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The Time Machine, Page 2

H. G. Wells


  I think that at that time none of us quite believed in the TimeMachine. The fact is, the Time Traveller was one of those men whoare too clever to be believed: you never felt that you saw all roundhim; you always suspected some subtle reserve, some ingenuity inambush, behind his lucid frankness. Had Filby shown the model andexplained the matter in the Time Traveller's words, we should haveshown _him_ far less scepticism. For we should have perceived hismotives; a pork butcher could understand Filby. But the TimeTraveller had more than a touch of whim among his elements, and wedistrusted him. Things that would have made the frame of a lessclever man seemed tricks in his hands. It is a mistake to do thingstoo easily. The serious people who took him seriously never feltquite sure of his deportment; they were somehow aware that trustingtheir reputations for judgment with him was like furnishing anursery with egg-shell china. So I don't think any of us said verymuch about time travelling in the interval between that Thursday andthe next, though its odd potentialities ran, no doubt, in most ofour minds: its plausibility, that is, its practical incredibleness,the curious possibilities of anachronism and of utter confusion itsuggested. For my own part, I was particularly preoccupied with thetrick of the model. That I remember discussing with the Medical Man,whom I met on Friday at the Linnaean. He said he had seen a similarthing at Tubingen, and laid considerable stress on the blowing outof the candle. But how the trick was done he could not explain.

  The next Thursday I went again to Richmond--I suppose I was one ofthe Time Traveller's most constant guests--and, arriving late, foundfour or five men already assembled in his drawing-room. The MedicalMan was standing before the fire with a sheet of paper in one handand his watch in the other. I looked round for the Time Traveller,and--'It's half-past seven now,' said the Medical Man. 'I supposewe'd better have dinner?'

  'Where's----?' said I, naming our host.

  'You've just come? It's rather odd. He's unavoidably detained. Heasks me in this note to lead off with dinner at seven if he's notback. Says he'll explain when he comes.'

  'It seems a pity to let the dinner spoil,' said the Editor of awell-known daily paper; and thereupon the Doctor rang the bell.

  The Psychologist was the only person besides the Doctor and myselfwho had attended the previous dinner. The other men were Blank, theEditor aforementioned, a certain journalist, and another--a quiet,shy man with a beard--whom I didn't know, and who, as far as myobservation went, never opened his mouth all the evening. There wassome speculation at the dinner-table about the Time Traveller'sabsence, and I suggested time travelling, in a half-jocular spirit.The Editor wanted that explained to him, and the Psychologistvolunteered a wooden account of the 'ingenious paradox and trick' wehad witnessed that day week. He was in the midst of his expositionwhen the door from the corridor opened slowly and without noise. Iwas facing the door, and saw it first. 'Hallo!' I said. 'At last!'And the door opened wider, and the Time Traveller stood before us.I gave a cry of surprise. 'Good heavens! man, what's the matter?'cried the Medical Man, who saw him next. And the whole tablefulturned towards the door.

  He was in an amazing plight. His coat was dusty and dirty, andsmeared with green down the sleeves; his hair disordered, and as itseemed to me greyer--either with dust and dirt or because its colourhad actually faded. His face was ghastly pale; his chin had a browncut on it--a cut half healed; his expression was haggard and drawn,as by intense suffering. For a moment he hesitated in the doorway,as if he had been dazzled by the light. Then he came into the room.He walked with just such a limp as I have seen in footsore tramps.We stared at him in silence, expecting him to speak.

  He said not a word, but came painfully to the table, and made amotion towards the wine. The Editor filled a glass of champagne, andpushed it towards him. He drained it, and it seemed to do him good:for he looked round the table, and the ghost of his old smileflickered across his face. 'What on earth have you been up to, man?'said the Doctor. The Time Traveller did not seem to hear. 'Don't letme disturb you,' he said, with a certain faltering articulation.'I'm all right.' He stopped, held out his glass for more, and tookit off at a draught. 'That's good,' he said. His eyes grew brighter,and a faint colour came into his cheeks. His glance flickered overour faces with a certain dull approval, and then went round the warmand comfortable room. Then he spoke again, still as it were feelinghis way among his words. 'I'm going to wash and dress, and then I'llcome down and explain things ... Save me some of that mutton. I'mstarving for a bit of meat.'

  He looked across at the Editor, who was a rare visitor, and hoped hewas all right. The Editor began a question. 'Tell you presently,'said the Time Traveller. 'I'm--funny! Be all right in a minute.'

  He put down his glass, and walked towards the staircase door. AgainI remarked his lameness and the soft padding sound of his footfall,and standing up in my place, I saw his feet as he went out. He hadnothing on them but a pair of tattered, blood-stained socks. Then thedoor closed upon him. I had half a mind to follow, till I rememberedhow he detested any fuss about himself. For a minute, perhaps, mymind was wool-gathering. Then, 'Remarkable Behaviour of an EminentScientist,' I heard the Editor say, thinking (after his wont) inheadlines. And this brought my attention back to the brightdinner-table.

  'What's the game?' said the Journalist. 'Has he been doing theAmateur Cadger? I don't follow.' I met the eye of the Psychologist,and read my own interpretation in his face. I thought of the TimeTraveller limping painfully upstairs. I don't think any one else hadnoticed his lameness.

  The first to recover completely from this surprise was the MedicalMan, who rang the bell--the Time Traveller hated to have servantswaiting at dinner--for a hot plate. At that the Editor turned to hisknife and fork with a grunt, and the Silent Man followed suit. Thedinner was resumed. Conversation was exclamatory for a little while,with gaps of wonderment; and then the Editor got fervent in hiscuriosity. 'Does our friend eke out his modest income with acrossing? or has he his Nebuchadnezzar phases?' he inquired. 'I feelassured it's this business of the Time Machine,' I said, and took upthe Psychologist's account of our previous meeting. The new guestswere frankly incredulous. The Editor raised objections. 'What _was_this time travelling? A man couldn't cover himself with dust byrolling in a paradox, could he?' And then, as the idea came home tohim, he resorted to caricature. Hadn't they any clothes-brushes inthe Future? The Journalist too, would not believe at any price, andjoined the Editor in the easy work of heaping ridicule on the wholething. They were both the new kind of journalist--very joyous,irreverent young men. 'Our Special Correspondent in the Dayafter To-morrow reports,' the Journalist was saying--or rathershouting--when the Time Traveller came back. He was dressed inordinary evening clothes, and nothing save his haggard look remainedof the change that had startled me.

  'I say,' said the Editor hilariously, 'these chaps here say you havebeen travelling into the middle of next week! Tell us all aboutlittle Rosebery, will you? What will you take for the lot?'

  The Time Traveller came to the place reserved for him without aword. He smiled quietly, in his old way. 'Where's my mutton?' hesaid. 'What a treat it is to stick a fork into meat again!'

  'Story!' cried the Editor.

  'Story be damned!' said the Time Traveller. 'I want something toeat. I won't say a word until I get some peptone into my arteries.Thanks. And the salt.'

  'One word,' said I. 'Have you been time travelling?'

  'Yes,' said the Time Traveller, with his mouth full, nodding hishead.

  'I'd give a shilling a line for a verbatim note,' said the Editor.The Time Traveller pushed his glass towards the Silent Man and rangit with his fingernail; at which the Silent Man, who had beenstaring at his face, started convulsively, and poured him wine.The rest of the dinner was uncomfortable. For my own part, suddenquestions kept on rising to my lips, and I dare say it was the samewith the others. The Journalist tried to relieve the tension bytelling anecdotes of Hettie Potter. The Time Traveller devoted hisattention to his dinner, and displayed the appetite
of a tramp.The Medical Man smoked a cigarette, and watched the Time Travellerthrough his eyelashes. The Silent Man seemed even more clumsy thanusual, and drank champagne with regularity and determination out ofsheer nervousness. At last the Time Traveller pushed his plate away,and looked round us. 'I suppose I must apologize,' he said. 'I wassimply starving. I've had a most amazing time.' He reached out hishand for a cigar, and cut the end. 'But come into the smoking-room.It's too long a story to tell over greasy plates.' And ringing thebell in passing, he led the way into the adjoining room.

  'You have told Blank, and Dash, and Chose about the machine?' hesaid to me, leaning back in his easy-chair and naming the three newguests.

  'But the thing's a mere paradox,' said the Editor.

  'I can't argue to-night. I don't mind telling you the story, butI can't argue. I will,' he went on, 'tell you the story of whathas happened to me, if you like, but you must refrain frominterruptions. I want to tell it. Badly. Most of it will sound likelying. So be it! It's true--every word of it, all the same. I was inmy laboratory at four o'clock, and since then ... I've lived eightdays ... such days as no human being ever lived before! I'm nearlyworn out, but I shan't sleep till I've told this thing over to you.Then I shall go to bed. But no interruptions! Is it agreed?'

  'Agreed,' said the Editor, and the rest of us echoed 'Agreed.' Andwith that the Time Traveller began his story as I have set it forth.He sat back in his chair at first, and spoke like a weary man.Afterwards he got more animated. In writing it down I feel with onlytoo much keenness the inadequacy of pen and ink--and, above all, myown inadequacy--to express its quality. You read, I will suppose,attentively enough; but you cannot see the speaker's white,sincere face in the bright circle of the little lamp, nor hear theintonation of his voice. You cannot know how his expression followedthe turns of his story! Most of us hearers were in shadow, for thecandles in the smoking-room had not been lighted, and only the faceof the Journalist and the legs of the Silent Man from the kneesdownward were illuminated. At first we glanced now and again at eachother. After a time we ceased to do that, and looked only at theTime Traveller's face.