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Contents > Author > H. G. Wells > The Time Machine 02 1866- 1946
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H. G. Wells
The Time Machine 02
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I think that at that time none of us quite believed in the Time
Machine. The fact is, the Time Traveller was one of those men who
are too clever to be believed: you never felt that you saw all round
him; you always suspected some subtle reserve, some ingenuity in
ambush, behind his lucid frankness. Had Filby shown the model and
explained the matter in the Time Traveller's words, we should have
shown HIM far less scepticism. For we should have perceived his
motives; a pork butcher could understand Filby. But the Time
Traveller had more than a touch of whim among his elements, and
we distrusted him. Things that would have made the frame of a less
clever man seemed tricks in his hands. It is a mistake to do things
too easily. The serious people who took him seriously never felt
quite sure of his deportment; they were somehow aware that trusting
their reputations for judgment with him was like furnishing a
nursery with egg-shell china. So I don't think any of us said very
much about time travelling in the interval between that Thursday and
the next, though its odd potentialities ran, no doubt, in most of
our minds: its plausibility, that is, its practical incredibleness, the
curious possibilities of anachronism and of utter confusion it suggested.
For my own part, I was particularly preoccupied with the trick 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 similar
thing at Tubingen, and laid considerable stress on the blowing out
of 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 of
the Time Traveller's most constant guests-- and, arriving late, found
four or five men already assembled in his drawing-room. The Medical
Man was standing before the fire with a sheet of paper in one hand
and his watch in the other. I looked round for the Time Traveller,
and-- 'It's half-past seven now,' said the Medical Man. 'I suppose
we'd better have dinner?'

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

'You've just come? It's rather odd. He's unavoidably detained. He
asks me in this note to lead off with dinner at seven if he's not
back. Says he'll explain when he comes.'

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

The Psychologist was the only person besides the Doctor and myself
who had attended the previous dinner. The other men were Blank, the
Editor aforementioned, a certain journalist, and another-- a quiet,
shy man with a beard-- whom I didn't know, and who, as far as my
observation went, never opened his mouth all the evening. There was
some speculation at the dinner-table about the Time Traveller's
absence, and I suggested time travelling, in a half-jocular spirit.
The Editor wanted that explained to him, and the Psychologist
volunteered a wooden account of the 'ingenious paradox and trick' we
had witnessed that day week. He was in the midst of his exposition
when the door from the corridor opened slowly and without noise. I
was 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 tableful
turned towards the door.

He was in an amazing plight. His coat was dusty and dirty, and
smeared with green down the sleeves; his hair disordered, and as it
seemed to me greyer-- either with dust and dirt or because its colour
had actually faded. His face was ghastly pale; his chin had a brown
cut 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 a
motion towards the wine. The Editor filled a glass of champagne, and
pushed 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 smile
flickered 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 let
me disturb you,' he said, with a certain faltering articulation.
'I'm all right.' He stopped, held out his glass for more, and took
it off at a draught. 'That's good,' he said. His eyes grew brighter,
and a faint colour came into his cheeks. His glance flickered over
our faces with a certain dull approval, and then went round the warm
and comfortable room. Then he spoke again, still as it were feeling
his way among his words. 'I'm going to wash and dress, and then I'll
come down and explain things ... Save me some of that mutton. I'm
starving for a bit of meat.'

He looked across at the Editor, who was a rare visitor, and hoped he
was 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. Again
I 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 had
nothing on them but a pair of tattered, blood-stained socks. Then the
door closed upon him. I had half a mind to follow, till I remembered
how he detested any fuss about himself. For a minute, perhaps, my
mind was wool-gathering. Then, 'Remarkable Behaviour of an Eminent
Scientist,' I heard the Editor say, thinking (after his wont) in
headlines. And this brought my attention back to the bright

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

The first to recover completely from this surprise was the Medical
Man, who rang the bell-- the Time Traveller hated to have servants
waiting at dinner-- for a hot plate. At that the Editor turned to his
knife and fork with a grunt, and the Silent Man followed suit. The
dinner was resumed. Conversation was exclamatory for a little while,
with gaps of wonderment; and then the Editor got fervent in his
curiosity. 'Does our friend eke out his modest income with a
crossing? or has he his Nebuchadnezzar phases?' he inquired. 'I feel
assured it's this business of the Time Machine,' I said, and took up
the Psychologist's account of our previous meeting. The new guests
were frankly incredulous. The Editor raised objections. 'What WAS this
time travelling? A man couldn't cover himself with dust by rolling
in a paradox, could he?' And then, as the idea came home to
him, he resorted to caricature. Hadn't they any clothes-brushes in
the Future? The Journalist too, would not believe at any price, and
joined the Editor in the easy work of heaping ridicule on the whole
thing. They were both the new kind of journalist-- very joyous,
irreverent young men. 'Our Special Correspondent in the Day
after To-morrow reports,' the Journalist was saying-- or rather
shouting-- when the Time Traveller came back. He was dressed in
ordinary evening clothes, and nothing save his haggard look
remained of the change that had startled me.

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

The Time Traveller came to the place reserved for him without a
word. He smiled quietly, in his old way. 'Where's my mutton?' he
said. '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 to
eat. 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 his

'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 rang
it with his fingernail; at which the Silent Man, who had been
staring at his face, started convulsively, and poured him wine.
The rest of the dinner was uncomfortable. For my own part, sudden
questions kept on rising to my lips, and I dare say it was the same
with the others. The Journalist tried to relieve the tension by
telling anecdotes of Hettie Potter. The Time Traveller devoted his
attention to his dinner, and displayed the appetite of a tramp.
The Medical Man smoked a cigarette, and watched the Time Traveller
through his eyelashes. The Silent Man seemed even more clumsy than
usual, and drank champagne with regularity and determination out of
sheer nervousness. At last the Time Traveller pushed his plate away,
and looked round us. 'I suppose I must apologize,' he said. 'I was
simply starving. I've had a most amazing time.' He reached out his
hand 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 the
bell in passing, he led the way into the adjoining room.

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

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

'I can't argue to-night. I don't mind telling you the story, but I can't
argue. I will,' he went on, 'tell you the story of what has happened
to me, if you like, but you must refrain from interruptions. I want to
tell it. Badly. Most of it will sound like lying. So be it! It's true-- every
word of it, all the same. I was in my laboratory at four o'clock, and
since then ... I've lived eight days ... such days as no human being
ever lived before! I'm nearly worn 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.' And
with 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 only
too much keenness the inadequacy of pen and ink-- and, above all,
my own 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 the
intonation of his voice. You cannot know how his expression followed
the turns of his story! Most of us hearers were in shadow, for the
candles in the smoking-room had not been lighted, and only the face
of the Journalist and the legs of the Silent Man from the knees
downward were illuminated. At first we glanced now and again at each
other. After a time we ceased to do that, and looked only at the
Time Traveller's face.


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