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

XI

‘I have already told you of the sickness and confusion that comes
with time travelling. And this time I was not seated properly in the
saddle, but sideways and in an unstable fashion. For an indefinite
time I clung to the machine as it swayed and vibrated, quite
unheeding how I went, and when I brought myself to look at the dials
again I was amazed to find where I had arrived. One dial records
days, and another thousands of days, another millions of days, and
another thousands of millions. Now, instead of reversing the levers,
I had pulled them over so as to go forward with them, and when I
came to look at these indicators I found that the thousands hand was
sweeping round as fast as the seconds hand of a watch–into
futurity.

‘As I drove on, a peculiar change crept over the appearance of
things. The palpitating greyness grew darker; then–though I was
still travelling with prodigious velocity–the blinking succession
of day and night, which was usually indicative of a slower pace,
returned, and grew more and more marked. This puzzled me very much
at first. The alternations of night and day grew slower and slower,
and so did the passage of the sun across the sky, until they seemed
to stretch through centuries. At last a steady twilight brooded over
the earth, a twilight only broken now and then when a comet glared
across the darkling sky. The band of light that had indicated the
sun had long since disappeared; for the sun had ceased to set–it
simply rose and fell in the west, and grew ever broader and more
red. All trace of the moon had vanished. The circling of the stars,
growing slower and slower, had given place to creeping points of
light. At last, some time before I stopped, the sun, red and very
large, halted motionless upon the horizon, a vast dome glowing with
a dull heat, and now and then suffering a momentary extinction. At
one time it had for a little while glowed more brilliantly again,
but it speedily reverted to its sullen red heat. I perceived by this
slowing down of its rising and setting that the work of the tidal
drag was done. The earth had come to rest with one face to the sun,
even as in our own time the moon faces the earth. Very cautiously,
for I remembered my former headlong fall, I began to reverse
my motion. Slower and slower went the circling hands until the
thousands one seemed motionless and the daily one was no longer a
mere mist upon its scale. Still slower, until the dim outlines of a
desolate beach grew visible.

‘I stopped very gently and sat upon the Time Machine, looking round.
The sky was no longer blue. North-eastward it was inky black,
and out of the blackness shone brightly and steadily the pale
white stars. Overhead it was a deep Indian red and starless, and
south-eastward it grew brighter to a glowing scarlet where, cut by
the horizon, lay the huge hull of the sun, red and motionless. The
rocks about me were of a harsh reddish colour, and all the trace of
life that I could see at first was the intensely green vegetation
that covered every projecting point on their south-eastern face. It
was the same rich green that one sees on forest moss or on the
lichen in caves: plants which like these grow in a perpetual
twilight.

‘The machine was standing on a sloping beach. The sea stretched away
to the south-west, to rise into a sharp bright horizon against the
wan sky. There were no breakers and no waves, for not a breath of
wind was stirring. Only a slight oily swell rose and fell like a
gentle breathing, and showed that the eternal sea was still moving
and living. And along the margin where the water sometimes broke was
a thick incrustation of salt–pink under the lurid sky. There was a
sense of oppression in my head, and I noticed that I was breathing
very fast. The sensation reminded me of my only experience of
mountaineering, and from that I judged the air to be more rarefied
than it is now.

‘Far away up the desolate slope I heard a harsh scream, and saw a
thing like a huge white butterfly go slanting and fluttering up into
the sky and, circling, disappear over some low hillocks beyond. The
sound of its voice was so dismal that I shivered and seated myself
more firmly upon the machine. Looking round me again, I saw that,
quite near, what I had taken to be a reddish mass of rock was moving
slowly towards me. Then I saw the thing was really a monstrous
crab-like creature. Can you imagine a crab as large as yonder table,
with its many legs moving slowly and uncertainly, its big claws
swaying, its long antennae, like carters’ whips, waving and feeling,
and its stalked eyes gleaming at you on either side of its metallic
front? Its back was corrugated and ornamented with ungainly bosses,
and a greenish incrustation blotched it here and there. I could see
the many palps of its complicated mouth flickering and feeling as it
moved.

‘As I stared at this sinister apparition crawling towards me, I felt
a tickling on my cheek as though a fly had lighted there. I tried to
brush it away with my hand, but in a moment it returned, and almost
immediately came another by my ear. I struck at this, and caught
something threadlike. It was drawn swiftly out of my hand. With a
frightful qualm, I turned, and I saw that I had grasped the antenna
of another monster crab that stood just behind me. Its evil eyes
were wriggling on their stalks, its mouth was all alive with
appetite, and its vast ungainly claws, smeared with an algal slime,
were descending upon me. In a moment my hand was on the lever, and
I had placed a month between myself and these monsters. But I was
still on the same beach, and I saw them distinctly now as soon as I
stopped. Dozens of them seemed to be crawling here and there, in the
sombre light, among the foliated sheets of intense green.

‘I cannot convey the sense of abominable desolation that hung over
the world. The red eastern sky, the northward blackness, the salt
Dead Sea, the stony beach crawling with these foul, slow-stirring
monsters, the uniform poisonous-looking green of the lichenous
plants, the thin air that hurts one’s lungs: all contributed to an
appalling effect. I moved on a hundred years, and there was the same
red sun–a little larger, a little duller–the same dying sea, the
same chill air, and the same crowd of earthy crustacea creeping in
and out among the green weed and the red rocks. And in the westward
sky, I saw a curved pale line like a vast new moon.

‘So I travelled, stopping ever and again, in great strides of a
thousand years or more, drawn on by the mystery of the earth’s fate,
watching with a strange fascination the sun grow larger and duller
in the westward sky, and the life of the old earth ebb away. At
last, more than thirty million years hence, the huge red-hot dome of
the sun had come to obscure nearly a tenth part of the darkling
heavens. Then I stopped once more, for the crawling multitude of
crabs had disappeared, and the red beach, save for its livid green
liverworts and lichens, seemed lifeless. And now it was flecked with
white. A bitter cold assailed me. Rare white flakes ever and again
came eddying down. To the north-eastward, the glare of snow lay
under the starlight of the sable sky and I could see an undulating
crest of hillocks pinkish white. There were fringes of ice along the
sea margin, with drifting masses further out; but the main expanse
of that salt ocean, all bloody under the eternal sunset, was still
unfrozen.

‘I looked about me to see if any traces of animal life remained. A
certain indefinable apprehension still kept me in the saddle of the
machine. But I saw nothing moving, in earth or sky or sea. The green
slime on the rocks alone testified that life was not extinct. A
shallow sandbank had appeared in the sea and the water had receded
from the beach. I fancied I saw some black object flopping about
upon this bank, but it became motionless as I looked at it, and I
judged that my eye had been deceived, and that the black object was
merely a rock. The stars in the sky were intensely bright and seemed
to me to twinkle very little.

‘Suddenly I noticed that the circular westward outline of the sun
had changed; that a concavity, a bay, had appeared in the curve. I
saw this grow larger. For a minute perhaps I stared aghast at this
blackness that was creeping over the day, and then I realized that
an eclipse was beginning. Either the moon or the planet Mercury was
passing across the sun’s disk. Naturally, at first I took it to be
the moon, but there is much to incline me to believe that what I
really saw was the transit of an inner planet passing very near to
the earth.

‘The darkness grew apace; a cold wind began to blow in freshening
gusts from the east, and the showering white flakes in the air
increased in number. From the edge of the sea came a ripple and
whisper. Beyond these lifeless sounds the world was silent. Silent?
It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of
man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects,
the stir that makes the background of our lives–all that was over.
As the darkness thickened, the eddying flakes grew more abundant,
dancing before my eyes; and the cold of the air more intense. At
last, one by one, swiftly, one after the other, the white peaks of
the distant hills vanished into blackness. The breeze rose to a
moaning wind. I saw the black central shadow of the eclipse sweeping
towards me. In another moment the pale stars alone were visible. All
else was rayless obscurity. The sky was absolutely black.

‘A horror of this great darkness came on me. The cold, that smote
to my marrow, and the pain I felt in breathing, overcame me. I
shivered, and a deadly nausea seized me. Then like a red-hot bow
in the sky appeared the edge of the sun. I got off the machine to
recover myself. I felt giddy and incapable of facing the return
journey. As I stood sick and confused I saw again the moving thing
upon the shoal–there was no mistake now that it was a moving
thing–against the red water of the sea. It was a round thing, the
size of a football perhaps, or, it may be, bigger, and tentacles
trailed down from it; it seemed black against the weltering
blood-red water, and it was hopping fitfully about. Then I felt I
was fainting. But a terrible dread of lying helpless in that remote
and awful twilight sustained me while I clambered upon the saddle.

XII

‘So I came back. For a long time I must have been insensible upon
the machine. The blinking succession of the days and nights was
resumed, the sun got golden again, the sky blue. I breathed with
greater freedom. The fluctuating contours of the land ebbed and
flowed. The hands spun backward upon the dials. At last I saw again
the dim shadows of houses, the evidences of decadent humanity.
These, too, changed and passed, and others came. Presently, when the
million dial was at zero, I slackened speed. I began to recognize
our own petty and familiar architecture, the thousands hand ran back
to the starting-point, the night and day flapped slower and slower.
Then the old walls of the laboratory came round me. Very gently,
now, I slowed the mechanism down.

‘I saw one little thing that seemed odd to me. I think I have told
you that when I set out, before my velocity became very high, Mrs.
Watchett had walked across the room, travelling, as it seemed to me,
like a rocket. As I returned, I passed again across that minute when
she traversed the laboratory. But now her every motion appeared to
be the exact inversion of her previous ones. The door at the lower
end opened, and she glided quietly up the laboratory, back foremost,
and disappeared behind the door by which she had previously entered.
Just before that I seemed to see Hillyer for a moment; but he passed
like a flash.

‘Then I stopped the machine, and saw about me again the old familiar
laboratory, my tools, my appliances just as I had left them. I got
off the thing very shakily, and sat down upon my bench. For several
minutes I trembled violently. Then I became calmer. Around me was
my old workshop again, exactly as it had been. I might have slept
there, and the whole thing have been a dream.

‘And yet, not exactly! The thing had started from the south-east
corner of the laboratory. It had come to rest again in the
north-west, against the wall where you saw it. That gives you the
exact distance from my little lawn to the pedestal of the White
Sphinx, into which the Morlocks had carried my machine.

‘For a time my brain went stagnant. Presently I got up and came
through the passage here, limping, because my heel was still
painful, and feeling sorely begrimed. I saw the Pall Mall Gazette
on the table by the door. I found the date was indeed to-day, and
looking at the timepiece, saw the hour was almost eight o’clock. I
heard your voices and the clatter of plates. I hesitated–I felt so
sick and weak. Then I sniffed good wholesome meat, and opened the
door on you. You know the rest. I washed, and dined, and now I am
telling you the story.

‘I know,’ he said, after a pause, ‘that all this will be absolutely
incredible to you. To me the one incredible thing is that I am here
to-night in this old familiar room looking into your friendly faces
and telling you these strange adventures.’

He looked at the Medical Man. ‘No. I cannot expect you to believe
it. Take it as a lie–or a prophecy. Say I dreamed it in the
workshop. Consider I have been speculating upon the destinies of our
race until I have hatched this fiction. Treat my assertion of its
truth as a mere stroke of art to enhance its interest. And taking
it as a story, what do you think of it?’

He took up his pipe, and began, in his old accustomed manner, to tap
with it nervously upon the bars of the grate. There was a momentary
stillness. Then chairs began to creak and shoes to scrape upon the
carpet. I took my eyes off the Time Traveller’s face, and looked
round at his audience. They were in the dark, and little spots of
colour swam before them. The Medical Man seemed absorbed in the
contemplation of our host. The Editor was looking hard at the end
of his cigar–the sixth. The Journalist fumbled for his watch. The
others, as far as I remember, were motionless.

The Editor stood up with a sigh. ‘What a pity it is you’re not
a writer of stories!’ he said, putting his hand on the Time
Traveller’s shoulder.

‘You don’t believe it?’

‘Well—-‘

‘I thought not.’

The Time Traveller turned to us. ‘Where are the matches?’ he said.
He lit one and spoke over his pipe, puffing. ‘To tell you the truth
… I hardly believe it myself…. And yet…’

His eye fell with a mute inquiry upon the withered white flowers
upon the little table. Then he turned over the hand holding his
pipe, and I saw he was looking at some half-healed scars on his
knuckles.

The Medical Man rose, came to the lamp, and examined the flowers.
‘The gynaeceum’s odd,’ he said. The Psychologist leant forward to
see, holding out his hand for a specimen.

‘I’m hanged if it isn’t a quarter to one,’ said the Journalist.
‘How shall we get home?’

‘Plenty of cabs at the station,’ said the Psychologist.

‘It’s a curious thing,’ said the Medical Man; ‘but I certainly don’t
know the natural order of these flowers. May I have them?’

The Time Traveller hesitated. Then suddenly: ‘Certainly not.’

‘Where did you really get them?’ said the Medical Man.

The Time Traveller put his hand to his head. He spoke like one who
was trying to keep hold of an idea that eluded him. ‘They were put
into my pocket by Weena, when I travelled into Time.’ He stared
round the room. ‘I’m damned if it isn’t all going. This room and you
and the atmosphere of every day is too much for my memory. Did I
ever make a Time Machine, or a model of a Time Machine? Or is it all
only a dream? They say life is a dream, a precious poor dream at
times–but I can’t stand another that won’t fit. It’s madness. And
where did the dream come from? … I must look at that machine. If
there is one!’

He caught up the lamp swiftly, and carried it, flaring red, through
the door into the corridor. We followed him. There in the flickering
light of the lamp was the machine sure enough, squat, ugly, and
askew; a thing of brass, ebony, ivory, and translucent glimmering
quartz. Solid to the touch–for I put out my hand and felt the rail
of it–and with brown spots and smears upon the ivory, and bits of
grass and moss upon the lower parts, and one rail bent awry.

The Time Traveller put the lamp down on the bench, and ran his hand
along the damaged rail. ‘It’s all right now,’ he said. ‘The story I
told you was true. I’m sorry to have brought you out here in the
cold.’ He took up the lamp, and, in an absolute silence, we
returned to the smoking-room.

He came into the hall with us and helped the Editor on with his
coat. The Medical Man looked into his face and, with a certain
hesitation, told him he was suffering from overwork, at which he
laughed hugely. I remember him standing in the open doorway, bawling
good night.

I shared a cab with the Editor. He thought the tale a ‘gaudy lie.’
For my own part I was unable to come to a conclusion. The story was
so fantastic and incredible, the telling so credible and sober. I
lay awake most of the night thinking about it. I determined to go
next day and see the Time Traveller again. I was told he was in the
laboratory, and being on easy terms in the house, I went up to him.
The laboratory, however, was empty. I stared for a minute at the
Time Machine and put out my hand and touched the lever. At that the
squat substantial-looking mass swayed like a bough shaken by the
wind. Its instability startled me extremely, and I had a queer
reminiscence of the childish days when I used to be forbidden to
meddle. I came back through the corridor. The Time Traveller met me
in the smoking-room. He was coming from the house. He had a small
camera under one arm and a knapsack under the other. He laughed when
he saw me, and gave me an elbow to shake. ‘I’m frightfully busy,’
said he, ‘with that thing in there.’

‘But is it not some hoax?’ I said. ‘Do you really travel through
time?’

‘Really and truly I do.’ And he looked frankly into my eyes. He
hesitated. His eye wandered about the room. ‘I only want half an
hour,’ he said. ‘I know why you came, and it’s awfully good of you.
There’s some magazines here. If you’ll stop to lunch I’ll prove you
this time travelling up to the hilt, specimen and all. If you’ll
forgive my leaving you now?’

I consented, hardly comprehending then the full import of his words,
and he nodded and went on down the corridor. I heard the door of
the laboratory slam, seated myself in a chair, and took up a daily
paper. What was he going to do before lunch-time? Then suddenly
I was reminded by an advertisement that I had promised to meet
Richardson, the publisher, at two. I looked at my watch, and saw
that I could barely save that engagement. I got up and went down the
passage to tell the Time Traveller.

As I took hold of the handle of the door I heard an exclamation,
oddly truncated at the end, and a click and a thud. A gust of air
whirled round me as I opened the door, and from within came the
sound of broken glass falling on the floor. The Time Traveller was
not there. I seemed to see a ghostly, indistinct figure sitting in
a whirling mass of black and brass for a moment–a figure so
transparent that the bench behind with its sheets of drawings was
absolutely distinct; but this phantasm vanished as I rubbed my eyes.
The Time Machine had gone. Save for a subsiding stir of dust, the
further end of the laboratory was empty. A pane of the skylight had,
apparently, just been blown in.

I felt an unreasonable amazement. I knew that something strange had
happened, and for the moment could not distinguish what the strange
thing might be. As I stood staring, the door into the garden opened,
and the man-servant appeared.

We looked at each other. Then ideas began to come. ‘Has Mr. —-
gone out that way?’ said I.

‘No, sir. No one has come out this way. I was expecting to find him
here.’

At that I understood. At the risk of disappointing Richardson I
stayed on, waiting for the Time Traveller; waiting for the second,
perhaps still stranger story, and the specimens and photographs he
would bring with him. But I am beginning now to fear that I must
wait a lifetime. The Time Traveller vanished three years ago. And,
as everybody knows now, he has never returned.

EPILOGUE

One cannot choose but wonder. Will he ever return? It may be that he
swept back into the past, and fell among the blood-drinking, hairy
savages of the Age of Unpolished Stone; into the abysses of the
Cretaceous Sea; or among the grotesque saurians, the huge reptilian
brutes of the Jurassic times. He may even now–if I may use the
phrase–be wandering on some plesiosaurus-haunted Oolitic coral
reef, or beside the lonely saline lakes of the Triassic Age. Or did
he go forward, into one of the nearer ages, in which men are still
men, but with the riddles of our own time answered and its wearisome
problems solved? Into the manhood of the race: for I, for my own
part, cannot think that these latter days of weak experiment,
fragmentary theory, and mutual discord are indeed man’s culminating
time! I say, for my own part. He, I know–for the question had been
discussed among us long before the Time Machine was made–thought
but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind, and saw in the
growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must
inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end. If that
is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so. But to me
the future is still black and blank–is a vast ignorance, lit at a
few casual places by the memory of his story. And I have by me, for
my comfort, two strange white flowers–shrivelled now, and brown and
flat and brittle–to witness that even when mind and strength had
gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart
of man.

test

Добавить комментарий