Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 582
An unprepossessing clerk, George McWhirter Fotheringay, is involved in an argument in the Long Dragon bar concerning whether miracles actually exist. Fotheringay does not believe in miracles; he is a skeptic and a rationalist. He states, “Let us clearly understand what a miracle is. It’s something contrariwise to the course of nature done by power or Will, something what couldn’t happen without being specially willed.” By way of example, Fotheringay explains that the gas lamp lighting the bar could not burn upside down. If it were to do so, that would be a miracle. He continues in his charade by telling the lamp to turn upside down without breaking but to go on burning steadily.
The incredible happens: The lamp does just that. Fotheringay is accused of creating a silly trick and asked to leave. Later, alone in his little bedroom, he begins to grapple with what has just happened and realizes that at the exact moment he gave the command for the lamp to turn upside down, his mind had inadvertently willed it to do so. Fotheringay tests his theory with several simple experiments; then recalling that he must rise early in the morning for work, he commands a comfortable night’s sleep for himself.
The next day, Fotheringay begins to think about the materialistic means to which he can turn his power. He calls into existence a pair of very splendid diamond studs but hastily annihilates them in fear that his countinghouse boss, the young Mr. Gomshott, might become suspicious about their acquisition. On the way home from work, Fotheringay recalls the story of “Tannhauser” and pokes his walking stick into the turf along the footpath and commands the dry wood to blossom. It does so, and the air is filled with the scent of roses. He hears footsteps and hastily commands the stick to go back—meaning, of course, to the form of a walking stick. The bush literally propels through the air and into the shin of Constable Winch. Fotheringay bungles an explanation to the constable, and chafing under Winch’s anger, he wills Winch to Hades. He soon regrets what he has done and transfers Winch from Hades to San Francisco.
This incident brings home to Fotheringay the incredible power he possesses, and on Sunday evening he goes to chapel thinking that perhaps the answer lies in religion. Mr. Maydig, the Congregational minister, preaches about things that are not lawful. Following this quite relevant sermon, Fotheringay requests a private conversation with the vicar, during which he exhibits proof of his power to work miracles.
In the vicar’s study on a Sunday evening, the clerk and the vicar begin to hasten the world’s progress. They change the vicar’s careless housekeeper into a model servant, reform drunkards, change beer to water, drain a swamp, improve railway service, and even cure the Reverend Maydig’s wart. Under the influence of Mr. Maydig, Fotheringay attempts to duplicate Joshua’s feat of making the sun stand still, but in his naïveté requests the earth to stop moving—whereupon every object on the surface of the earth flies off into space, Fotheringay included. At last, Fotheringay collects himself sufficiently to wish that he be restored, minus his magical powers, to that point in time at which he found he possessed them. The world returns to normalcy, and the story returns full circle to the Long Dragon and the beginning of the discussion about the existence of miracles.