and-twenty. He is, by virtue of his heritage of three languages,Modern Languages Master in a small private school in the South ofEngland. To the casual observer he is singularly like any other ModernLanguages Master in any other small private school. His costume isneither very costly nor very fashionable, but, on the other hand, itis not markedly cheap or shabby; his complexion, like his height andhis bearing, is inconspicuous. You would notice, perhaps, that, likethe majority of people, his face was not absolutely symmetrical, hisright eye a little larger than the left, and his jaw a trifle heavieron the right side. If you, as an ordinary careless person, were to barehis chest and feel his heart beating, you would probably find it quitelike the heart of anyone else. But here you and the trained observerwould part company. If you found his heart quite ordinary, the trainedobserver would find it quite otherwise. And once the thing was pointedout to you, you too would perceive the peculiarity easily enough. It isthat Gottfried's heart beats on the right side of his body.
Now, that is not the only singularity of Gottfried's structure,although it is the only one that would appeal to the untrained mind.Careful sounding of Gottfried's internal arrangements, by a well-knownsurgeon, seems to point to the fact that all the other unsymmetricalparts of his body are similarly misplaced. The right lobe of his liveris on the left side, the left on his right; while his lungs, too, aresimilarly contraposed. What is still more singular, unless Gottfried isa consummate actor, we must believe that his right hand has recentlybecome his left. Since the occurrences we are about to consider (asimpartially as possible), he has found the utmost difficulty inwriting, except from right to left across the paper with his left hand.He cannot throw with his right hand, he is perplexed at meal timesbetween knife and fork, and his ideas of the rule of the road--he isa cyclist--are still a dangerous confusion. And there is not a scrapof evidence to show that before these occurrences Gottfried was at allleft-handed.
There is yet another wonderful fact in this preposterous business.Gottfried produces three photographs of himself. You have him at theage of five or six, thrusting fat legs at you from under a plaid frock,and scowling. In that photograph his left eye is a little larger thanhis right, and his jaw is a trifle heavier on the left side. Thisis the reverse of his present living conditions. The photograph ofGottfried at fourteen seems to contradict these facts, but that isbecause it is one of those cheap "Gem" photographs that were then invogue, taken direct upon metal, and therefore reversing things justas a looking-glass would. The third photograph represents him atone-and-twenty, and confirms the record of the others. There seems hereevidence of the strongest confirmatory character that Gottfried hasexchanged his left side for his right. Yet how a human being can be sochanged, short of a fantastic and pointless miracle, it is exceedinglyhard to suggest.
In one way, of course, these facts might be explicable on thesupposition that Plattner has undertaken an elaborate mystification,on the strength of his heart's displacement. Photographs may befudged, and left-handedness imitated. But the character of the mandoes not lend itself to any such theory. He is quiet, practical,unobtrusive, and thoroughly sane, from the Nordau standpoint. Helikes beer, and smokes moderately, takes walking exercise daily, andhas a healthily high estimate of the value of his teaching. He has agood but untrained tenor voice, and takes a pleasure in singing airsof a popular and cheerful character. He is fond, but not morbidlyfond, of reading,--chiefly fiction pervaded with a vaguely piousoptimism,--sleeps well, and rarely dreams. He is, in fact, the verylast person to evolve a fantastic fable. Indeed, so far from forcingthis story upon the world, he has been singularly reticent on thematter. He meets inquirers with a certain engaging--bashfulness isalmost the word, that disarms the most suspicious. He seems genuinelyashamed that anything so unusual has occurred to him.
It is to be regretted that Plattner's aversion to the idea ofpost-mortem dissection may postpone, perhaps for ever, the positiveproof that his entire body has had its left and right sidestransposed. Upon that fact mainly the credibility of his story hangs.There is no way of taking a man and moving him about _in space_, asordinary people understand space, that will result in our changinghis sides. Whatever you do, his right is still his right, his lefthis left. You can do that with a perfectly thin and flat thing, ofcourse. If you were to cut a figure out of paper, any figure with aright and left side, you could change its sides simply by lifting itup and turning it over. But with a solid it is different. Mathematicaltheorists tell us that the only way in which the right and left sidesof a solid body can be changed is by taking that body clean out ofspace as we know it,--taking it out of ordinary existence, that is,and turning it somewhere outside space. This is a little abstruse,no doubt, but anyone with any knowledge of mathematical theory willassure the reader of its truth. To put the thing in technical language,the curious inversion of Plattner's right and left sides is proofthat he has moved out of our space into what is called the FourthDimension, and that he has returned again to our world. Unless wechoose to