“Through a Window” by H.G. Wells

I just read this short story last night. Not that much to it, really, but it did set me thinking. The setting is that of a man convalescing from an injury (the nature of which is not specified in the story, other than he hasn’t the use of his legs) who spends his waking hours looking out of a large window with a view of a close by river. Over just a few days, he gains “an intimate knowledge” of the river and its ‘regular customers,’ both boats and people.

One day, he has some ‘excitement, as he observes the flight (and subsequent pursuit) of an escaped slave or servant (a “Malay” he suspects). The unfortunate fugitive had apparently gone mad and went on a kree (a kind of bladed weapon) wielding spree of violence. Not surprisingly, the Malay finds his way to our side of the river and, though wounded, manages to gain access through the very window in the title of the story, when our hero “finishes him off.”

Where this story resonated with me was in the early part, as our main character begins to gain his “intimate knowledge” of the river. He even comments that one of the hands on one of the regular boats ‘must not be feeling well today’ by observing how he carries himself. This heightened sense and skill of observation reminded me of when my retired Granddad used to come visit us in Indianapolis (this was after the death of my Grandmother and before he remarried). He enjoyed sitting on our front porch and observing all the goings on of the street we lived on. I remember being impressed that, in seemingly just a few days of observation, he discovered habits and routines that we “who lived there all the time” had never bothered to notice. The steps of the mailman, his route around fences and yards, when certain dogs would notice and react to his presence, the different personalities of the squirrels who called our trees and yard home, school bus stops and who got off at each one, and on and on.

My Granddad came from the mountains of West Virginia and was already known (to me) as a keen observer of the natural world. He seemed to know every creature and plant in those mountains and even, one time when I told him what my high school biology teacher had told me about a certain snake’s behavior that was contrary to what Granddad himself had observed – even laughing off what I said my Granddad had seen – replied to me “Well, you tell him he’s a damned liar!”

Well, I see I’ve once again gotten off the subject, but the fact is – if one would only focus one’s attention – it’s amazing what type of things one could notice that had perviously been hidden from view…

Photo of a young H.G. Wells: