The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (read online)

VI

‘It may seem odd to you, but it was two days before I could follow
up the new-found clue in what was manifestly the proper way. I felt
a peculiar shrinking from those pallid bodies. They were just the
half-bleached colour of the worms and things one sees preserved in
spirit in a zoological museum. And they were filthily cold to the
touch. Probably my shrinking was largely due to the sympathetic
influence of the Eloi, whose disgust of the Morlocks I now began
to appreciate.

‘The next night I did not sleep well. Probably my health was a
little disordered. I was oppressed with perplexity and doubt. Once
or twice I had a feeling of intense fear for which I could perceive
no definite reason. I remember creeping noiselessly into the great
hall where the little people were sleeping in the moonlight–that
night Weena was among them–and feeling reassured by their presence.
It occurred to me even then, that in the course of a few days the
moon must pass through its last quarter, and the nights grow dark,
when the appearances of these unpleasant creatures from below, these
whitened Lemurs, this new vermin that had replaced the old, might be
more abundant. And on both these days I had the restless feeling of
one who shirks an inevitable duty. I felt assured that the Time
Machine was only to be recovered by boldly penetrating these
underground mysteries. Yet I could not face the mystery. If only I
had had a companion it would have been different. But I was so
horribly alone, and even to clamber down into the darkness of the
well appalled me. I don’t know if you will understand my feeling,
but I never felt quite safe at my back.

‘It was this restlessness, this insecurity, perhaps, that drove me
further and further afield in my exploring expeditions. Going to the
south-westward towards the rising country that is now called Combe
Wood, I observed far off, in the direction of nineteenth-century
Banstead, a vast green structure, different in character from any
I had hitherto seen. It was larger than the largest of the palaces
or ruins I knew, and the facade had an Oriental look: the face
of it having the lustre, as well as the pale-green tint, a kind
of bluish-green, of a certain type of Chinese porcelain. This
difference in aspect suggested a difference in use, and I was minded
to push on and explore. But the day was growing late, and I had come
upon the sight of the place after a long and tiring circuit; so I
resolved to hold over the adventure for the following day, and I
returned to the welcome and the caresses of little Weena. But next
morning I perceived clearly enough that my curiosity regarding the
Palace of Green Porcelain was a piece of self-deception, to enable
me to shirk, by another day, an experience I dreaded. I resolved I
would make the descent without further waste of time, and started
out in the early morning towards a well near the ruins of granite
and aluminium.

‘Little Weena ran with me. She danced beside me to the well, but
when she saw me lean over the mouth and look downward, she seemed
strangely disconcerted. “Good-bye, little Weena,” I said, kissing
her; and then putting her down, I began to feel over the parapet
for the climbing hooks. Rather hastily, I may as well confess, for
I feared my courage might leak away! At first she watched me in
amazement. Then she gave a most piteous cry, and running to me, she
began to pull at me with her little hands. I think her opposition
nerved me rather to proceed. I shook her off, perhaps a little
roughly, and in another moment I was in the throat of the well. I
saw her agonized face over the parapet, and smiled to reassure her.
Then I had to look down at the unstable hooks to which I clung.

‘I had to clamber down a shaft of perhaps two hundred yards. The
descent was effected by means of metallic bars projecting from
the sides of the well, and these being adapted to the needs of
a creature much smaller and lighter than myself, I was speedily
cramped and fatigued by the descent. And not simply fatigued! One of
the bars bent suddenly under my weight, and almost swung me off into
the blackness beneath. For a moment I hung by one hand, and after
that experience I did not dare to rest again. Though my arms and
back were presently acutely painful, I went on clambering down the
sheer descent with as quick a motion as possible. Glancing upward,
I saw the aperture, a small blue disk, in which a star was visible,
while little Weena’s head showed as a round black projection. The
thudding sound of a machine below grew louder and more oppressive.
Everything save that little disk above was profoundly dark, and when
I looked up again Weena had disappeared.

‘I was in an agony of discomfort. I had some thought of trying to go
up the shaft again, and leave the Under-world alone. But even while
I turned this over in my mind I continued to descend. At last, with
intense relief, I saw dimly coming up, a foot to the right of me, a
slender loophole in the wall. Swinging myself in, I found it was the
aperture of a narrow horizontal tunnel in which I could lie down and
rest. It was not too soon. My arms ached, my back was cramped, and I
was trembling with the prolonged terror of a fall. Besides this, the
unbroken darkness had had a distressing effect upon my eyes. The air
was full of the throb and hum of machinery pumping air down the
shaft.

‘I do not know how long I lay. I was roused by a soft hand touching
my face. Starting up in the darkness I snatched at my matches and,
hastily striking one, I saw three stooping white creatures similar
to the one I had seen above ground in the ruin, hastily retreating
before the light. Living, as they did, in what appeared to me
impenetrable darkness, their eyes were abnormally large and
sensitive, just as are the pupils of the abysmal fishes, and they
reflected the light in the same way. I have no doubt they could see
me in that rayless obscurity, and they did not seem to have any fear
of me apart from the light. But, so soon as I struck a match in
order to see them, they fled incontinently, vanishing into dark
gutters and tunnels, from which their eyes glared at me in the
strangest fashion.

‘I tried to call to them, but the language they had was apparently
different from that of the Over-world people; so that I was needs
left to my own unaided efforts, and the thought of flight before
exploration was even then in my mind. But I said to myself, “You are
in for it now,” and, feeling my way along the tunnel, I found the
noise of machinery grow louder. Presently the walls fell away from
me, and I came to a large open space, and striking another match,
saw that I had entered a vast arched cavern, which stretched into
utter darkness beyond the range of my light. The view I had of it
was as much as one could see in the burning of a match.

‘Necessarily my memory is vague. Great shapes like big machines rose
out of the dimness, and cast grotesque black shadows, in which dim
spectral Morlocks sheltered from the glare. The place, by the by,
was very stuffy and oppressive, and the faint halitus of freshly
shed blood was in the air. Some way down the central vista was a
little table of white metal, laid with what seemed a meal. The
Morlocks at any rate were carnivorous! Even at the time, I remember
wondering what large animal could have survived to furnish the red
joint I saw. It was all very indistinct: the heavy smell, the big
unmeaning shapes, the obscene figures lurking in the shadows, and
only waiting for the darkness to come at me again! Then the match
burned down, and stung my fingers, and fell, a wriggling red spot
in the blackness.

‘I have thought since how particularly ill-equipped I was for such
an experience. When I had started with the Time Machine, I had
started with the absurd assumption that the men of the Future would
certainly be infinitely ahead of ourselves in all their appliances.
I had come without arms, without medicine, without anything to
smoke–at times I missed tobacco frightfully–even without enough
matches. If only I had thought of a Kodak! I could have flashed that
glimpse of the Underworld in a second, and examined it at leisure.
But, as it was, I stood there with only the weapons and the powers
that Nature had endowed me with–hands, feet, and teeth; these, and
four safety-matches that still remained to me.

‘I was afraid to push my way in among all this machinery in the
dark, and it was only with my last glimpse of light I discovered
that my store of matches had run low. It had never occurred to me
until that moment that there was any need to economize them, and I
had wasted almost half the box in astonishing the Upper-worlders, to
whom fire was a novelty. Now, as I say, I had four left, and while I
stood in the dark, a hand touched mine, lank fingers came feeling
over my face, and I was sensible of a peculiar unpleasant odour. I
fancied I heard the breathing of a crowd of those dreadful little
beings about me. I felt the box of matches in my hand being gently
disengaged, and other hands behind me plucking at my clothing. The
sense of these unseen creatures examining me was indescribably
unpleasant. The sudden realization of my ignorance of their ways of
thinking and doing came home to me very vividly in the darkness. I
shouted at them as loudly as I could. They started away, and then
I could feel them approaching me again. They clutched at me more
boldly, whispering odd sounds to each other. I shivered violently,
and shouted again–rather discordantly. This time they were not so
seriously alarmed, and they made a queer laughing noise as they came
back at me. I will confess I was horribly frightened. I determined
to strike another match and escape under the protection of its
glare. I did so, and eking out the flicker with a scrap of paper
from my pocket, I made good my retreat to the narrow tunnel. But I
had scarce entered this when my light was blown out and in the
blackness I could hear the Morlocks rustling like wind among leaves,
and pattering like the rain, as they hurried after me.

‘In a moment I was clutched by several hands, and there was no
mistaking that they were trying to haul me back. I struck another
light, and waved it in their dazzled faces. You can scarce imagine
how nauseatingly inhuman they looked–those pale, chinless faces
and great, lidless, pinkish-grey eyes!–as they stared in their
blindness and bewilderment. But I did not stay to look, I promise
you: I retreated again, and when my second match had ended, I struck
my third. It had almost burned through when I reached the opening
into the shaft. I lay down on the edge, for the throb of the great
pump below made me giddy. Then I felt sideways for the projecting
hooks, and, as I did so, my feet were grasped from behind, and I
was violently tugged backward. I lit my last match … and it
incontinently went out. But I had my hand on the climbing bars now,
and, kicking violently, I disengaged myself from the clutches of the
Morlocks and was speedily clambering up the shaft, while they stayed
peering and blinking up at me: all but one little wretch who
followed me for some way, and well-nigh secured my boot as a trophy.

‘That climb seemed interminable to me. With the last twenty or
thirty feet of it a deadly nausea came upon me. I had the greatest
difficulty in keeping my hold. The last few yards was a frightful
struggle against this faintness. Several times my head swam, and I
felt all the sensations of falling. At last, however, I got over the
well-mouth somehow, and staggered out of the ruin into the blinding
sunlight. I fell upon my face. Even the soil smelt sweet and clean.
Then I remember Weena kissing my hands and ears, and the voices of
others among the Eloi. Then, for a time, I was insensible.

VII

‘Now, indeed, I seemed in a worse case than before. Hitherto,
except during my night’s anguish at the loss of the Time Machine,
I had felt a sustaining hope of ultimate escape, but that hope was
staggered by these new discoveries. Hitherto I had merely thought
myself impeded by the childish simplicity of the little people, and
by some unknown forces which I had only to understand to overcome;
but there was an altogether new element in the sickening quality of
the Morlocks–a something inhuman and malign. Instinctively I
loathed them. Before, I had felt as a man might feel who had fallen
into a pit: my concern was with the pit and how to get out of it.
Now I felt like a beast in a trap, whose enemy would come upon him
soon.

‘The enemy I dreaded may surprise you. It was the darkness of the
new moon. Weena had put this into my head by some at first
incomprehensible remarks about the Dark Nights. It was not now
such a very difficult problem to guess what the coming Dark Nights
might mean. The moon was on the wane: each night there was a longer
interval of darkness. And I now understood to some slight degree at
least the reason of the fear of the little Upper-world people for
the dark. I wondered vaguely what foul villainy it might be that
the Morlocks did under the new moon. I felt pretty sure now that
my second hypothesis was all wrong. The Upper-world people might
once have been the favoured aristocracy, and the Morlocks their
mechanical servants: but that had long since passed away. The two
species that had resulted from the evolution of man were sliding
down towards, or had already arrived at, an altogether new
relationship. The Eloi, like the Carolingian kings, had decayed
to a mere beautiful futility. They still possessed the earth on
sufferance: since the Morlocks, subterranean for innumerable
generations, had come at last to find the daylit surface
intolerable. And the Morlocks made their garments, I inferred, and
maintained them in their habitual needs, perhaps through the
survival of an old habit of service. They did it as a standing horse
paws with his foot, or as a man enjoys killing animals in sport:
because ancient and departed necessities had impressed it on the
organism. But, clearly, the old order was already in part reversed.
The Nemesis of the delicate ones was creeping on apace. Ages ago,
thousands of generations ago, man had thrust his brother man out of
the ease and the sunshine. And now that brother was coming back
changed! Already the Eloi had begun to learn one old lesson anew.
They were becoming reacquainted with Fear. And suddenly there came
into my head the memory of the meat I had seen in the Under-world.
It seemed odd how it floated into my mind: not stirred up as it
were by the current of my meditations, but coming in almost like a
question from outside. I tried to recall the form of it. I had a
vague sense of something familiar, but I could not tell what it was
at the time.

‘Still, however helpless the little people in the presence of their
mysterious Fear, I was differently constituted. I came out of this
age of ours, this ripe prime of the human race, when Fear does not
paralyse and mystery has lost its terrors. I at least would defend
myself. Without further delay I determined to make myself arms and a
fastness where I might sleep. With that refuge as a base, I could
face this strange world with some of that confidence I had lost in
realizing to what creatures night by night I lay exposed. I felt
I could never sleep again until my bed was secure from them. I
shuddered with horror to think how they must already have examined
me.

‘I wandered during the afternoon along the valley of the Thames, but
found nothing that commended itself to my mind as inaccessible. All
the buildings and trees seemed easily practicable to such dexterous
climbers as the Morlocks, to judge by their wells, must be. Then the
tall pinnacles of the Palace of Green Porcelain and the polished
gleam of its walls came back to my memory; and in the evening,
taking Weena like a child upon my shoulder, I went up the hills
towards the south-west. The distance, I had reckoned, was seven or
eight miles, but it must have been nearer eighteen. I had first seen
the place on a moist afternoon when distances are deceptively
diminished. In addition, the heel of one of my shoes was loose, and
a nail was working through the sole–they were comfortable old shoes
I wore about indoors–so that I was lame. And it was already long
past sunset when I came in sight of the palace, silhouetted black
against the pale yellow of the sky.

‘Weena had been hugely delighted when I began to carry her, but
after a while she desired me to let her down, and ran along by the
side of me, occasionally darting off on either hand to pick flowers
to stick in my pockets. My pockets had always puzzled Weena, but at
the last she had concluded that they were an eccentric kind of vase
for floral decoration. At least she utilized them for that purpose.
And that reminds me! In changing my jacket I found…’

The Time Traveller paused, put his hand into his pocket, and
silently placed two withered flowers, not unlike very large white
mallows, upon the little table. Then he resumed his narrative.

‘As the hush of evening crept over the world and we proceeded over
the hill crest towards Wimbledon, Weena grew tired and wanted to
return to the house of grey stone. But I pointed out the distant
pinnacles of the Palace of Green Porcelain to her, and contrived to
make her understand that we were seeking a refuge there from her
Fear. You know that great pause that comes upon things before the
dusk? Even the breeze stops in the trees. To me there is always an
air of expectation about that evening stillness. The sky was clear,
remote, and empty save for a few horizontal bars far down in the
sunset. Well, that night the expectation took the colour of my
fears. In that darkling calm my senses seemed preternaturally
sharpened. I fancied I could even feel the hollowness of the ground
beneath my feet: could, indeed, almost see through it the Morlocks
on their ant-hill going hither and thither and waiting for the dark.
In my excitement I fancied that they would receive my invasion of
their burrows as a declaration of war. And why had they taken my
Time Machine?

‘So we went on in the quiet, and the twilight deepened into night.
The clear blue of the distance faded, and one star after another
came out. The ground grew dim and the trees black. Weena’s fears and
her fatigue grew upon her. I took her in my arms and talked to her
and caressed her. Then, as the darkness grew deeper, she put her
arms round my neck, and, closing her eyes, tightly pressed her face
against my shoulder. So we went down a long slope into a valley, and
there in the dimness I almost walked into a little river. This I
waded, and went up the opposite side of the valley, past a number
of sleeping houses, and by a statue–a Faun, or some such figure,
minus the head. Here too were acacias. So far I had seen nothing of
the Morlocks, but it was yet early in the night, and the darker hours
before the old moon rose were still to come.

‘From the brow of the next hill I saw a thick wood spreading wide
and black before me. I hesitated at this. I could see no end to
it, either to the right or the left. Feeling tired–my feet, in
particular, were very sore–I carefully lowered Weena from my
shoulder as I halted, and sat down upon the turf. I could no
longer see the Palace of Green Porcelain, and I was in doubt of my
direction. I looked into the thickness of the wood and thought of
what it might hide. Under that dense tangle of branches one would
be out of sight of the stars. Even were there no other lurking
danger–a danger I did not care to let my imagination loose
upon–there would still be all the roots to stumble over and the
tree-boles to strike against.

‘I was very tired, too, after the excitements of the day; so I
decided that I would not face it, but would pass the night upon the
open hill.

‘Weena, I was glad to find, was fast asleep. I carefully wrapped her
in my jacket, and sat down beside her to wait for the moonrise. The
hill-side was quiet and deserted, but from the black of the wood
there came now and then a stir of living things. Above me shone the
stars, for the night was very clear. I felt a certain sense of
friendly comfort in their twinkling. All the old constellations
had gone from the sky, however: that slow movement which is
imperceptible in a hundred human lifetimes, had long since
rearranged them in unfamiliar groupings. But the Milky Way, it
seemed to me, was still the same tattered streamer of star-dust as
of yore. Southward (as I judged it) was a very bright red star that
was new to me; it was even more splendid than our own green Sirius.
And amid all these scintillating points of light one bright planet
shone kindly and steadily like the face of an old friend.

‘Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all
the gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable
distance, and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of
the unknown past into the unknown future. I thought of the great
precessional cycle that the pole of the earth describes. Only forty
times had that silent revolution occurred during all the years that
I had traversed. And during these few revolutions all the activity,
all the traditions, the complex organizations, the nations,
languages, literatures, aspirations, even the mere memory of Man as
I knew him, had been swept out of existence. Instead were these
frail creatures who had forgotten their high ancestry, and the white
Things of which I went in terror. Then I thought of the Great Fear
that was between the two species, and for the first time, with a
sudden shiver, came the clear knowledge of what the meat I had seen
might be. Yet it was too horrible! I looked at little Weena sleeping
beside me, her face white and starlike under the stars, and
forthwith dismissed the thought.

‘Through that long night I held my mind off the Morlocks as well as
I could, and whiled away the time by trying to fancy I could find
signs of the old constellations in the new confusion. The sky kept
very clear, except for a hazy cloud or so. No doubt I dozed at
times. Then, as my vigil wore on, came a faintness in the eastward
sky, like the reflection of some colourless fire, and the old moon
rose, thin and peaked and white. And close behind, and overtaking
it, and overflowing it, the dawn came, pale at first, and then
growing pink and warm. No Morlocks had approached us. Indeed, I had
seen none upon the hill that night. And in the confidence of renewed
day it almost seemed to me that my fear had been unreasonable. I
stood up and found my foot with the loose heel swollen at the ankle
and painful under the heel; so I sat down again, took off my shoes,
and flung them away.

‘I awakened Weena, and we went down into the wood, now green and
pleasant instead of black and forbidding. We found some fruit
wherewith to break our fast. We soon met others of the dainty ones,
laughing and dancing in the sunlight as though there was no such
thing in nature as the night. And then I thought once more of the
meat that I had seen. I felt assured now of what it was, and from
the bottom of my heart I pitied this last feeble rill from the great
flood of humanity. Clearly, at some time in the Long-Ago of human
decay the Morlocks’ food had run short. Possibly they had lived on
rats and such-like vermin. Even now man is far less discriminating
and exclusive in his food than he was–far less than any monkey. His
prejudice against human flesh is no deep-seated instinct. And so
these inhuman sons of men—-! I tried to look at the thing in a
scientific spirit. After all, they were less human and more remote
than our cannibal ancestors of three or four thousand years ago.
And the intelligence that would have made this state of things a
torment had gone. Why should I trouble myself? These Eloi were mere
fatted cattle, which the ant-like Morlocks preserved and preyed
upon–probably saw to the breeding of. And there was Weena dancing
at my side!

‘Then I tried to preserve myself from the horror that was coming
upon me, by regarding it as a rigorous punishment of human
selfishness. Man had been content to live in ease and delight upon
the labours of his fellow-man, had taken Necessity as his watchword
and excuse, and in the fullness of time Necessity had come home to
him. I even tried a Carlyle-like scorn of this wretched aristocracy
in decay. But this attitude of mind was impossible. However great
their intellectual degradation, the Eloi had kept too much of the
human form not to claim my sympathy, and to make me perforce a
sharer in their degradation and their Fear.

‘I had at that time very vague ideas as to the course I should
pursue. My first was to secure some safe place of refuge, and to
make myself such arms of metal or stone as I could contrive. That
necessity was immediate. In the next place, I hoped to procure some
means of fire, so that I should have the weapon of a torch at hand,
for nothing, I knew, would be more efficient against these Morlocks.
Then I wanted to arrange some contrivance to break open the doors of
bronze under the White Sphinx. I had in mind a battering ram. I had
a persuasion that if I could enter those doors and carry a blaze of
light before me I should discover the Time Machine and escape. I
could not imagine the Morlocks were strong enough to move it far
away. Weena I had resolved to bring with me to our own time. And
turning such schemes over in my mind I pursued our way towards the
building which my fancy had chosen as our dwelling.

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